From Irish Political Review: August 2006

Provo Sommetry

No more do the Brethren hurry when July comes round to pledge their faith in Boyne Water. The Green Grassy Slopes where King Billy and Schomberg fought for their freedom, religion and laws have fallen out of fashion. In recent years OrangeFest has become a Sommer Celebration of more recent Imperial Slaughters. The great world butcherings in France and Belgium in 1914-18.

And so those of a Provisional dispensation with the knack of reaching out to the Brethren have had to follow our Silly Billys into trenches, rooting about in Picardy for tricoloured Poppies and proof that the men Haig hoodwinked and Kitchener konned were Brothers in the same Blood—the grandest wee Kraut killers ever a Flanders sun shone on and all of them Irish.

Take Jim Gibney by way of example and him reaching out in exemplary fashion in the Irish News and it being the Thursday before the eleventh bonfires and the twelfth marches. Take Jim Gibney in the spirit of his revisionism…

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the Battle of the Somme, two hugely significant events in our history…

The First World War was an imperialist conflagration which claimed the lives of more than five million soldiers with 23 million casualties. The scale of human loss is incomprehensible. It was a pointless and futile war.

Many caught up in it were poor hapless individuals. The war claimed some 35,000 Irish soldiers—lost in a vast, impersonal killing machine, oiled by the delusions of squabbling monarchs and generals…

Last Saturday the Irish government held a commemoration at Islandbridge in Dublin in memory of the war dead and in the chamber of Belfast City Hall a minute's silence was observed. Sinn Féin attended both ceremonies.

On the surface such a gesture from Sinn Féin might not be considered significant but it is. It has taken republicans almost 90 years to revisit the Somme with a fresh eye…

It is not easy for republicans and nationalists to open their minds to the First World War…

But there is distance, in time, and new politics from the peace process is creating new thinking.

New thinking which should also extend to unionists and their attitude, thus far hostile, to the Easter Rising and the volunteers who fought and died in it.

We now have a context in which republicans and nationalists can look afresh at the First World War and in particular the Battle of the Somme.

The enormity of the loss of the lives of Irishmen alone demands it.

It would indeed be ironic if a war as devastating and divisive as the First World War now brought together nationalists and unionists to commemorate Irishmen who lost their lives 90 years ago.

Ironic but not impossible.

Not in the least bit acceptable either. Not acceptable as history. Not acceptable as politics.

There is no sense in which Easter Week balances the Somme. The signatories to the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic held to a very different view. This is what they themselves said of the context in which they rose against the Great Satan of their time, the Bloody British Empire:

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.

For those gallant allies in Europe, Germany and Austria, the First World War was not as Gibney has it "a pointless and futile war". For them it was a desperate struggle for survival against overwhelming odds.

For Germany the war ended in total defeat. And what is merely pointless or futile about total defeat?

It was the English who considered their first world slaughter of the twentieth century to be pointless and futile. Pointless because though they defeated their immediate targets it was at the cost of bankruptcy. Futile because the war ended in a new American supremacy. And so Gibney as a matter of course takes the English view of the First World War.

It might have been interesting to learn on what grounds Gibney rejected the view of the First World War taken by the revolutionaries who rose against the empire which launched it to found an Irish Republic. Interesting to us perhaps, but not to the Brethren for whom he was writing. Because the Brethren weren't interested in hearing any Fenian nonsense Gibney didn't bother them with any.

The Brethren have taken to the Somme in recent years because the imperial spirit is awake again and moving on the face of England's waters. England is busy in the world again and busily restating its case on all those matters it has disputed there in the past. The spirit of sacrifice of the 36th (Ulster) Division (as Gibney for some reason of pedantry perhaps, or prudence, calls the Ulster Volunteer Force) is a timely spirit that calls to others of the League of Empire Loyalists who are cheerleading new slaughters. Those new slaughters are occurring today in lands, Iraq and Afghanistan, where England was busy slaughtering of old. And a leading Shinner crows about commemorating that spirit! Call it a spirit of sacrifice or the spirit of slaughter. Just tell us Jim Gibney, Why?

So the Brethren will reciprocate by in some way commemorating the Easter Rising? Never mind that there is absolutely no prospect of that ever happening, now that Jim Gibney has put his own spirit of revisionism to Easter Week there's nothing left of the Provo view of it that Connolly or Pearse could recognise.

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