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September 13, 2006

One man's hero .......

During my visit to Dublin I have had to confront a number of images, not least the concept of "terror" versus "freedom struggle". It is difficult not to be confronted by this if you have any Irish connection, and like anything in Ireland, there are more sides to the truth than the usual two or three. I will, on this occassion, focus on three - the Republican, the Loyalist and the Myth.

What brought this musing on? A number of things really, not least the fact that I have had to deal with my own feelings about certain issues of loyalty, fealty and nationalism recently in a number of different spheres of my life. In Ireland, everywhere you go you are confronted by the myth enhanced facts - and there certainly are facts beneath the imagery that is presented of the "struggle" for freedom from the "Oppression of the English". There certainly was a famine in the nineteenth century and it was a human tragedy of epic proportions. There were evil landlords, but there were good ones too. There were those on both sides who exploited the poor and there certainly were the idealists on both sides who justified every attrocity carried out in the name of their "cause" - either "unionist" or "nationalist". The scars from both run very deep indeed - and strangely show in the way the towns and cities show a paucity of architectural development beyond the utilitarian and functional in housing and in commercial premises. Little wonder really since the "landed gentry" increasingly cut themselves off from the working classes who seemed incapable of adopting any sensible approach to the problems they all faced. So the rich got richer and the poor got poorer - and the middle classes plotted their way to power.

A look at the history of this beautiful country and its quarrelsome people tells its own story. Why did the "English" - in reality the Anglo-Normans - invade in 1169? They were invited to do so by none other than the "King" of Leinster who cherished ambitions of the High Kingship. When the Normans then went on to take full control, it set the scene for the next 800 years - since the Earl of Gloucester, a member of the deClare family, was a vassil of Henry II who was quick to demand that the oaths of fealty bound the Irish throne to himself. Ever since the Irish have been divided on the question of who should rule in Ireland - the English King or Queen or an Irish ruler of one sort or another.

This history set the scene for the present troubles as, over the centuries, any attrocity committed by one side of the "struggle" has been matched by a response from the other. These boiled to a head in 1916 with the Easter Uprising, harshly suppressed by the British forces - again, ironically Irishmen taking arms against their fellows. A very large part of the Irish population had joined the British Forces in 1914 - and served loyally and with distinction, badly led, under valued and treated as mere cannon fodder by incompetent generals, but loyal to the death. They returned home to a new war, one led by Middle Class politicians whose zeal for shedding other peoples blood in the name of their cause tore their beautiful country apart and drove many of their best young men away. My grandfather was one of those, but to listen to my host, whose grandfather was responsible for a number of murders in the name of his "cause" and who was obviously a hero in his eyes, all was made alright by the fact that his grandfather always prayed for his victims and attended confession afterward. And while he was out planting bombs and shooting "traitors" to the republican cause, his wife was working for the British in Dublin Castle and passing all their secrets to the men lying in wait to commit murder. But it was all alright - because they prayed for their victims.

Contrast that attitude with the far larger number of young Irish men who went off to fight for their King and country - another "cause", this time the making of the zealots in Serbia and the intractible Austro-Hungarian nobility. They fought and died in their thousands for something far greater than mere nationalist ambition, or so they thought, yet, when they returned home to work the land, the factories and the wheels of commerce, their republican fellows saw them as traitors to be eliminated. Bomb fodder in the campaign for the "liberation" of the Irish nation.

The supreme irony must be that Irish "Home Rule" had been agreed by the British Government and the Irish Home Rule advocacy in 1914 - and the "Kaiser's War" prevented it's implementation, yet the British and their Irish counterparts had an agreement that, as soon as the European War was over, Ireland would get Home Rule. But that was not good enough for the Republican Movement who set about aiding and abetting the German war effort in return for guns and bombs. One does have to wonder how many men could have been saved had the IRA's spies not passed on the plans for every major offensive the allies mounted in Flanders and France. I fdound myself wondering how those who did this reconciled their consciences to the slaughter of their fellow countrymen at the Somme, at Ypres and on Paschendal. My Grandfather ran away to join up at fifteen together with his best friend. They were together on the first day of the Somme, and on the second as they lay wounded in the bomb and shell pitted landscape of no-man's land on the second and the third. How ironic that they survived because of the maggots in their wounds when they were found - only to be shot at in a bus queue by one of their own countrymen after being discharged in 1919.

My Grandfather left Ireland, turning his back on his country, his home and his countrymen in bitterness and anger - and never returned. But it was alright for the gunman because, no doubt, he prayed for those he would kill and injure in that bus queue before he opened fire. No wonder that men like my Grandfather never could bring themselves to say the name of any of the leadership of the Irish Free State without a curse, and no wonder there is so much bitterness directed towards the Catholic community in the North.

Will this hurt ever be healed? I doubt it, for, as in Israel and the Middle East, the blood of centuries lies spilled for the vanity of evil men and women whose ambition blinded them to the value of the lives of others - even those who disagreed with them. There can be few more evil things than the abuse of the faith of any man to justify a political "cause". No political cause is worth dying for and perhaps it is also time for there to be a reality check for those who promote the idea that, because the ruling authority is not the local crook, it is alright to resort to bombing and shooting unarmed civilians. The tragedy of Ireland is that it combines sites of great holiness and beauty with unspeakable evil dressed up as necessity for a "cause" of "liberation".

It was once said to me that every place of great holiness always attracts people and things of great evil, because evil will always seek to drive out the holiness. Listening to my host, I felt that very keenly. His heroes are my villians, and my heroes his oppressors. I wonder if we will ever find a middle ground on that? Somehow I doubt it very much indeed.

Posted by The Gray Monk at September 13, 2006 03:39 PM

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