Monday, 3 October 2011

The Luck of the Irish.

The Blood Never Dried.

It was on October 3rd 1981 that the Irish Hunger Strike came to an end, it was the culmination of a five-year protest by Republican inmates at Maze Prison. For the Thatcher government it was a Pyrrhic victory as the protest came to an end and Sinn Féin became an established party of the mainstream in the wake of the protests. Margaret Thatcher became a Republican hate-figure as she maintained "We are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime, it is not political". So the British refused to budge on the withdrawal of Special Category Status for convicted paramilitary prisoners as 10 inmates starved to death. When Bobby Sands died Thatcher had to comment in Parliament "Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims". Naturally Thatcher has since been hated almost as much as Oliver Cromwell, who expropriated Irish land and allotted it to officers and soldiers in his army.

The IRA reacted with violence and in 1984 bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton where Thatcher stayed to attend the Conservative Party Conference. In the aftermath the IRA issued the statement: "Mrs. Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war." Bare in mind that the British government introduced internment in order to detain suspected terrorists without charge. The intention being to crush the IRA but it actually turned into a major recruiting pitch for Republicans. Then came Bloody Sunday in 1972 in which British soldiers fired on unarmed protestors and bystanders, hitting 26 and killing 13 on the spot. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry of 2010 concluded that the shooting was unjustifiable and came without any warning. None of the dead posed a threat to the British soldiers. Finally David Cameron issued an apology for the massacre which was long overdue.

Let's not forget about Irish history. The Easter Rising led to the War of Independence and then to the Irish Civil War of 1922-24, a very savage affair, fought between Irish nationalists on the issue of the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the British, which established dominion status for Ireland (a self-governing Free State, but still part of the British Empire) with the right of exclusion (to be left out) for loyalist Northern Ireland. The partition was established in a desperate political compromise with the Irish to save some face before the country could be sufficiently humiliated once more. The seemingly age-old antagonism between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland was instigated by the British in collusion with land-owners looking to exploit religious sectarianism. The division remains a source of great strife in Ireland, while class is pushed aside as an issue of debate at all. Republicanism remain the official means by which the Catholic working-class is supposed to express its' interests. The great irony being the role of Protestants in the roots of the Irish Republican movement.

Back in 1867 Karl Marx noted that the Irish needed self-government and independence from England, to achieve an agrarian revolution it would be necessary to implement protective tariffs against England. From 1783 to 1801 the Dublin Parliament, which represented the Protestant land-owners and bourgeoisie, maintained protectionist measures to insulate Irish industry from England. These measures were possible because the Dublin Parliament was able to attain a degree of independence from England in 1782. Then came the Irish Rebellion of 1798, after that the Dublin Parliament was abolished and the measures it had introduced were reversed. Free trade was established once more between Ireland and England in 1801. All industrial life in Ireland was destroyed, with the exception of a small linen industry, in a manner reminiscent of the measures imposed under Anne and George II to suppress the Irish woollen industry. As Marx pointed out, Canada and Australia had achieved independence only to go protectionist and maintain economic independence from England. The same can be said of the United States.

By the time that WB Yeats was writing the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy had failed to provide any meaningful leadership at the political level and had resorted to a cultural leadership in order to revive the Gaelic culture that they had previously repressed. It was the possibility of a cultural common ground on which all the Irish could head for and leave behind the old politics. What came before the Reformation was the ancient myths which were conveniently excluded from sectarian enmity, the project of the enlightened Anglo-Irish tradition, while it remained an opponent of conservatism. This is where a marginal element of the Protestant elite became fused with Catholics through Celtic revivalism, nationalism and idealism. As Terry Eagleton notes the irony of the Anglo-Irish who dismissed the Catholics as superstitious only to flounder in the supernatural and the spectral, from Bram Stoker to Oscar Wilde. The occult and strange magic served the Irish Protestants as a substitute for Catholic doctrine. But then Dracula could be seen as an Irish landlord deprived of the sustenance of his soil.

In the aftermath of the Rising the British soon put to death the seven, and eight others, who had signed the proclamation of an Irish Republic after the General Post Office in Dublin was seized. This is what Patrick Pearse described as the "blood sacrifice" of the Easter Rising, which was necessary in order for the War of Independence to be fought. The so-called "progressives" of the time in the British Parliament declined to issue a certificate of support for the Irish rebels. The survivors went on to shape history, the 'Big Fella' Michael Collins became leader of the Free Staters and Éamon De Valera went on to help establish the Republic. Incidentally, De Valera had escaped death because his mother was an American and the British government feared alienating the US, whose entry into the First World War on the British side was of top priority in Westminster. De Valera went on to become a cultural conservative and founded Fianna Fáil in 1926 - which has since degenerated to the point that it has signed away Ireland's future to European bankers. By the mid 1920s the small country had been left devastated by civil war and a war of liberation from Britain.

Over the course of the Civil War the same men who had stood shoulder to shoulder in the War of Independence. It began with the antagonism consequent of the establishment of the Irish Free State. From one perspective it might have been seen as the "freedom to achieve freedom", but it was also seen as a betrayal of the movement. As Michael Collins signed the Treaty with David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill to seal the deal in 1921 he remarked "I tell you, I have signed my death warrant." And so it was the following year, in the early months of the Civil War, the 'Big Fella' was murdered by Republicans in a roadside ambush in Cork. The people who had fought together for Irish independence then turned their guns and bayonets on one another. The Free Staters set about shooting their prisoners without mercy and the Republicans soon sought revenge. Out of all the slaughter the Free Staters emerged victorious but it would be the Republicans who triumphed in the long-run.  The Irish Civil War left a bad taste behind in the country, as civil wars tend to do even without the kind of partition Ireland has had to endure. Since then it has been sang by some:
"Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors,
The flag we Republicans claim.
It can never belong to Free Staters.
You brought on it nothing but shame…
You've taken our brave Liam and Rory,
You've murdered young Richard and Joe.
Your hands with their blood are still gory,
From fulfilling the work of the foe.
For we stand with Enright and Larkin,
With Daley and Sullivan bold.
We'll break down the English connection,
And bring back the nation you sold…"
Easter, 1916.

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

W.B. Yeats

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