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Sunday 7 December 2014


Let's give up hate for Christmas

Abandoning old hatreds is pointless if we just replace them with new ones, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Michael Collins

Towards the end of Roy Foster's Vivid Faces - a riveting study of the intelligentsia of the pre-1916 revolutionary generation - I read a moving quotation from 1955. "When will all the survivors of the Civil War - on both sides - be big enough to admit their failure of judgment?" it said. "As long as they keep silent their followers are committed to justifying Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in terms of mutual hate. Until it is clear to the meanest intelligence that one can be a good Irishman and disagree with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael or even with the Rising of 1916, Irish unity will continue to be a vain hope."

The notes revealed that the author was my father, Robert Walter Dudley Edwards, then Professor of Irish History in University College Dublin, and known to generations of students, including me, as Dudley.

I was surprised, not because I didn't think it reflected his beliefs, but because it seemed unlike him to express such opinions in public, for he sought the Holy Grail of "objective" or "value-free" history. What I hadn't realised was that during my early childhood he wrote political journalism that allowed him to express his antipathy to tribalism. At a time when the Civil War or sectarian politics dictated how almost everyone in Ireland voted, before elections he would spend hours studying every manifesto before deciding how to vote.

His mother, Bridget, was a McInerney from Clare, a suffragette who was at the founding meeting of Cumann na Mban in 1914, hid guns for the Volunteers, fed her two young sons hatred of the British and Home Rulers, joined them to the Fianna, sent them post-Rising to St Enda's, Patrick Pearse's school, and in 1922 told them to join the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War. My father, aged 13, refused; uncle Ralph, aged 11, was turned away by the recruiting sergeant.

With as little success, she preached her message of hate to me in due course, though while she was still trying to inculcate Anglophobia, her main target was Eamon de Valera, who she believed had betrayed the IRA..

Foster's fascinating book is about a generation in revolt against their parents. They were idealists who imbibed and developed a language of hate that helped them to say and do terrible things. For many of them - particularly the women - the outcome was a terrible disappointment: socialists and feminists who had had a marvellous time in the intellectual ferment of the Celtic revival, ended up in an anti-intellectual bourgeois state under the thumb of the Roman Catholic Church. And to old hatreds were joined those of the Civil War generation.

My father wrote that despairing piece about entrenched Civil War enmities before the horrors erupted in Northern Ireland. Having friends of all political and religious persuasions, the Troubles caused him much distress.

I remember vividly his reaction in 1980, when Miriam Daly - a Queen's historian who moonlighted on the side as a member of the vicious Irish National Liberation Army - was murdered. Knowing how he cared about his ex-students, I offered tentative sympathy. "It's all right," he said grimly. "That's where hatred gets you."

Dudley would have been thrilled that the family's political wing made a start on trying to promote reconciliation. In 2010, Brian Lenihan was the first Fianna Failer invited to speak at the Beal na mBlath commemoration of Michael Collins. His brother Conor wrote that the event buried "a sort of perverted history that enveloped Ireland", and in 2013 their aunt, Mary O'Rourke, spoke of how moved she had been by Brian's "generous, non-tribal speech" and how she believed it was time for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to consider forming a political coalition.

We've had too much hate on this little island. In thinking about the inadequacies of their elders, the young might reflect that there is no merit in replacing old hatreds with new.

Hate, whether political, sectarian or class-based, reflects the worst of us. Not - as we were fatally taught - the best.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards