The Colonist-Deniers Of Irish And British History

Speaking of that generation of academics, writers and journalists who have formed the core of what we might call the “colonist-deniers” of Irish historical studies, here is regular columnist Archon writing for the Southern Star newspaper on the attempts by some revisionist ideologues to alter the record of the Fenian revolutionary Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa:

“Indeed, the effort to blacken O’Donovan Rossa’s reputation in 1915 was similar to recent revisionist trickery that sought to undermine the IRA’s achievement in wiping out at Kilmichael a column of British Army murderers who had been wreaking havoc in West Cork.

‘Revisionist’ historians invented spurious statements in support of their endeavour to depict Tom Barry’s Third West Cork Brigade Flying Column as a gang of ‘serial killers’; and they had no qualms claiming that the evidence came from old men on their dying bed and, indeed, even from beyond the grave.

As a young man, O’Donovan Rossa learned to his cost that the staple ingredient of Irish history, treachery, is frequently employed when there are conflictive points of view.

Even today blasts from Rossa’s past continue to reverberate, ensuring that he remains a controversial character within the pantheon of revolutionary heroes. For instance, Sinn Féin was accused of hijacking the FG-Labour Rossa commemoration at Glasnevin cemetery after the party’s visually more impressive re-enactment of the funeral threw into relief the pathetic effort mounted by the government.

The irony was not lost on anyone with a historical perspective. Redmonites and anti-republicans in 1915 resorted to the same tactic when Pearse’s dramatic oration about ‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’ galvanised the people.

Last week, in a Sindo article that sounded as if it had been commissioned by the ghost of William Martin Murphy (the anti-nationalist founder of the newspaper), the argument was made brazenly that Sinn Féin had attempted to seize the O’Donovan Rossa ‘myth’!

The writer warned that the Republicans cleverly had ‘leveraged’ the mythology whereby ‘implicitly and explicitly’ the modern IRA campaign of terrorism was justified. ‘From the GPO to Canary Wharf.  That’s the game here” was the stark, if incoherent, message!

Whatever about the split infinitive and the writer’s insinuation that the Peace Process had never taken place, it was the Sindo’s split personality that was most informative. On the one hand the newspaper put forward the argument that a good auld anti-republican rant was vital in the war against Sinn Féin and, on the other hand, manic “explicit and implicit” winks and nods were important when it came to O’Donovan Rossa.  Some things, it seems, never go away  -such as historic bile!

But one thing is clear. The political rows from beyond the grave that O’Donovan Rossa still can trigger are testimony to the lasting impact the physical force tradition had on this nation, and which today the conservative Establishment would like to deny or dismiss.

In Skibbereen no such argy-bargy reigns. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is accepted for what he was, warts and all, as the recent torchlight parade in his honour magnificently illustrated.  The message was to the point. He loathed tyranny and he loved his country. He was a West Cork man, a patriot, a nationalist, a Republican, and a supporter of armed struggle –so what?”

Facing down the British-apologists in contemporary Irish society is a matter taken up by a recent correspondent to the Irish Times:

“Diarmaid Ferriter writing about attitudes to Fenians like O’Donovan Rossa and the leaders of the 1916 Rising illustrates the ambivalence of attitudes towards what has come to be referred to as the physical force republican element and its part in bringing about independence for the greater part of Ireland.

Historically, of course, when imperial powers have been faced with insurgency or physical resistance of any kind their opponents have been classified as terrorists.

When British forces were dealing with what became our War of Independence, their opponents were called thugs and terrorists.

During that period an element of Irish society went along with that characterisation and even in contemporary Ireland that same attitude is not entirely absent.

One outstanding exception to attitudes to physical force resistance to colonial domination is that of the US. Physical force was the method used to bring an end to British colonial domination in 1776. I have never heard the term “terrorist” being used in referring to the rebels who achieved American independence.

That achievement is proudly commemorated every July 4th with a complete absence of the misgivings regularly expressed by certain elements in connection with our 1916 commemorations.

The French Resistance, the maquis, during the second World War were, no doubt, referred to as terrorists by the Nazi occupiers but nowhere else have the French maquis been referred to as terrorists.

Empires, throughout history, not content with enjoying independence in their own territories, invaded others and murdered, pillaged and initiated ruthless domination.

Intoxicated with their own power in comparison to that of their victims they universally regarded the native peoples as inferior species, untermenschen as the Nazis would later say.

The plain fact of the matter is that empires in their expansionary manner used their military forces as terrorists. They terrorised indigenous populations ruthlessly and yet historians seem too polite to describe them as they really were.”

Indeed.

 

Advertisements

6 comments

  1. Go raibh maith agat. Two minor corrections, perhaps — Martin William Murphy, prominent Irish capitalist and infamous for his attempt to starve the ITGWU into disappearance in 1913, WAS INDEED AN IRISH NATIONALIST. He became disillusioned with the Irish National Party led by Redmond and was already attacking them through the Irish Independent (clue to his politics in the title too), if I recall my reading correctly, in 1914, for — among other things — not being assertive enough about Home Rule. How far he would have wanted to go with his Irish nationalism is difficult to say, since he died after being unwell for some time in 1919. He was of course hostile to revolutionary Irish Republicanism (not to mention Socialism) although his paper did report on British atrocities during the War of Independence.

    The Irish Times correspondent you quoted was incorrect in saying that “One outstanding exception to attitudes to physical force resistance to colonial domination is that of the US.” Although he is correct in saying that “Physical force was the method used to bring an end to British colonial domination in 1776” and that they don’t use “the term “terrorist” … in referring to the rebels who achieved American independence”, nevertheless they use the term freely in reference to the struggles of those around the world opposing US Imperialism and indeed colonialism (the US does have some colonies too).

    The correspondent mentioned the French and their Resistance — which were of course called “terrorists” by the German occupiers (and by French collaborators) — but the French authorities and supportive media had no problem referring to the resistance in Indo-China, Morocco, Algeria etc. as “terrorists”.

    I think a number of points can be clearly established about the word “terrorists”:
    1. The term is almost always pejorative
    2. It has no meaning that can be established objectively; that is to say that its application can easily be refuted by any group to which it applied or even turned around on its accusers.
    3. It most widely applied to small forces and hardly ever to large state forces who do, indeed, take many armed actions to induce terror among their enemies and increasingly among civilian populations.
    4. Those who have been described as “terrorists” in the past and rejected the term as unjustified are often quite capable at a later stage in their political careers (or history) to apply the term to others in similar circumstances.

    1. Good points. I’ve argued before that the word “terrorist” has been largely stripped of meaning or force since it’s use is entirely predicated on the users own politics, ideology, partisan feeling, nationality, ethnicity, and so on and so forth. It’s hard to argue with the old cliché: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter”, and vice versa.

      However, there are exceptions. 9/11 was an act of terrorism; but the invasion of Iraq was arguably an act of state-terrorism. The Boston Bombing was an act of terrorism; but the use of drone-strikes in most cases are also acts of terrorism.

      In France they know the “revisionists” by the term “negationists”. Wikitionary defines this as, “One who revises history in order to omit something that actually happened.” I think it needs wider application in the case of British history in Ireland, and those who deny or apologies for it.

      1. Gmra. I don’t know that “negationist” will really work for those who describe a justified activity in history as fundamentally wrong. But there is a problem with “revisionism” as a term also — I was surprised years ago to learn that much revisionism of history — for example in the US and in Britain (internally) — has been progressive, taking on board the experiences of the working class, ethnic minorities, women. Arguably, all history is revisionist, as it revises what has been written before, sometimes overturning, sometimes just challenging, sometimes deepening or broadening. Of course in Ireland, revisionism has been mostly — especially since the 1970s — an anti-resistance, anti-revolutionary and event anti-national kind of revisionism. Two books I would recommend on reading and writing history are What Is History? by EH Carr and Lies My Teacher Told Me by James M Loewen.

  2. The victors get to write history, the losers write the songs. There was a great series on TG4 not to long ago called Ceol ón gCroí (Music from the Heart), that touched on this theme very well. The Brits and the Americans have been especially prolific in changing history to fantasy since 1950, and all their misdeeds have been appropriately clothed in the mystique of heroism. As for terrorism, I completely agree with you, ASF, but I have to turn your own argument against you (in a friendly, devil’s advocate kind of way) in terms of the Iraq invasion and the drone strikes. The Iraq invasion did not turn into terrorism until foreign elements got involved in it, who practised terrorism themselves, and largely, the lumbering American “heroes” failed to adequately respond, trying to protect the “non-combatants,” while failing to see that in a war (they started without due cause) focused on counter-intuitive ideologies, there is no such a thing. The drone strikes are, unquestionably, acts of terrorism, but could be viewed as in support of freedom and its heroes. Also, the term freedom in itself is a somewhat cultural definition, as us haughty Westerners are so reluctantly beginning to realise. It is as malleable as the terms terrorist or freedom fighter.

    1. AAS, in terms of “foreign elements” do you mean non-Iraqi fighters or sponsors, including nation-states (Iran, most obviously), in the anti-coalition insurgency? I’m not sure about that as there was an element of sectarian/communal bloodletting from the get-go, almost as soon as the Saddam regime collapsed, though certainly it was accelerated out of all proportion by 2005. Of course part of the Rumsfeld/Cheney plan was the belief that they could suck in the “terrorists” from across the Islamic world to a battleground of America’s choosing, namely Iraq, and simply annihilate them in a new ground zero. Which was nuts.

      I don’t know what freedom is but I recognise when I see it! 😉

      Unfortunately it has virtually no existence in the Middle East outside of Israel – which is hardly a shining example to anyone. Some Arabs and Muslims might well think, if Israel is a template for how a liberal democracy is formed and functions, no thank you. Even the poor Kurds in the autonomous zone of Iraq seem to be falling into the old template of a “strong leader”. How long before civil war erupts there? Relationships between Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi Kurds are already simmering. That was the one place that gave me some hope and the “West” has fucked that up as well.

  3. I don’t know if the sucking in the terrorists was part of the plan as much as it was an afterthought. I really do not think they had a plan at all. They had a year plus before the terrorists got sucked in but failed on all points of obvious consequence to either prevent it or present a viable trap to meet them at ground zero. They also failed greatly in responding intelligently to the initially overwhelmingly positive disposition of the locals. Another reason I believe they had no real plan on what to do after toppling Sadam.

    IS believes themselves to be fighting for their form of freedom, and I am sure they too recognise it when they see it – back atcha (as they say in Meirica).

Comments are closed.