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.”