Editorial from Irish Political Review, June 2007

"The Greatest Nation On Earth"

The British Prime Minister said some years ago, when launching one of his five wars, that Britain has never made war except in a just cause. This must mean that Britain is the agent of divine Providence in this world.

When making his retirement speech a couple of weeks ago, this same Prime Minister confirmed that was his meaning. He said:

"…This country is a blessed nation.

The British are special. The world knows it. In our innermost thoughts, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth."

No Irish political party or newspaper uttered a note of dissent. To have done so would have been 'divisive'.

It was not divisive on the part of the British Prime Prime Minister to assert that Britain was the greatest state in the world—that it was a blessed state. But it would have been divisive for any representative figure in Ireland, speaking out of the Irish experience of English blessedness, to comment that Blair's statement was an expression of either extreme Jingoism or of megalomania. Such is the condition of the relationship between Ireland and Britain today.

The Taoiseach was invited to address the British Parliament to celebrate the joint achievement of London and Dublin in putting Northern Ireland back in the box, where it is to engage in a make-belief politics outside the political life of either of the states.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said to the assembled Westminster Houses in Westminster Hall:

"I had the honour last week to welcome the new First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Right Honourable Ian Paisley MP, to the site of the Battle of the Boyne. This was a battle for power in these islands and also part of a wider European conflict. Its outcome resounds through the centuries of Irish and British history to this very day. That time marked the beginning of an unbroken period of parliamentary democracy in this country."

Here we have unconditional surrender by the leader of Irish democracy to English history—or to the English Story.

Carroll Professor Roy Foster was highly praised a couple of years ago for his book The Irish Story. What he meant by the title was that the Irish make up a Story of Ireland and present it as history, with little or no regard for historical fact. But, alas, the truth is that there is no longer an Irish Story, invented or researched, false or true.

There is only a variation of the English Story for Ireland.

The English Story, both of England itself and of the English contretemps in Ireland has now comprehensively marginalised what there was of an Irish Story in less subservient times.

England does not welcome "revisionist" tampering with the story of itself, which it tells itself and others.

Three and a half centuries ago John Milton, Cromwell's Secretary of State, wrote: "Let England not forget her precedence of teaching the nations how to live". And, three and a half centuries later, the Prime Minister says that England is blessed among the nations and nobody guffaws in derision—even though this is the age of disbelief.

During these three centuries and a half, the Story has not been the same Story all the way through. The durability of the same story over three and a half centuries is not what impresses. At different points along the way England stood for drastically different things. But the Story is a story of constancy to one thing. "England has her constancy no less than Rome", Gladstone said. But there has been nothing constant in English history except the fact of the English State and its pursuit of power. But the Story at any given moment always tells of constancy of another kind, and massages historical fact into compliance with it.

Or, if there has been a constant ideal which accompanied the unrelenting pursuit of power, it was an ideal which at a certain point it became unprofitable to speak of—anti-Catholicism.

Democracy is certainly what it was not.

Democracy was not inserted into the Story as the constant ideal until two centuries after the Battle of the Boyne.

The "unbroken period of parliamentary democracy" can hardly have begun until the Parliamentary franchise came reasonably close to including at least all adult males. And that did not happen until the early 20th century.

The war against France from 1793 to 1815—the first English war for which the Irish provided most of the cannonfodder—was a war against democracy, and for the restoration of authoritative monarchy in Europe and curbing the democratic forces stirred up by the French Revolution.

The French were defeated and the monarchy restored. But the French had torn up the roots of monarchy and it wouldn't replant—unlike the English, who having executed the King in 1649 begged his son eleven years later to come home and govern them. It was the influence of the principles of the French Revolution, which survived the defeat of France, that led to the first, very small, extension of the Parliamentary franchise in Britain in 1832: 142 years after the Battle of the Boyne.

What was at issue at the Battle of the Boyne was religious freedom. King James introduced it in the 1680s. The victory of King William led to its abolition for almost a century and a half—until 1829, when it was partially conceded in the face of mass rebellion in Ireland threatened by Daniel O'Connell.

Another immediate consequence of the Battle of the Boyne was the throwing of the slave trade open to private enterprise, which led to England becoming the main slave-trading nation in the world within twenty years.

A consequence which took a generation to work out was the reduction of the monarchy to a figurehead behind which the aristocracy and gentry ruled. But the disembowelling of the monarchy—which began with the Whig coup d'etat of 1715, introducing a German King who couldn't speak English—was not a measure which established popular government. What it established was the complete freedom of the aristocracy to do as it pleased with the people.

Popular rights require a framework of law maintained by a national state to which all classes are subject. That is not what the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (made secure at the Battle of the Boyne) established. That is what it abolished.

The national state, which existed in connection with the monarchy, was broken up and its place was taken by a system in which the local aristocrat was the State and the Law as far as the local populace was concerned. Parliament was a collective body of the aristocrats in which they did each other favours, such as passing Bills authorising the Enclosure of common lands.

If Irish history-writing had not been entirely subordinated to the English Story of the moment, it would be known that the substance of the movement of the United Irishmen was anti-aristocratic, not anti-monarchical. This was made explicit in scores of Resolutions adopted at Parish Meetings in the core United Irish area of Antrim and Down in the 1790s. The demand was essentially that the anarchic power of aristocrats should be brought under a system of law enforced by the state.

What the people of England got from the Williamite victory at the Boyne was freedom from the illusory threat of Papism, and the right to give free vent to the anti-Catholic bigotry which the aristocracy stimulated and manipulated for their own purposes.

What Ireland got was anarchic aristocracy plus the anti-Catholic bigotry.

It was not easy to reduce Ireland to the condition in which it lay at the time of the Famine. Only England could have done it.

And it was not easy to perform the mental lobotomy which abolished realistic historical awareness from Irish public life. The Irish Times could not have done it. Only Fianna Fail could have done it.


"The Greatest Nation On Earth".

Remember 62 (election of 24th. June 2007).

A Post-Election Coup.

Irish Times Suppresses Debate.
Cathal Brugha (Letters)

Editorial Digest.

Tally Ho Ho Hoey.
Joe Keenan

Fianna Fáil And The Decline Of The Free State.
Jack Lane

Fair Employment: The Flynn & Debast Case.
Mark Langhammer

Family And Policy (Reflections On Palestine, Part 5).
Conor Lynch

The Great Debate (Ahern v. Kenny on television).

Irish Men And England's Wars.
Seán McGouran

The Irish Times Campaign Against Bertie Ahern.
IPR Group Press Release

Preventing The Future (Part 2 of reply to Prof. Garvin).
Brendan Clifford

Shorts From The Long Fellow.

A Brief Summary Of "Bertiegate".

Labour Comment
Edited by Pat Maloney

The Nursing Dispute And After.

The Mid Cork Election Ballad Of D.D. Sheehan.

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