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11 April 2016

Misnomers and myths abound in Sinn Fein telling of 1916

James O'Brien

I tried last week to dispose of a few myths around what is popularly known as the 1916 Easter Rising. It hasn't gone away, you know.

The Irish Government commemoration of 1916 may be over, but on Sunday, April 24, in Dublin - the actual anniversary of the insurrection - there will be a parade and pageant whose organisers have the blessing of Sinn Fein.

It's clear from the rhetoric that this will be a triumphalist celebration of the seven signatories of the Irish proclamation and their faithful followers, just like it was in the past before the Irish Republic grew up.

Sinn Fein and its supporters don't do generosity of spirit, so they despise such gestures towards inclusivity as the memorial wall in Dublin's Glasnevin cemetery which remembers and honours all 488 victims of the rising: 107 British soldiers (many Irish), 13 police (most Irish Catholics) and 58 rebels; the remainder were civilians, 40 of them children.

I was on the radio the other day with a descendant of a sibling of Joseph Plunkett, one of the signatories, who was complaining that she didn't want his name sharing a memorial with those who had fought on the other side.

I pointed out that - what with Ireland being a republic - the descendants of these people have no more right to have their opinions listened to than anyone else.

(I didn't have time to say that people like the descendants of James O'Brien the unarmed policeman shot dead when he tried to keep the rebels out of Dublin Castle, would have a better right to be offended by the inclusion on the list of Sean Connolly, his murderer.)

Sinn Fein republicans are big on the hereditary principle and are at present trotting out James Connolly's great grandson at every available opportunity.

There is a long extract from one of his speeches on the film they are showing at their dreary 1916/hunger-strikes exhibition in Dublin.

James Connolly Heron's theme is that the rebels were visionaries who have been let down and the Irish should now "work towards the realisation of their dream, their vision and build the republic that serves the needs of all citizens".

This is exactly the rhetoric being used these days in the south by Sinn Fein, who are holding their party conference just ahead of the mean-spirited festivities.

Gerry Adams will just have been elected for the 33rd time president of a party that claims to speak for modernity but is run by old, male dictators who never grew beyond the narrow nationalism of a hundred years ago or the economics of failed states like Venezuela.

He'll be reminding everyone that the assembly elections are on the anniversary of Bobby Sands' death, and peddling old comforting myths again.

I don't expect him to get his history right, but I wish he'd try to get it less wrong.

For a start, if Patrick Pearse is his hero, why not get his name right?

He is either Patrick H. (for Henry) Pearse as he signed himself on the proclamation, or Padraig MacPiarais, the name he used when writing in Irish. He was not that linguistic hybrid Padraig Pearse, as Adams persists in calling him.

That's a little myth.

Here's a big one.

Despite a century of propaganda about a brutal British response, the truth about the government's conduct is that by the standards of the time it was very lenient, with 16 executions and a few thousand short-lived imprisonments and internments.

As Professor Michael Laffan has pointed out, the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871 was followed by 15,000 executions while the Tsar of Russia had 1,170 executed after a revolt in Latvia in 1905.

And as I would like to add, the German empire's response in 1914 to Belgian resistance to invasion was the deliberate killing of around 6,000 civilians in what became known as the rape of Belgium.

Had those referred to in the proclamation as "our gallant allies in Europe" had a domestic rebellion in wartime, they would have set out to ensure there wasn't a rebel left alive.

And that's the truth.

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