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Sunday 30 August 2015


Still obediently following Fenian instruction booklet

Gerry Adams wants to put the 1981 hunger strikers on a par with the men of 1916

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams

Since the mid-19th century, when nationalism got its grip on us, we have been politically a necrophiliac culture, worshipping our dead and seeking in their words and deeds instructions on how we, the living, should conduct our lives. We revere martyrs and use them to create a hunger for martyrdom.

It's a kind of Irish Catholic version of Islamist fanaticism with the Proclamation of the Irish Republic taking the place of the Koran and various sayings of dead jihadis quoted like the Hadith.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood, aka the Fenians, began this in a big way after nationalism became sexy in the second half of the 19th century. They metaphorically dug up failed revolutionaries like Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet (whose good intentions had the unintended consequences of bringing death and destruction to good people) and by celebrating them as role models, inspired new generations to kill for Ireland.

We're still obediently following the Fenian instruction booklet. Bodenstown, Tone's graveyard, every year sees the nonsense of establishment politicians, retired revolutionaries and wannabe terrorists traipsing there to make self-justificatory speeches. And then there's the scandal of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, the most bloodthirsty Fenian of them all.

As the historian Dr Carla King put it, at a time when "the Irish Government and people are loud in our support of reconciliation after the experience of decades of bombing campaigns in British and Irish cities, the first act in our official commemoration of the 1916 events is to honour a man who dedicated his life to attempts to bomb his way to Irish independence".

The men of 1916, themselves inspired by Tone, Emmet and all the other patriot poster boys, have inspired IRA hardliners for a century to kill and injure and torture their political opponents. And the Good Friday Agreement did not put a stop to that terrible tradition. Endorsed by politicians, the martyrdom cult goes on, and so the young are still inspired to seek immortality through jihad.

Other privileged, well-educated countries don't do this. In London last year, millions visited the Tower of London to look at the planting of 888,246 red ceramic poppies before Remembrance Day, November 11. The mood was sombre. There was no glorification of those deaths: just sadness for all the young lives sacrificed. 'Never again' was the prevailing mood.

Down the road from where I live in London is a large statue of Edith Cavell, a nurse who was shot by a German firing squad in 1915 because she had helped allied prisoners escape from occupied Belgium. The quote from her inscribed on the plinth is "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

Her execution happened in October 1915, at a time when the IRB was secretly begging Germany to send an invasion force as well as arms. Hence the reference in the proclamation to "our gallant allies in Europe". Cavell's death didn't seem to bother the Irish or Irish-American conspirators, even though there was a big international outcry.

The German Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying it was a pity Miss Cavell had to be executed, but it was necessary. "She was judged justly. . . It is undoubtedly a terrible thing the woman has been executed; but consider what would happen to a State, particularly in war, if it left crimes aimed at the safety of its armies to go unpunished because committed by women."

When in Dublin in May 1916, the British for similar reasons shot 15 people who had led a revolution that left hundreds dead, they commuted the death sentence on Constance Markievicz because she was a woman. Just sayin'.

Anyway, back to peace-loving Gerry Adams, who last Sunday led the festivities for something called 'Remembering the Hunger Strikers - National Commemoration Day.' A TD who leads a political party that aspires to be in government on both sides of the border led a procession through the streets of Dundalk that included children carrying large photographs of terrorists who killed or tried to kill and ultimately committed suicide for a United Ireland. The role models they were being given included Francis Hughes, for instance, who was a ruthless assassin. He was certainly brave and, just as certainly, a bloodthirsty mass murderer.

As Adams reported on his blog, the organisers "had arranged some street theatre to remind us of other days. At one place there were women holding posters shouting slogans in support of the blanket men and the Armagh women prisoners; at another spot a group was shouting slogans against strip searching; at yet another a group of women were vigorously bashing the footpath with the cleanest bin-lids I have ever seen; others were dressed as Brits and RUC".

Apart from inspiring the young to hate, this procession and all the Sinn Fein alternative commemorations we will have to endure over the next several months are about giving parity of esteem to their Troubles dead. "We are as proud of Bobby Sands and Mairead Farrell as we are of the Volunteers of 1916 and those who fought the Black and Tans", says Adams, as he contemptuously fights the Irish political establishment for ownership of 1916.

Let's remember that Sinn Fein is a Northern-based political party that hates - as it has always hated - what they still think of as the Free State, and they are using the men of 1916 in their campaign to denigrate its political class. Trashing the record of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and indeed all Irish governments ever, Adams told his followers last Sunday: ''Our responsibility as we are about to celebrate [note that: not commemorate] the centenary of 1916 is to finish the work of the men and women of 1916 and of 1981. That means working to build the republic envisioned by the Proclamation and the leaders of that time but suited to the needs of the 21st century."

We will have plenty of unsavoury electioneering along these lines. Is it too much to hope that when Easter is over, our democratic politicians will grasp that they should extricate themselves from the dangerous minefield of dead patriots and have one dignified day every year in which we celebrate ourselves.

We could call it St Patrick's Day.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards