Return to Recent Articles menu
D.R.O'Connor Lysaght on his pamphlet "From the GPO to the Winter Palace"
[This paper was presented to the Irish Labour History Society's Conference on Saturday 22 October 2016. The writer had not intended to put this on the website, but the panic caused by Trump's election to the Presidency of the USA and the belief encouraged by sections of the media that this and Brexit herald a "post truth" era justify its publication as evidence that, in one backwater, at least, truth will out.]
Comrades, Friends, I will begin by making a brief comment on the centennial year that is now more than three quarters complete. Like most of you, I approached it with foreboding, which seemed justified with the twenty-six county Government's notorious video last year, no more than to be expected from that gang, of course. Happily, in general, matters have improved considerably, mainly, it would seem, because the said Government has taken a back seat to let the people run things. Of course, the earlier commemoration was organised, in part, as the prologue for de Valera's campaign for re-election to Aras an Uachtaran. Accordingly, RTE was mandated to keep the it narrowed to one of pure nationalism (whatever that was) and to suppress the subversive views of James Connolly. Such a directive may have gone forth this year, but they could not poison enthusiasm for the event that ensured formal political freedom for some three quarters of the Irish nation.
It had many aspects. One that has been welcomed is the discussion as to the relevance of the programme hinted in the Proclamation of the Republic to Ireland today. This is less than is claimed in that such discussion has been continuing, at least on the left, since the failure of Operation Harvest in the sixties, and has tended to produce more heat than light. Yet it is better that the matter be discussed than that it be not.
At the same time, there have been coming to light questions significant only as part of overall issues. Connolly was not killed sitting in a chair but (more horribly) standing up gripping its back. Of more general import, it is established, now that the document denounced as a forgery by Rising sceptics, which contained Dublin Castle plans for general internment of republicans was a copy of an authentic memorandum. It might be added, too, that O'Casey's report of the insurgents firing on the looters must be challenged.
There are still mysteries. Did Pearse or Clarke present the Proclamation? Did Connolly wear his Citizen Army Commandant's uniform before the green flag was raised above Liberty Hall? However, it looks as if the important question as to what occurred at Connolly's meeting with the IRB Military Council in July 1916 must remain one for deductive rather than inductive analysis.
What is more pleasant to record is that the discussions on the Rising have exposed the utter bankruptcy of those who would decry it. Despite having, on paper, considerable intellectual power they have been unable to turn their assertions into analyses. There is no question of them being intimidated by Trumpite/UKIP style mobs, though, no doubt, some would like to flatter themselves that they were. In fact, they have been defeated by the weight of evidence against them. They may yet try to get the verdict overturned on a technicality, but such an attempt seems unlikely to succeed.
What is being made is an initiative to reconcile feelings on both sides. The open Anglo-Irish struggle that the Rising began is to be regarded as one on which there were not only faults on both sides (as, of course, there were) but one in which the sum of these faults cancel out each other totally. This may be good maths: it is bad history. It is seen in Joe Duffy's harrowing account of the child victims of the Rising. It is seen more crudely in the memorial wall erected with the names of all fallen participants on both sides. As to the first, one has to scrabble to find that most Rising victims died from British actions, either indirectly or by actual murder. The second example needs more investigation. It is, after all, a pioneering move. Is there any other country which commemorates those who took arms against it on the same memorial that commemorates those who fought in its defence? Britain and Germany have many memorials of World War I, yet none of them would be expected to give space to combatants of the other side, as would be possible between twinned towns. This would be more justifiable than in Ireland, since the rights and wrongs of the two sides in the greater struggle are more evenly balanced. Today, of course, the far more genuine political difference of World War II make that initiative impossible. In any case, it is even less likely after Brexit. As it is, it remains a puzzle to unravel whether it is such a good idea to commemorate as equals Tom Clarke and the British officer who kicked away his stick or Tomas MacCurtain and Detective-Inspector Swanzy. More generally and decisively, this approach suppresses the causes for the fighting, that one state was the oppressor and its opponents were demanding the right not to be oppressed.
There is a weakness in the defences of the Rising and that is that they have tended to be more insular than those of 1966. Then, at least, Roger Casement provided data for an internationalist view. Today, the self-questioning
Return to top of page