20 February 2006

We are still a long way from an agreed version of the Rising

Irish Examiner


IT is clear from the responses to President McAleese’s defence of the moral and political status of the Easter Rebellion of 1916, such as that you published by Brian McCaffrey (‘President’s speech under fire,’ Irish Examiner letters, February 7) ...

... that we are still far from possessing an historically agreed version of the Rising and of the events preceding and following it.

The only possible conclusion (given the intelligence with which the debate is conducted on both sides) is that the complexity of these historical events has still defeated our best efforts to understand them.

The key fact, it seems to me, is that the Easter Rising did not settle the Irish question once and for all. It did not deliver a 32-county independent Ireland (surely the original intention of the rebels) and it also confirmed rather than removed the divisions on the nationalist side of the equation.

These divisions remain to be reconciled in respect of nationalist and republican interpretations of these events.

It has recently been said by Eoin Neeson that Home Rule was “dead in the water by 1912”. But in 1912 and 1913 the Liberals and the Irish Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons drew the teeth of the constitutional opposition to Home Rule in the House of Lords and, by September 1914, the Home Rule Act was on the statute book with the royal assent.

This was a triumph of constitutional and democratic struggle over a period of at least two generations. Only then did John Redmond commit Irishmen to the British cause in World War I, and it was in the acknowledged defence of Home Rule that the 10th (Irish) Division went to its destruction in Gallipoli in August 1915.

The tragic effect of the Rising in the following April was to marginalise still further the Irish Parliamentary Party and to make it possible for British opponents of Home Rule at Westminster to call into question an Act of its own sovereign parliament.

The British Government with which Michael Collins negotiated was composed of all the most implacable opponents of Home Rule, in particular Arthur Balfour, Andrew Bonar Law and Walter Long. Lloyd George’s betrayal of the Liberals thus involved above all the betrayal of Home Rule enacted by his own party.

The Irishmen who had fought through the war understood well enough in their petition to the king at its end that they had been betrayed.

We have some way to go before we can remedy all these wrongs. An agreed version of events by our best historians from all sides of the political spectrum seems to me the precondition of our doing so.

Dr Gerald Morgan
Trinity College
Dublin 2

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