The Old, Old Story

From two newspaper articles over the last twenty-four hours. The Derry Journal reporting on the opinions held in 1972 by the British army general, Sir Harry Tuzo, GOC (general-officer-commanding) the British Occupation Forces in Ireland from 1971-73, and a vigorous opponent of a negotiated settlement between the (Provisional) Republican Movement and the UK, on the character of the Irish people:

“The charitable might say that the Irish tend not to minimise their sufferings; the candid that they are shocking old cry babies. If anyone lays a finger on them the world must hear of it with embellishment. And like children they believe in their own fantasies… Furthermore, nothing that happens, no action of troops or police, relates in anyway to anything done by themselves. Nothing is ever their fault, nor do they ever do wrong.”

Over forty years later, the liberal British journalist, Michael Nicholson, writing yesterday in the Irish Times on his new novel examining an Gorta Mór, the Great Famine of the mid-1800s, and his conversion from history-denier to accepter:

“I had listened at length to Ireland’s historical grievances in Dublin and Liverpool, in Cork and in Boston, Massachusetts, wherever Irishmen gathered over a pint of porter or a Jamesons. They spoke of a deliberate policy of imposed starvation, of land clearances, of ethnic cleansing, of exporting Irish peasants in coffin ships that might never reach the far shores of the Atlantic, and all this said as if it was proven historical fact.

Given an Irishman’s well-known considerable verbal licence I was happy to persuade myself that much of it was exaggerated blarney. But as I ploughed even deeper in my research, my characters took over and my storyline went into reverse.”

That’s the Irish for you in British eyes, unsympathetic or otherwise. A child-like race governed by emotional extremes, from over-familiarity to extreme enmity, given to hyperbole and exaggeration, tantrums and sullenness, fond of their drink, but never to be trusted unless facts prove otherwise.

Sigh…

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14 comments

  1. Heart breaking. But true. I am old now, and I remember the stories of my aged Grandmother, nearly a hundred years when she passed, and born in 1861. This was just 6 years after the end of An Gorta Mor, and in her childhood and Youth, all the adults around her were survivors. They spoke of terrible things, like something out of Stalin’s “Famine” of the Ukraine, in the 1920’s. Sheer horror, as was my reaction. My own later readings and childhood conversations, with the elderly, born in or at the end of the Irish Genocide, confirmed her experiences. Much later, recent careful academic studies have verified the horror of those events. Clear evidence has been found that the British Government acted in a totally racist way to the mass death and near extermination of the Gaeldom, were heartless, and pleased at the “Clearing” of the rural areas, so the land could be used for “Higher Purposes”. It was Genocide. Plain and simple. The General Irish population was almost 10 million, on the eve of the An Gorta Mor, and twenty years later it was below three Million. A reduction of almost 70% of the population, through mass starvation, refugee flight abroad, and conflict. proportionately, greater than the losses of the Jews in the Shoa. But the whole thing passed over, with a brief paragraph in the school books, as “There was a problem with the potato crop. Lots of people died,. It was a natural calamity. Or, as the writer Joseph Conrad said: “The Horror, the Horror”.

    1. Which schoolbooks are you referring to, British or Irish?
      FWIW I don’t recall my ‘school history’ in the UK ever really saying anything about Ireland (and indeed very little about Scotland), it was to all intents and purposes English History.

  2. “Given an Irishman’s well-known considerable verbal license”?!! That sounds like something you would have read in a British newspaper in 1874, so I suppose it’s fitting. Jesus. Unreal.

  3. The British government still insists that the Irish Holocaust (a.k.a. Great Famine) was a natural disaster. The potato blight might have been, but the Famine was the result of British laissez-faire economics with a good dose of genocidal racism thrown in.

    You see the same thing in the U.S. with FOX News telling black people to stop whining about slavery and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

    1. It’s silly to whine about something that happened more than 150 years ago. Whatever happened back then is ancient history now and both victims and the perpetrators are long dead.
      Also in the USA paying compensations based on the skin colour would not make any sense and also would be incredibly racist. And what would the so-called “mixed-race” people do – pay those compensations to themselves?

  4. It’s silly to whine about something that happened more than 150 years ago.
    Sir Harry Tuzo and Michael Nicholson were both putting forward the view that irish people should take what the british State deals out with no objections and no complaints.
    That sound OK to you?
    if so, care to explain why?
    “Whatever happened back then is ancient history now and both victims and the perpetrators are long dead”
    Ever hear of epi-genetics Janis?
    There is now evidence that traumatic events become part of our DNA and psychological make-up and are passed on through the generations,

    1. So what’s your solution – should the UK pay you compensations for the famine?
      People who weren’t even born during the famine or slavery are not responsible for them. There’s no such thing as a collective guilt and no one should be punished for crimes of their ancestors.

  5. “no one should be punished for crimes of their ancestors”.
    So you admit the ancestors committed crimes!

    Stand up and take a bow Janis! Listen to the applause!

    Your next steps forward are 1) recognizing that other people have a valid point of view and 2) modifying your world view accordingly towards a little more charity and understanding of other people’s points of view!

    We’re all here cheering you on as you move forward! You have our backing!

    1. I think the key question here is who if anyone profited by the famine. If individuals or organisations can be identified then they may perhaps be sued for compensation, by the Irish state maybe? However if valid this should have been done long since, there’s probably nothing to be gained by forever going on about it, you’d get more respect internationally if you simply moved on.

      Jānis. Does Latvia not feel it should be compensated for all the destruction wrought by Germany and Russia/USSR, for example during WWII? These events are very much more recent than the Irish famine.

      1. Yeah, of course we feel that we should be compensated. But Russia just says “fuck you” to us and refuses to even recognise the Soviet occupation.
        That’s why we do our best to compensate the victims ourselves. My grandma, for example, gets a larger pension because she was deported to Siberia by the soviets.
        And Germany, unlike Russia does pay compensations to Latvian victims of the Holocaust/Nazi occupation.

        WW2 and the Soviet occupation are much recent events. Some of the victims and perpetrators are still alive. That’s why it makes sense to call for punishments and compensations.
        But no one is talking about compensations for Russian crimes in the 19th century (serfdom, Russification, etc), because that’s ancient history now and all the victims and perpetrators are long dead.

        Also how can you sue individuals who died 100+ years ago? Might as well sue France for the Napoleonic Wars.

        1. “Might as well sue France for the Napoleonic Wars.”

          Do you know any history accurately? It was Britain that funded, fomented and caused the Napoleonic wars – it was only Spain & Russia that were wars of choice by Napoleon, the rest of the wars were forced on France by Britain.

        2. You should have stood up to the Soviets just like the Finns did.
          Cowardly Latvia allowed Latvia to be taken over without even putting up a fight – and then collaborated with the Nazi’s in the mass-murder of Latvians.

          Shameful, utterly shameful.

          1. I think Jānis may have gone home for the holidays, whatever.

            IIRC the Finns had help from the Nazis against the Russians in the ‘Winter War’. Wasn’t that where the Germans picked up the swastika symbol and made it their own? Would you have preferred it if the Baltics had supported Hitler against Stalin? Some no doubt did. But then the Italians were right behind the Nazis until they realised they’d picked the wrong side, so “all was forgiven” and they finished the war as ‘allies’. While Spain was Fascist but technically neutral. And Ireland? Clearly the Nazi/Fascist cause had a special appeal for Catholic societies, no doubt use to being told what to do by the Hierarchy, conditioned to obedience through blind faith.

            But seriously it was all a bloody great mess and most people probably just did the best they could to survive and made their choices (when they had any choice) based on the limited information to hand.

  6. If not compensation, than perhaps the British can at least own up to their actions, which greatly exacerbated the effects of the Famine, which was itself due in no small part to the plantation-style conditions the Irish were kept under by the British for hundreds of years prior to the 1840s. By accurately reflecting the impact of British policies over the past several hundred years, including those during the Famine, the British can stop avoiding responsibility for their role in the deaths of more than a million Irish and the emigration of even more.

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