Rewriting History



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From top: A banner placed outside College Green, Dublin; Bob Geldof in Dubin’s GPO; and Cuban President Raul Castro with American President Barack Obama

What ties Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba with the Easter Rising and Bob Geldof?

Grab a tay.

Ruairí Creaney writes:

Empires are far from benevolent creations. Their natural instinct is to pillage, steal, oppress, torment and kill. As institutions of great power, they have no inclination to heed reasoned arguments put forward by those who wish to end or at least ease their apparatus of repression.

This is the obvious lesson taught by the history of empires, be they British, French, German, Belgian or American. Empires only treat subjugated peoples like human beings when they are forced to do so. Sometimes this comes from peaceful mass movements. More often than not, it comes from violent resistance.

Two events taking place thousands of miles apart – the Easter Rising centenary celebrations and Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba – reveal much about liberal attitudes to empire and the refusal to recognise these lessons.

A recurring theme in both cases is that of “reconciliation” – the idea that the conqueror and the conquered are moral equivalents, both of whom are deemed to have committed wrongs that should be set right.

This can be seen in recent media coverage of the US president’s visit to Cuba, which has been lauded as a “cooling of relations” between the two countries, as if the reality was anything other than one side subjecting the other to invasion and economic sabotage.

In this narrative, Cuba and the United States had a mutual falling out in the past and now they are starting to get along.

In the Irish scenario, the official line is that there was a peaceful alternative at the time that could have avoided the unnecessary violence of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.

We did horrible things to gain our partial independence, so we need to be “mature” by displaying remorse for these actions and honouring on an equal level as the people who set out to establish Irish democracy the British soldiers who fought to crush it at birth.

Both sides have made mistakes; it’s time to apologise, and it’s time to move on. Or so the story goes.

In the case of Cuba, the supposed crimes of the socialist state are amplified in order to justify the creation of a blatant false equivalent.

Socialist Cuba is apparently a nasty dictatorship that imprisons its citizens on a mass scale, where the police run roughshod over human rights and where elections are rigged in the interests of an unaccountable and powerful elite. Unlike the US, obviously.

The treatment of political “dissidents” – most of whom receive funding from the CIA, as well as other agencies that are openly aggressive towards the socialist system – are routinely invoked by western media outlets to underline this point.

The Guardian this week uncritically quoted leading “dissident” Guillermo Fariñas on a story about the visit. It wasn’t mentioned that his first imprisonment was for beating a female health care worker, while his second term came after he attacked an elderly man.

In the article, he described Obama, a man whose drones have killed thousands of defenceless civilians, many of them children, and arms Apartheid Israel to the teeth, as “the principal defender of democracy in the world”.

This is not to mention the litany of crimes perpetrated against Cuba. Since 1959, the US has invaded Cuba, attempted to murder its president on hundreds of occasions and sabotaged its economy. America’s terrorist campaign against Cuba, which included the bombing of a passenger jet in 1976, has killed more than 3,000 people.

Using the visit to show that Manifest Destiny is still alive, Obama asserted America’s divine right to decide the internal affairs of other countries when he demanded that Cuba reforms its political and economic system.

The implication behind this is obvious; Cuba is the wrongdoer, not America; Cuba’s socialist system is the one that has to change, not America’s capitalist system; When the US and liberals call for “free elections”, what is actually meant is voting contests that occur every five years between superficial corporate-funded candidates; When they call for a “free media”, what they actually mean is a media controlled by a small number of oligarchs, like Rupert Murdoch or Denis O’Brien.

It’s Cuba that’s expected to change, not America.

In Ireland, these double standards have emerged in the state’s official 1916 centenary celebrations, which have been widely derided for frantically attempting to airbrush the country’s anti-imperialist history from existence.

It recently attracted ridicule when a banner depicting Henry Grattan, Charles Stewart Parnell, Daniel O’Connell and John Redmond was erected in College Green.

None of these figures had anything to do with the Rising or the democratic republican tradition that led it.

In fact, Redmond actively opposed the Rising, denouncing it as a German plot and was at the time goading tens of thousands of Irish to their senseless deaths on Western Front.

O’Connell, a rabid reactionary who opposed trade unions and fought against the mildest of restrictions on child labour, was harshly criticised by James Connolly in his seminal book Labour in Irish History. These are uncomfortable truths for Blueshirts.

The latest assault on history and the ideals of the 1916 revolutionaries has come in the form of a two-part RTÉ documentary written by Bob Geldof in which he contends that the Easter Rising “represents the birth of a pious, bitter and narrow-minded version of Ireland I couldn’t wait to escape”, while lauding IPP leader John Redmond as a “genius”.

Geldof’s arguments are reflective of a broader viewpoint prevalent among Irish liberals and conservatives, in which the role of British colonialism is painted as benign while Ireland’s national liberation movement is seen as something parochial, fanatical and undemocratic.

This view, often presented as the pinnacle of critical thought, sits comfortably with those like Geldof who prefer to genuflect to great power rather than challenge it. For them, Redmond is a safe symbol.

He was a sensible moderate who nicely asked the British for a mild form of Home Rule. That he opposed voting rights for women and enthusiastically cheered on the slaughter of 11 million people is beside the point.

Contrary to the claims of Geldof and others, the southern state is not the product of the Easter Rising or the revolution which followed, and it’s precisely for this reason that so much effort has been put into rewriting the history of this period.

The state that exists today is the product of a counter-revolution that began in 1922, which saw the Free State army crushing strikes, the rights of women shredded and the establishment of an oppressive Catholic theocracy.

During the revolution of 1916 – 1922, women were active agents of change, playing a key role in both the national liberation and labour movements. Under Free State rule, their position was one limited to child bearing and housework, a product of Catholic fanaticism. The modern Irish state exists in its current form despite the revolution – not because of it.

Reconciliation should not involve fawning over the British monarchy or pretending that there is a moral equivalent between James Connolly and the men who tied him to a chair and shot him to death.

True reconciliation would not be with the remnants of the British Empire, as fighting for independence is nothing to apologise for.

The only people who are owed an apology are those who have never been cherished equally as promised in the 1916 Proclamation.

An apology is owed to those who have suffered as a result of the counter-revolution and the regime that has run the state ever since; the thousands of homeless made to sleep on the streets lest they interfere with the profits of landlords and developers; the women forced to travel abroad to safely terminate unwanted pregnancies; the unbaptised children denied access to education by intolerant religious institutions; the low-paid workers denied union representation; those who are denied proper health care because of the size of their wallets; the refugees forced to live in direct provision; and the travelling community that endures structural racism and is pushed to the margins if Irish society.

These are the results of a rigid class system that has benefited the Irish regime and its supporters.

When James Connolly wrote in 1898 that revolutionaries “are ever idolised when dead, but crucified when living”, he could have added that their ideas are often killed and buried with them.

For it was a similar type of system that exists today in Ireland that Connolly, Roger Casement and Helena Moloney railed against 100 years ago.

It’s little wonder that their ideals are being killed and buried yet again.

Cuba, Easter Rising And Geldof (Ruairí Creaney)

Pics: RubberbanditsRTÉ, Telegraph

Thanks Ruairí

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66 thoughts on “Rewriting History

  1. Mourinho

    I do feel that a large proportion of our civil service and governments are embarrassed about the rising and have been apologising for it ever since.

    “those like Geldof who prefer to genuflect to great power rather than challenge it”

    IMHO the most significant line in this piece. Symptomatic of many of too many of our politicians.

    1. Sheik Yahbouti

      Absolutely excellent summation of reality, Ruari, as opposed to the craven crap that continues to be published every day. In particular, Bob of Africa (whose companies are rivalling the Chinese in terms of acquisitions) can shut his cake hole.

          1. Same old same old

            Minority of one? Among the ludramans on here I’ll wear that epithet with some pride.

      1. Kieran NYC

        “Bob of Africa (whose companies are rivalling the Chinese in terms of acquisitions)”

        Oh do enlighten us. Extraordinary claims like that require extraordinary proof. Didn’t know Bob was worth trillions.

  2. Kolmo

    Great article. To the point. Revisionism has been spouted for years by those who think they would be materially effected by progressive change in our society, lest they be inconvenienced by those with less.

    1. rory

      The idea that there was a counter revolution in 1922 perhaps needs more elaboration. It needs to be nailed down a bit more, for people like me anyway (whose grasp of history is limited.)

      1. Tommy

        When the Free State was formed, 30% of population was other than RC (Quakers, Jews, even Prods etc) within a very short period that was reduced to 3-6%
        Some were burned out, others forced to sell at below market value and just moved

        1. Deluded

          That’s extraordinary- I believe we had a post here some years ago about attacks on Protestant farmers at that time… would you have a reference or an historian who has written about this?

          1. Tommy

            Too many references I could redirect you to, would only cause confusion.
            Many of the larger houses became schools that still exist for the better class of people
            Read the history of Emo Court
            They had an inquisition for the art works in the garden. They were distracting the students, so it was decided that if it was Gods will that they should remain He would allow them float. All the naked statues were thrown in the pond (good thing they never viewed the Vatican art collection). None floated but thankfully none were broken so still exist. To this day the works they could not lift, like the ones at the front door are still hidden from view under ugly covers. Well worth a visit, is now with the OPW so open to the public
            PS if you have an interest in such stuff, can tell you who stole the defence fund for Roger Casement, the records of the time are for sale in London but nobody in this blessed Republic has any interest ‘cos he was a gay boy

          2. Barry the Hatchet

            Too many references would confuse matters? Surely you can pick out one or two? And a reference for the Emo Court story would be appreciated also, as I had always read that the statues were put into storage when the Jesuits took over.

        2. Colin

          That is not true – as even a tiny bit of effort will show. The figure for non catholic in the Free state area in 1911 was a bit less than 10% and it was falling. It was about 7% in 1925, so had a rapid drop during the independence period. That could be explained by civil servants/army/ expats going back to the UK. The fall was much slower after that. Lots of explanation as to why and what the figures are on this page
          Curiously, the numbers of protestants/non catholic Christians has recovered amazingly since then. The last figure, from 2011, show non catholic christians at 6.3% – nearly back to where it was in 1925.

      2. Diarmuid Breatnach

        This was a clear and succinct exposé of the State and how it reflects the class it serves, most of which never fought for freedom or independence or even home rule but jumped on our backs when they got the chance in 1922, from which time Gombeen and Bishop were the Directors of 26 Cos. ltd.

        I wouldn’t agree that O’Connell was a reactionary in every sense since he campaigned hard against slavery. The most salient point I think about the four whose images the State erected is that THEY WERE ALL UNSUCCESSFUL IN WINNING EVEN HOME RULE.

        The 1916 Rising on the other hand led to the War of Independence just over two years later which in three short years forced negotiations to concede the creation of an Irish state with Dominion status (like Canada, Australia etc.). While not advocating that objective or the settlement reached, any reasonable person must concede that the process begun by the 1916 Rising was vastly more successful than those decades of effort of Redmond, Parnell, O’Connell and Grattan.

        1. Same old same old

          The physical force tradition is very strong in this one. People seem to have a hard time accept how well assimilated by the British were ( and still are).

          It’s impossible to conceive of the events of 1916 without the context of these heroic predecessors and in particular the politicisation of the rural serfs by the Land League. If anyone is omitted it’s Davitt.

  3. Anne

    A long piece there.. This is the crux really –
    ‘Contrary to the claims of Geldof and others, the southern state is not the product of the Easter Rising or the revolution which followed, and it’s precisely for this reason that so much effort has been put into rewriting the history of this period.

    The state that exists today is the product of a counter-revolution that began in 1922, which saw the Free State army crushing strikes, the rights of women shredded and the establishment of an oppressive Catholic theocracy. ‘

    Yeah, we swapped oppressor basically, but the Easter Rising is not to be blamed for that.

    1. Same old same old

      Arguably the church already was part of the power structure long before that transfer of sovereignty occurred.

  4. MayJay

    Great analysis. And a very welcome antidote to our national broadcaster’s mortifying coverage. It takes articles like this, and sites like BS to highlight them, to counter the Augean stables of RTÉ’s vested interests.

  5. scottser

    I’d agree with most of the above. When the free state was established, the priest, the gombeen and the landlord became the voice and conscience of the nation. We replaced an oppressive foreign system of rule with one far worse but of our own making.

    I haven’t watched the Geldof thing yet, but I doubt a knight of the British Empire is going to teach me anything about my history that’s relevant to me.

      1. Anne

        I wonder is there a big market for that sort of portrayal…. are there are a lot of prods about who secretly wish we were still under British rule?

          1. Anne

            I noticed you never picked up on Tommy saying that KFC.. it wasn’t meant to be derogatory.

          1. Anne

            I didn’t really mean then Janet.. I meant now.
            I mean, they received little support at the time from anyone, as it was a threat to people getting their shillin’s from the crown.

            I just wonder at some people harping on that we’d be better off under British rule.

      2. Stev

        Hmm, one comment which came from Fisk gave that impression. Of all the docs and crap RTE have produced, the Portillo one was the most balanced in many ways. By a Tory, from a British perspective I thought it was very very good. And that’s from someone from the other side of the political spectrum.

        Lack of trains though. Would have loved some trains in it.

    1. Same old same old

      in fact those power structures were already deeply embedded in Irish society before the Rising, the only real difference was that native gombeen now had the opportunity to award himself a sinecure – nothing has changed since btw. The argument of Geldof and so on is that at least a secular British society while still a class driven one would at least offer the possibility of more equality before the law and keep some order on the priest subclass.

  6. Anne

    “We did horrible things to gain our partial independence, so we need to be “mature” by displaying remorse for these actions ”

    Dermot Ferriter spoke about this out in UCD there a few weeks ago..
    Most grown up countries who fought off any imperialist oppression make a decision to be proud of gaining their independence. It never came easy for any country.
    I don’t see why any remorse has to be shown.
    You don’t see any nation honouring those who died on the enemy side.

    1. scottser

      It’s not. The huge amount of dialogue around the rising is stressing everything else except its socialist roots, the one noble aspect of the rising that was quickly appropriated by the vested self interest of the middle classes. You are a beneficiary of that legacy if you ever claimed dole, went to school or had to go to hospital here.

      1. Same old same old

        Huh? Those developments would have occurred irrespective of a blood sacrifice revolution here – get over yer selves. As for the idea that Redmond, O’Connel etc have nothing to do with the struggle for Irish independence this is utter drivel.

          1. Same old same old

            It’s complete drivel. These folks opened the minds of the Catholic serf class and to the UK ruling parties respectively that an alternative form of Irish governance was feasible.

            The Rising folks as heroic as they undoubtedly were were a bunch of incompetent fanatical terrorists who tried to take advantage of a perceived weakness in the UK military , and were resolutely crushed and deservedly so. Arguably the British themselves created the conditions for final Irish self determination not by executing the 1916 leaders but by creating the Land Purchase acts of Balfour etc which removes any further economic interest British landowners had in the Irish plantation

  7. shitferbrains

    ” A recurring theme in both cases is that of “reconciliation” – the idea that the conqueror and the conquered are moral equivalents, both of whom are deemed to have committed wrongs that should be set right. ”

    Eh, no. Reconciliation is NOT about moral equivalence.

  8. Cat Lady

    Well Said. Geldof was nauseating on so many levels. Equating the Anglo Irish Aristocracy with Punk, what a gobpoo!

  9. Chromium

    Yes, the lickspittles and toadies are out in force.

    We – or our ancestors – did not do “horrible things” to gain our freedom. Britain’s reaction to their move to hold Ireland in arms for a week so as to be admitted to the Peace Conference that would follow the end of World War I, however, was pretty horrible.

    Here’s a chillingly sickening account of Connolly’s death, in the witness statement of the enormously wealthy Protestant landowner and ex-Dublin-Fusiliers freedom fighter Robert Barton, who was told it by Major Heathcote of the 6/7th Sherwood Foresters, the officer in charge of the firing squad. Connolly was already dying when they shot him, Heathcote said:

    “[Connolly] was not able to sit upright in the chair on which he was placed and, when they shot him, the whole back of the chair was blown out… They brought out a chair for Connolly because he was unable to stand. They brought him in an ambulance, and from that on a stretcher to the chair. They shot him through the chest and blew the back out of the chair. I gathered from Heathcote that he was quite unconscious. He was a dying man.”

    No moral equivalence there.

    I’ll raise a glass of Langoa & Barton, the Barton family’s wine, to the founders of our country on April 24.

    1. Same old same old

      So what? Where are your accounts of men murdered by Collins et al then? Connolly was a war hero sure but there was bravery on all sides

      1. Chromium

        Murdered? If you talk about Collins, a junior officer in the Irish Volunteers in 1916 in the GPO as “murdering”, do you also talk about the British killings of World War I as “murder”? Military and civilian deaths on all sides totalled more than 38 million, in a war that was made by Britain to defend the profits of the British Empire, which at the time claimed hegemony over a quarter of the globe. Moral equivalence?

        1. Same old same old

          Wtf are you prattling on about? Collins ordered several men dead in their beds during the War of Independence. That’s what I’m claiming equivalence with you worthless geebag.

          1. Chromium

            We were talking about 1916.

            If you want to claim equivalence in the case of Collins’ killing of the Cairo Gang in the War of Independence, however, it is true that Collins had the members of a British assassination squad killed.

          2. Anne

            “That’s what I’m claiming equivalence with you worthless geebag.”

            What sort of knacker are you at all? You can’t behave yourself at all.
            That sort of language is very trashing and unbecoming altogether.

  10. Lilly

    I used to love Geldof when I was a kid. (Is That It). Who would’ve thunk he’d turn out to be such an annoying, sycophantic schmuck.

  11. Ciarán

    The sycophantic blue rinse brigade from doublethink to schizophrenia and beyond…what if anyone should find out that we are related to Apes:
    Last time I seen bob Geldof on TV he was shown at the wedding Murdock!
    Sir Bob!
    1937 Constitution
    Article 40, section 2 of the Constitution states in full:
    1° Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State.
    2° No title of nobility or of honour may be accepted by any citizen except with the prior approval of the Government.
    Was not the office of Taoiseach that commissioned that mural in Trinity College?

  12. Owen C

    Reconciliation is not about creating moral equivalence. It’s about moving on from the anger. Nelson Mandela etc. The author above has clearly not moved on from events 100 years ago.

  13. Peadar Ó'Colmáin

    A very good article. There’s too much of that kind of revisionism in the world, the kind that tries to put the oppressor and the oppressed on a par and suggest that they should apologise to each other, that the violence of the two sides are moral equivalents. However, one should be careful about some points – the travelling community are not excluded by some capitalist or landlord class but by society generally and much of the problem is caused by their own actions. The greatest weapon that the capitalist and landlord class has against the low-paid is the weapon of immigration and there are people out there who will try to pass themselves off as nationalists, republicans or socialists while slyly turning a blind eye to the immigration crisis. If we are not looking after Syrian refugees as well as we should some of the problem might be caused by the immigration crisis.

    1. Same old same old

      I think this is the best comment on here. I’m very suspect about nationalistic displays in general whether it’s the official rinse aid version or the counter narratives peddled by the fainne wearing crowd

  14. Paul Kerrigan

    International banks, foreign stock exchanges, multinational corporations and investors of all kinds continue to grind the destiny of Africa. The rock bands play on. Rock music is the opium of the developed world masses.

  15. Iwerzon

    “..partial independence.. – thank you, the elephant in the room all weekend was the 6 counties. RTÉ spouting on about how the rising led to an independent and democratic Ireland. A partially independent Ireland. And by the way, De Valera ensured that the Church was enshrined in the Constitution and I would hate to think how that might have went had Pearse survived.

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