Were Those The Days?



From top: The Irish Citizen Army, Easter 1916; Dan Boyle

For the year that’s about to be in it.

While there can be no doubting the courage of those involved in 1916, there has to be ongoing analysis of their conflicting motivations. And even the individual sanity of some.

Dan Boyle writes:

One of the more infuriating parts of inhabiting that exceptionally frustrating period of life between middle age and final acceptance of being old, is the realisation as to how relative time actually is. The less time that is available the more it seems to go by that bit more quickly.

Being someone who wants to eke the best out of every moment, this occasionally gets me down. With the year ahead it’s a downside I’m more prepared to accept, even to embrace.

I’m not looking forward to 2016. The idea of a twelve month orgy of flag waving, the restoration of myths as being our true national characteristics, and the Wolfe Tones providing the soundtrack of authentic Irishness, is something I think I’ll be spending a lot of time avoiding.

Of course we need to acknowledge the events that led to the formation of the State. It is right as well that they are commemorated. What I’m not sure about, and feel less comfortable about, is that we should celebrate all these events. Each event in every single aspect.

The complexity of being Irish then was no less intricate than it is today. There was nothing inevitable, no linear progression, about the events of 1916. As a military operation it was extremely amateurish in its conception and its execution. The collateral damage of civilian deaths, especially women and children, has always been brushed over, lest it tarnish the national myth.

And while there can be no doubting the courage of those involved, there has to be ongoing analysis of their conflicting motivations and even the individual sanity of some.

I would much prefer to remember [Padraig] Pearse as the author of ‘The Murder Machine‘, rather than the blood lust-obsessed provocateur wildly exaggerating the death of an eighty three year old man as victimhood.

Notwithstanding that deceit, the role of [Jeremiah] O’Donovan Rossa himself discredited even within the Fenians as being a hothead, is another part of the national whitewashing exercise.

The position of James Connolly is more problematic than others involved in the 1916 Rising. Like them there was no reason not to believe he thought it to be the best mechanism to achieve change. Unlike the others, he had already provided an analysis on disadvantage and inequality in the country, an analysis our subsequent political system has chosen to address only through creating different forms of disadvantage and inequality.

The Rising achieved political success only through the appalling disproportionate response of the British, especially in executing Connolly while he was in a wheelchair.

The 1919-21 period is far more worthy of marking. The Rising may have informed what followed later, but was little different in its effect on the British State than the misadventures of 1867, 1848, 1803 or 1798.

What most worries me are those who cloak themselves in a pseudo legitimacy, gained by striking out wildly, violently, viscously, while referencing 1916.

I once worked with a woman whose family had moved to West Cork, having found life in Belfast in the 1970s to be impossible. All except a brother who had been arrested, and then took part in the ‘on the blanket’ protests that preceded the hunger strikes of the early 1980s. I never doubted his or his colleagues’ personal courage. Where I argued with his sister, despite us becoming good friends, was my belief that governments born of violence remain open to violence against them by those opposed to their existence.

In this, even from an opposing perspective, I find myself in agreement with Our Gerry and with other members of his cult. At least in terms of the effect if not the cause.

Of course this could be the other effect of dwelling in the other grey area of being between middle aged and being old. That of becoming curmudgeonly. I exist therefore I moan.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD. Follow him on Twitter: @sendboyle

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60 thoughts on “Were Those The Days?

  1. Clampers Outside!

    I’m not looking forward to 2016. The idea of a twelve month orgy of flag waving, the restoration of myths as being our true national characteristics, and the Wolfe Tones providing the soundtrack of authentic Irishness, is something I think I’ll be spending a lot of time avoiding.

    Yep, I’ll be avoiding all that jingoistic clap-trap too

    1. Neilo

      We just need to reclaim the narrative from the kill you in a bar bar stool Republicans: I’m proud to be a citizen of this Republic but feel my life would be little different if we’d remained an outpost of empire.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        Aye. It would be lovely if we all defined nations by people and culture. Alas, tribalism is part of human nature. The talentless and sad usually resort to tribalism to define their existence when nothing else will. It’s always going to be like that.

      2. ahjayzis

        Disagree. I’m no frothing republican either, but we were less industrialised than Wales when we were in the UK – if we were still in we’d be occupying their role as the poorest member of the union, and they’re still broke as sh1t.

        Omnishambles as it has been, we are demonstrably better off running our own affairs.

        1. Domestos


          What have the Romans ever done for us, eh? Look at what happened after 1800. Look at the regions in the UK now. Daresay it, look at imperialism through the ages. To be frank, Neilo’s point is naive in the extreme, and oft repeated.

          1. Neilo

            So it’s naivete to posit a counter-factual and wonder if my life would be materially or philosophically different? Fair enough, so.

        2. Neilo

          I’m not denying what you say for a second, AJ: Moyest probably nailed my view more succinctly than I could in relation to tribalism.

    1. realPolithicks

      What exactly is your point Dan?

      I often find myself wondering that after reading his pieces.

  2. Chungus

    Green Party? Is that some commemorative event for the 1916 Rising? Could have come up with a better name than that. Pffft!

  3. Dubloony

    TL;DR – Getting old is bad, violence is bad.

    Many states are born of violence, in 1916 there was a world war raging, British Empire at it height and Larne gun running had already happened. The Rising didn’t happen in a vacum.

    1. Domestos

      And just cos collateral damage is a recently coined term doesn’t mean it didn’t occur previously. Re dates, violence continued through 1919-21 and beyond 1923 even.

    2. Rotide.

      1916 was a response to Colonialism and WWI. It was necessary. Imperialism is violent. The violence of the colonised is justified. We should be celebrating those who went out in 1916. The Green Party, which gave us the Financial Collapse, mass emigration, etc. etc., is now giving out about the people who got us our liberty. Sweet Jesus.

      1. Dan Boyle

        Sweet Jesus indeed. That’s exactly the sense of proportion that makes debate superfluous.

        1. Rotide.

          How? Do you deny that colonialism is inherently a violent form of government? Was the British Empire a blood-stained thing? When India, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Nigeria, etc. revolted against Imperial rule was that a bad thing? Was the British Empire just going to hand us our freedom if we asked nicely? Did the Green Party preside over the largest financial crisis in Irish history? Did the financial crisis cause mass emigration?

          1. Dan Boyle

            Context my dear boy. Gandhi promoted non violent protest, and not the Paul Murphy variety. Once again no the Greens did not cause the financial crisis we had to deal with its effects.

          2. Rotide.

            Gandhi? Really? The Indian War of Independence was very bloody, at least 40.000 died in it between 1940-1949. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 was put down with the loss of over 100.000 lives. But Dan Boyle thinks that Gandhi sorted out Independence on his own with an olive branch. Maybe it’s time you read some Indian History written by Indian people rather than base your knowledge on a film. Sorry, I had thought that the Greens were in government (and stayed in government) with Fianna Fail. My mistake. Yet again Dan Boyle knows history better than any one else. The only thing I’m glad of is that the Greens will never get near power again, at least for the next generation. Luckily, the Irish remember their history and the real political facts, rather than history of a Greenwashing variety.

          3. Dan Boyle

            No I don’t but I do believe that those who offered a different approach were more effective in achieving things.
            And again yes The Greens were in government, our being in government did not cause the financial crisis. Whatever you desire or think is not my problem.

          4. Rotide.

            Even Gandhi said that without the violence of the Independence movement India wouldn’t have gained its freedom (his Memoirs will help you out here). You really are in denial about what you did in government. How many people have taken their own lives because of the financial mess created by Fianna Fail and the Greens? The Greens hung on to power as long as they were able to, implementing austerity left, right and centre. You talk about violence, but the violence you perpetrated on society was immense. You have blood on your hands. It’s time you faced that fact. Because everyone but you and the pensioned John Gormley know that.

          5. Dan Boyle

            Again way over the top and lacking of any sense of proportion. We tried. We failed to succeed. Given the circumstances it would have been difficult for anyone to succeed. The only denial is by those who don’t want their myth disturbed.

          6. Rotide.

            You tried? You voted for the bailout. It’s incredible that you accept no responsibility for the violence you perpetrated on society. Maybe it’s time you left the D4 dinner parties and talk to those parents who’ve lost love ones to suicide and emigration, the result of the Greens trying to ‘succeed.’. The Green Party is never going to resurrect until people like you honestly face yourselves. You did huge damage to the Green movement in Ireland, the people will never vote for the Greens again. Rather than spending all your time exculpating yourself, maybe you should look at the great harm you’ve done to people, and especially the working poor.

          7. Dan Boyle

            More hyperbole. We left government when the IMF arrived. What was the alternative to the bailout? Borrowing money through the markets that may or may not have been available at far higher rates of interest. Yours is a cartoon image of the reality. Buzzwords and feigned indignation.

          8. Ban Doyle

            @ AnnMakesMeBoil
            What exactly does “we tried, we failed to succeed”
            Your tack of not even trying to engage with the points raised by Rotide is, if symptomatic of your general approach to political debate, a strong indicator why during your period in government, Irish kids are in debt in perpetuity and/or exiled abroad for a generation.

          9. Dan Boyle

            I constantly engage. What some people seem to want is that I totally accept their version of events.

          10. Rotide.

            Yeah, sorry, I was wrong. Dan Boyle is always right. He did such great things for the people who voted for him. He is in no way responsible for mass emigration, suicides, national bankruptcy. He is not widely despised within his party and without. Dan Boyle deserves his pension, and deserved his government salary, and should not give it back to the taxpayers, or to the Samaritans. He tried his best and he was correct to remain in government with Fianna Fail for all those years. We are all eternally grateful for his clear, incisive judgments and for his determined courage to look truth in the face. The Green Party will soon revive when the stupid Irish electorate realise what he did for us.

          11. Dan Boyle

            Regularly admit when mistakes are made. Am quite frequently wrong. You may know people who don’t like me but I find that those who despise do so out of ignorance. I was elected twice as chair of the Greens by the members. Maybe they wanted me to suffer?

          12. Sam

            And thus the veneer is scratched and the stock response rings hollow with the same echo of Cowen and Noonan – There Is No Alternative – “What was the alternative to the bailout? Borrowing money through the markets that may or may not have been available at far higher rates of interest. ”

            That’s the fictional revisionism actually. The markets were happy for us to stupidly pay over the odds, but they also would have continued to lend to us if we demonstrated cop on and self respect, like not paying other people’s debts. Even the guy at the Bond desk at Societé Generale expressed surprise that Ireland was willing to load all that unsecured bondholder debt onto the taxpayer.
            Don’t expect us to buy the armaggeddon scenario, that may have scared the weak minded amongst you, but the reality is that with the uncertainty in the markets at the time, they wouldn’t have dared to try to sink Ireland, and risk the damage it would cause throughout their other Eurozone investments.
            At the time when it was most needed we were let down by the lack of spine in Dáil Eireann (as well as lack of common concern found in some of them) .

            Perhaps for your memoirs Mr. Boyle you’d prefer to be thought of in more heroic terms, but don’t expect too much sympathy around this neck of the woods.

          13. Dan Boyle

            Empty hollow rhetoric. Fairest account I’ve seen is the book ‘The Fall and Rise of the Celtic Tiger’. It doesn’t exonerate the government but nor does it engage in over the top analysis of what actually happened, and what risks existed. The collapse was not because of the banks but because of years of over expenditure, that the electorate largely lapped up.

          14. Dan Boyle

            The book title is The Rise and Fall of the Celtic Tiger. A Freudian slip on my part. And an admission to show I can be wrong.

        2. Sam

          We tried. We failed to succeed.

          You tried?

          What part of “telling the FFeckers to shove their speculator bailout where the solar panels don’t work” did you try, exactly?

          1. Dan Boyle

            Sam the bailout wasn’t for the developers. It was for meeting the costs of running the country.

          2. Sam

            The costs of running the country somehow managed to include an awful lot of speculators Dan. Not everyone is buying into the idea of ‘hard medicine’ no matter how many times it is repeated. We had a shortfall sure, but there was no need to turn us into an insurance policy for reckless speculators and people who had picked up bonds on the secondary market for cents on the euro, and then found themselves getting 100% payment, on unsecured bonds. That wasn’t just the equivalent of TD’s expenses or councillors junkets, it was the equivalent of school teachers, hospital wards given away without any real resistance.

    1. Clampers Outside!

      It’s like listening to a priest telling us all how to have sex, or not have sex with our partners and pontificating on how to raise a family all the while having zero experience in doping so…. wait, that’d be worse…

      Isn’t that right Eamonn.

      Ah, the jaded wisdom of a priest from a failed Christian faith.

  4. Unreconstructed

    “The collateral damage of civilian deaths, especially women and children, has always been brushed over, lest it tarnish the national myth.”

    Let us remember that it was the British artillery bombardment of one of their own cities (by their reckoning) that produced the vast, vast majority of these casualties. Their casual & disproportionate use of heavy artillery in the heart of a heavily populated city was a war crime (but let’s not discuss this, lest it tarnish the love-in going on now between the Irish establishment & Britain). It is this fact that is regularly airbrushed over…

    As Wikipedia would have it:
    “However, the majority of civilian casualties were killed by indirect fire from artillery, heavy machine guns and incendiary shells. The British, who used such weapons extensively, therefore seem to have caused most non-combatant deaths. One Royal Irish Regiment officer recalled, “they [British troops] regarded everyone as an enemy and fired at everything that moved”.[86]”

      1. Unreconstructed

        If the Rising was amateurish, as it largely was, what accounts for the disproportionate British response ? Was there a need for artillery use against civilians armed with single shot rifles?
        You see, with 1916, there is revisionism, but only from one side…
        Ireland must be one of the few countries in the world that is not just let have its creation myth without this endless navel-gazing…

        1. ollie

          A rising in the British outpost of Dublin which was supposed to be supported by Germany, und 60 years previous to this Queen Victoria let 1 million of her subjects die of starvation; and you wonder why the Brits bombed the poo out of Dublin?

        2. ahjayzis

          I think in large part that’s down to the North.

          Had there been peace on the island since 1922 we could happily keep the myth of glorious blood sacrifice, but it’s uncomfortable to be unqualified about it without that being taken as support for paramilitary stuff up there in more recent times.

          Even though they’re completely different situations.

          1. Neilo

            That discomfort with unqualified support for the blood sacrifice narrative is quite energizing in a way though, isn’t it?

  5. ollie

    Dan, I’ve read this piece 3 times and I still don’t understand what your point is. For example what does this mean? Did the brother not move to Cork, or was he the only family member not to be arrested?

    I once worked with a woman whose family had moved to West Cork, having found life in Belfast in the 1970s to be impossible. All except a brother who had been arrested, and then took part in the ‘on the blanket’ protests that preceded the hunger strikes of the early 1980s.

    1. sǝɯǝɯ ʇɐ pɐq

      @ ollie;
      The brother couldn’t move to Cork when the family did. He had been arrested in Belfast.

      @ Dan;
      You’re no writer. Don’t give up your day job.
      (Although I DO like the cut of your jib, and unlike some here I’m not just having a jab.)

      1. Fr.Lotus

        Ah no. The man can write. He hasn’t drawn an obscure picture and expected the rest of us to infer his particular meaning from said drawn picture.

  6. rotide

    Does Dan provide links with these pieces?

    Some of them and this one in particular reads like the bolded text should link to an page explaining that bolded text. eg the connolly and adams bolded bits of text.

      1. rotide

        Yeah, I guessed that, but links would be nice in the two things I mentioned. Mainly because i have a hazy grasp on history at best

  7. On The Buses

    “I’m going to set up an all boys boarding school. One where my my brother can do nude sculptures of the students while I train them in armed warfare. We will then march them in to town to overthrow the government. who wants in?” – Padraig Pearse

    1. classter

      It sounds strange but what is more bizarre is how little of that was odd in the Western World at the time.

  8. classter

    ‘governments born of violence remain open to violence against them by those opposed to their existence.’

    There is barely a state in existence which was not born in violence. And, like it or not, the crucial factor which differentiates a fuctioning state from a a group of people who desire a state is having a monopoly on violence within that territory

  9. CousinJack

    Irish Indepence, waste of time, we are not fit to rule ourselves , see current and ex politicians.

  10. sǝɯǝɯ ʇɐ pɐq

    Dan, you seem like a nice man.
    There’s a lot of angry comments here directed at you, claiming your personal culpability for something you had as much influence over as I had.
    Stop giving them oxygen. Ignore them.
    That’s not what this thread is about.

    It’s about NOT having 365 St. Patrick’s Days next year, ammirite?

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