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4 April 2016

Let's all embrace new appetite for truth not myths

Joseph Plunkett
Joseph Plunkett

I've been doing a lot of talks and interviews in connection with my new book The Seven, which is about the men who planned and led the insurrection, rebellion, revolution, rising (or whatever you want to call it) that began on Easter Monday 1916.

I've met a lot of interesting people along the way, but perhaps the most memorable encounter was with a woman who came up to have her book signed in Glasgow.

She had been given an early copy and had been reading the chapter on Tom Clarke, the old Fenian, who was the spider at the centre of the conspiratorial web and a very effective propagandist.

She said: "I put it down a couple of times to cry about the myths I've been told and believed all my life."

She had been particularly upset to discover that the story that Queen Victoria showed her hardness of heart and contempt for the Irish people by contributing just £5 to a fund for Famine relief was a lie.

She had, in fact, given from her private resources £2,000, a huge sum in those days and the largest individual donation in the kingdom.

So, I thought it would be a fitting time to set the record straight about just a few of the many myths relating to the period the Republic of Ireland has been commemorating and which Sinn Fein is still peddling.

The Sinn Fein party - which wanted a more comprehensive version of Home Rule than that on offer under a dual monarchy - had nothing to do with the rebellion, which was the work of a clique within the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but it suited those considering themselves the heirs to 1916 to fight the 1918 election under its banner.

The seven came together very late in the day and seem never to have had a conversation about what kind of Ireland they wanted.

Many of their individual views seem irreconcilable: Connolly wanted class war, Joseph Plunkett a Catholic monarchy under a German prince, Patrick Pearse some kind of Celtic utopia, and Tom Clarke a republic run by Fenians.

Contrary to a remark by one of the RTE presenters on Sunday that Clarke was gentle, he was utterly ruthless: he told his wife shortly before Easter that should they succeed, the younger men would need for about five years to be guided by "a man of iron, someone with a touch of Cromwell".

His choice was John Devoy, the dictator of the Irish-American Fenian organisation Clan na Gael.

The new fashionable notion that the seven were united by anti-imperialist sentiments is absurd - you don't show your dissatisfaction with imperialism by courting the very unpleasant German Empire. They were simply motivated by the old Fenian mantra "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity", which has caused various IRAs over the years to make friends with utterly foul regimes, including the Nazis, the Soviet Union and Gaddafi's Libya.

Sir Roger Casement did not return from Germany to aid the planned revolution but to try to prevent it, as by then he had decided that Germany's motives in assisting the rebels were selfish - they were, he said "hated by the world, and England will surely beat them".

Constance Markievicz, the poster girl of the revolution much revered for her devotion to the poor, knew before she married the Polish Casimir that his claim to be a count was bogus, yet she never disclaimed the title and was always known as "Countess" or "Madame".

The phrase in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic about cherishing all of the children of the nation equally has nothing to do with the rights of children and was intended as an olive branch to unionists.

There are plenty more myths around, but the good news is that there has been a vast amount of new research, there are many good books out there by honest historians and many people in the Irish Republic are showing an appetite for truth rather than mythology.

It would be good if unionists did the same.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards