Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Tue Nov 29, 2011 6:32 am

Kieran,

You make a case, all right, and indeed I have acknowledged where Aubane do too. But many of their arguments do NOT “stack up relative to ALL the facts”: check out my review of Coolacrease to illustrate what I mean. And if you check out Aubane’s website there’s some appalling stuff there.

A particularly egregious document is one which, while it might appear at first blush to be irrelevant to this forum, actually is critical because:

· The Aubane Historical Society poses as historical
· This is an historical forum
· The Aubane Historical Society is frequently invoked on this forum
· It contradicts the claims you make for Aubane

The document I refer to is one that would seem to have been calculated to follow on from Aubane’s reissue of Roger Casement’s The Crime Against Europe, which notoriously blames Britain for the Kaiser War; this document lays the blame for the Hitler War, too, at Britain’s feet.

That war is off-forum, but if you’re curious about Aubane’s remarkable analysis of it check out http://current-magazines.atholbooks.org ... 20Pact/War. But if either war is off-forum, the claim that Britain was responsible for, not just the First, but also the Second World War, is a measure of just how “historical” the Aubane Historical Society is. If you think their arguments on this one “stack up” you will disappoint me deeply.

According to Aubane, Hitler was less one of the great mass-murderers of history, right up there with Stalin and Mao, than the tragic victim of fiendish British conniving; the poor Nazis were only looking for a place to lay their weary heads, and if they broke some stuff while staggering to their beds all over Europe and North Africa, blame Perfidious Albion.

Now anyone who could be brought to believe that Britain is responsible for not just the First but also the Second World War has to be so majestically stupid that he owes it to humanity to leave his brain to science. Or, if not stupid, bigoted to the point of blindness. If that particular argument were brought to the boxing ring it wouldn’t get as far as the first round, for the ringside doctor would see to it that the challenger was brought under sedation to a secure unit at the nearest mental hospital.

How could any intelligent person ever trust a single word from a source that would try to peddle such transparent nonsense?

This is revisionism of the very worst sort: rank propaganda masquerading as history. The imprimatur of any publisher that panders to stupidity and bigotry cannot but prove to be a liability to true historians brought onto its author list to provide the plausibility and verisimilitude that successful propagandists need.

The whole business of history in Ireland seems to be going a little mad of late. Apart from Aubane’s demented shrieking there are those other revisionists of the “iconoclastic” sort (to borrow from Martin Mansergh), who rush into print prematurely at best, with too little evidence to sustain their claims—to the great delight of Aubane, who more or less have their work done for them with such books.

And as if that were not enough, a currently-fashionable nonsense holds that fiction writers are the historians of the ordinary man and woman, those overlooked by “real” historians who, allegedly, are hypnotised by the “great man” theory into overlooking what happens to ordinary people on the various great men’s watches. Sebastian Barry is the best-known subscriber to this belief, but there are more.

All this might be fine and well if those writers knew their history. But while some have done their homework, others seem to have only clichéd or foggy notions and be motivated not by genuine passion for history but rather by a sense of outrage that people of the past had to suffer as they did, be it only privation of a sort we do not have today. Such sentiments may well be admirable, but writers who indulge them misrepresent the past, less because of their lack of imaginative vision than because they have subordinated to wishful thinking the remorseless honesty that any true artist, no less than any true historian, has to bring to his work, if that work is to endure.

The problem is that good intentions and anachronistic views make for very bad historical fiction and, while historians may see the absurdities in, say, A Long, Long Way, many laypeople will think that this is the way the world really was ninety-odd years ago; that, for instance, the British army was an egalitarian organisation, in which officers and men could bathe naked together, without the men being horrified by embarrassment and the officers court-martialled for conduct unbecoming.

The fact that this book gained the accolades that it did would seem to justify my concern, because those accolades ensured a wide readership for such views. Quite apart from the book’s historical errors, its artistic shortcomings undoubtedly will prove embarrassing to those preening arbiters of merit when the wine runs out and the roses wilt and everybody sobers up. It’s difficult not to suspect that all those honours were heaped on Mr Barry not for his artistry but for the politically-respectable version of the past that he creates. Likewise those laurels loaded on The Sacred Scripture, in which a British soldier wends his way from Belfast to Dublin, via Sligo, while clad in khaki, without being arrested in the Free State! In our present climate, it seems that any artist whose villain is a priest and heroine a single mother victimised by the villain, has to be lauded as a hero, however strained the story that he labours out by way of justification.

This is not an assault on Mr Barry, who seems to be as very nice a gentleman who ever laid a pavestone on the road to Hell—I wish him nothing but well. My contempt is for the pretentious clowns who were so bedazzled by the artistry of the icing—Mr Barry’s lyrical style—that they didn’t even bother to cut through to the half-baked cake beneath.

The ideas that Mr Barry and others propagate constitute revisionism of a different and dangerously subtle sort, and are an impediment to genuine understanding of the past. There might be no malice in these people, but their deluded imaginings may prove as damaging as Aubane’s calculated mischief.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Tue Nov 29, 2011 8:41 pm

Michael

Thanks for the jaw-dropping link - I think I may have done the Flat Earth Society a disservice.

That being said though, I wouldn't automatically rubbish everything they come up with, each case deserves to be judged on its own merits. To continue the boxing analogies, the only reason Muhammad Ali had to keep re-claiming his heavyweight title was that every once in a while, one of the bad guys would land a perfect knockout punch.

A couple of points in relation to the second half of your post.

I sense a certain disdain on your part for history presented by anyone other than "real" historians. That would be to assume that the work of an amateur is automatically going to be amateurish. The converse of that is that the work of a "real" historian is automatically going to be "good history" for want of a better phrase. Neither is necessarily true. I've read work by professional historians that has left me fuming at evidence overlooked or connections not drawn and that's BEFORE it's been put through an ideological sheep-dip. If the method is right, the work will be right, regardless of the professional or amateur status of the writer. (By the way, just to lay my cards on the table, I'm an aspiring amateur.)

In the same spirit of egalitarianism, the "great man approach" has its place but with regard to the present topic, a chief with no indians simply wouldn't have made history. History is made when, in extra-ordinary circumstances, ordinary people do extra-ordinary things. Led by great men without doubt, but the indians are no less great just because their reputations aren't as great.

Which brings me on to iconoclasm. If someone unearths new facts, or draws a new interpretation from existing facts, then if someone's halo needs denting, it should be dented. I'm not at all advocating iconoclasm for the sake of it, an objective established before the evidence has even been sifted, but if it's a conclusion based on the evidence, then it belongs. Any icon worth their salt will probably have a biographer to spring to their defence in any case.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Wed Nov 30, 2011 6:50 am

Agreed, Kieran, agreed—

With almost everything you say I agree. By no means do I think that the only “real” historians are “professionals”—I’m hardly a professional myself so I can’t afford such “disdain”.

It may be tempting for “professionals” to be jealous of their reputations, and many have been very defensive in this way. Basil Liddell Hart aggressively defended his views against healthy revisionism, to the point, allegedly, of stretching the truth. It can be a small step from there to what outsiders may perceive as a smug sort of club in which a member may blackball any prospective new member he doesn’t like the look or sound of.

There is some truth in this, and not just in the field of history. About 30 years ago Martin Brennan caused a furore in archaeology with The Stars and the Stones—the letters page of the Irish Times was smouldering with the outrage of the old guard for ages.

But that sword cuts both ways: Liddell Hart is almost never referenced nowadays, and I’ve already mentioned on these pages Denis Winter, who ruined his reputation with a book that sought to roll back the revisionism that had begun to examine the long-reviled generals of the Great War in a fresh way. I think Winter’s still got tenure somewhere, but no one has taken him seriously for many years.

Every professional was an amateur once, and amateurs can do great work, perhaps because they’re away from the centre and so less focused on the central view and central ideas, whatever those may be. Especially if they’ve got passion for their subject, plus commitment to pursuit of the truth and a refusal to be intimidated by consensus or bullies, amateurs are in a very good position to come up with fresh views that may in time become established views.

Over the last dozen or so years a former American soldier, Terence Zuber, has challenged the orthodox view of Germany’s Schlieffen Plan and he’s changed the way that people think of that. Maybe Zuber hasn’t converted everyone fully to his way of thinking, but no one at all now takes him to be anything but a professional historian, one of the best in his field (the Second Reich).

Amateurs of course can do great work, but only if, as you say, they abide by the professional method: establish a claim, and argue it using supportive evidence toward a reasoned and reasonable conclusion. If they do that they can be more professional than some alleged professionals, discredited and mouldering away.

If an ex-soldier can change the way people think about history, why not others? If Zuber can gain an international reputation by questioning orthodoxy on a relatively minor matter and arguing his case using patiently-excavated evidence, can you imagine the reputation and career that any intelligent and enthusiastic amateur would have before him if he could make a case, not that a war plan may not have existed, but that it was not Germany but Britain that was the real instigator of either world war? This would threaten to turn scholarship on its head and such a scholar wouldn’t even have to prove his case beyond a doubt, merely make a plausible, reasoned argument and provide a reasonable body of evidence that wouldn’t go away; enough to get other historians interested, listening, debating. With his PhD he could take his pick of university positions round the world and have tenure in two years.

But try a similar cheap shot on some internet forum or obscure website and no one’s going to hear you. And if by chance someone does, he’s going to say, “Interesting claim—I’m sure you’ve got equally interesting evidence to back it up, yes?” Well actually no, sir, but I’ve got loads and loads of other interesting claims and more unsubstantiated rants than a mob could shake a scythe and pitchfork at, and if you’ll just hold this torch….

Of course Aubane can and indeed does come up with some good stuff because having some good stuff is essential if they’re to sell the rest of their stuff—like every successful propagandist, they need plausibility and verisimilitude if they’re to keep the mob behind them. So I imagine they’d be very anxious to rope in amateurs who would be understandably pleased to see their work published. However I suspect that, if those amateurs aspire to be taken seriously in the wider world of history, Aubane’s imprimatur is likely to prove an embarrassment or even a significant obstacle.

Any organisation that publishes even one document that panders to ignorance, prejudice and madness is a disgrace. That such an organisation would call itself historical is an outrage to any historian, amateur or professional.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Thu Dec 01, 2011 8:49 pm

Unfortunately for the attempt to discredit people like Meda Ryan, Dr Brian Murphy, Niall Meehan, Desmond Fennell and anyone else who may have been published or promoted by Athol Books by linking them with the Aubane Historical Society, they are not members.

I would recommend looking at the Cedar Lounge Revolution's comprehensive discussions of the background to the AHS for a background on that particular group. It also reproduces issues of their regular publication from the 1970s, which at the time was thoroughly unionist, pro-Zionist etc etc. Basically, they oppose what they perceive as the prevailing doctrine, and sometimes not in a palatable way, as in the suggestion of the then BICO that victims of loyalist violence merited their fate. They (the AHS/Athol Books) are not a "front" for the BICO, incidentally, which no longer exists, but are pretty much its successors. That they are taken seriously as a forum for debate is indicated by the fact that Jeffrey Dudgeon is currently arguing with Niall Meehan about Peter Hart in their monthly magazine.

Meda Ryan has a long and respected career as a journalist who has written many valuable contributions to Irish history (The Day Michael Collins was Shot being one example). Niall Meehan is a lecturer in a third-level institution who has published in the Dublin Review of Books, Field Day Review and History Ireland, and was instrumental in ensuring that the Bethany Home scandal was kept in the media. Brian Murphy's books stand on their own merits: Patrick Pearse and the Lost Republican Ideal has, I suspect, proven highly influential, as it gave credit to the ideological merit of republicanism, a rarity in academia, which had dismissed it for decades as the ravings of madmen. Desmond Fennell's work doesn't need much of an introduction. That several writers should seek out a rare platform for non-unionist academic views of Irish history is not surprising, but is pretty indicative of the state of academia in the 1990s.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sat Dec 03, 2011 5:44 pm

Thanks for those details, Premier—

But they hardly change the logical and moral substance of my argument, do they?

That Aubane is not, as I had thought, a front for the BICO is irrelevant if they “are pretty much its successor” and as such a Communist organisation whose aim is a single-party state in which all opposition is outlawed and state terror deployed to ensure that none emerges.

Obviously no one with the brains that God gave geese is going to vote for such a hellish state, so if Communists wish to gain power they have to seize it; and a very good strategy toward this end is to foment confusion and harness unrest with the aim of violent revolution, amid the horrors of which you kill off your opposition or intimidate it into acquiescence and subsequently dispose of it in one way or another.

Once in power you use your power to stay in power. Anyone who expresses a dangerous or even politically incorrect opinion is sent off to somewhere like Siberia for “re-education” or, if necessary, put to death—“in the name of the people” of course, and only after a show … sorry, fair trial.

But you’re fair, as you insist—you use the carrot as well as the stick. You have “free” elections—though only Party candidates can stand. You keep the unterkameraden onside by encouraging them to buy into the ideology, and if some of them come up with ideas that are compatible with Marxism you decorate them as Champions of the Proletariat (or whatever)—and if those ideas prove not to be compatible with those of Mother Nature you clench your sphincter as you’re gradually hoist on your own petard, keep a fixed smile on your face, cross your fingers and wish you hadn’t outlawed God so that that you could pray to him now that you need him.

Meanwhile you redecorate your various dachas and build up your collection of Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royce cars—to serve as a warning as to what capitalist decadence can lead to—and as Mr Lysenko’s Marxist ideas reduce your wheatfields to barrenness, and the meat-queues in your cities cultivate a taste for cabbage, you earn foreign revenue by undertaking to dispose of the industrial waste of your decadent capitalist neighbours, and you dump this poison in your rivers and lakes.

In the end, of course, there isn’t enough real money to buy another Rolls, the decadent capitalists’ production capacities aren’t any longer creating enough milk lakes and beef- and butter-mountains for you to feed your cities, your countryside’s a wasteland and everything ends in the sort of tears out of which it emerged. Your ungrateful countrymen dismantle the Workers Utopia you worked so hard to create for them and introduce democracy—within the safe confines of which you set up, oh, let’s call it the Aubane Hysterical Society, to start the ball rolling again.

And so it goes until, to borrow from Santayana, we learn enough from our past to quit repeating it.

When we understand this we can reconcile the apparent contradiction of Aubane, on the one hand, hosting intelligent debate between Niall Meehan and Jeffrey Dudgeon and publishing Meda Ryan, Desmond Fennell et al, and, on the other hand, fostering mad notions like that Britain declared war on Revolutionary France and was responsible for both 20th century world wars.

For the intelligent people whom Aubane flatter would not be the first to be used by Communism toward ends not theirs. Lenin placed great value on “useful fools”—and the aforementioned, being intelligent people with a good grasp of history, will take no umbrage at my use of this term, for they will know that it was Lenin’s, not mine, and that it places them in the distinguished company of the like of GB Shaw, who was nobody’s fool but Lenin’s.

With the respectability that such intelligent people confer on an organisation, the organisation raises its profile, and gulls other people into thinking that it wouldn’t hurt a fly; that at worst it comprises a few doddering harmless old cranks who think they can turn back the clock to 1917. Or the Stone Age.

That Aubane would “oppose what they perceive as the prevailing doctrine, and sometimes not in a palatable way”, simply for the sake of opposition, reveals them to be those revisionists of the “iconoclastic” sort behind all the urbane reasonableness. That these revisionists then set their face against other revisionists perhaps reflects their duplicity, but really this strategy is another way of fomenting the confusion that paves the road to revolution.

Hence the simultaneous fostering of intelligent debate and the most dangerously stupid notions. Because, valuable though superficial respectability is, the real work, that done with fists and shotguns and Kalashnikovs and Semtex, will not be done by people like Mr Fennell and Ms Ryan.

“And if the people who will do such work, Uberkamerad, those who cannot spell Siberia, cannot understand intelligent debate and care less about it—how are we to get them onto our side?”

“Oh sing a few songs. ‘Come Out Ye Black an’ Tans!’—that’ll work. Tell them that the Provos beat the Brits in Northern Ireland. Tell them that the Brits started the two world wars, the Famine and the Black Death and the Spanish Flu. Tell them Oliver Cromwell was personally responsible for the Little Ice Age. Tell them General Maxwell’s cat killed Cock Robin. If you can’t convince ‘em, confuse ‘em. Lead them so deep into the mist of your tarbh that they’ll be pathetically delighted to follow anyone who promises to get them out of it—us!”

“But … Uberkamerad, those fools will not know who General Maxwell was.”

Kamerad, do you know how to spell Siberia?”

Jawol, mein Fűhrer! Thy vill be done. Ve haff vays off making zem think.”

To make them think the way you want them to call for an old and dependable, if hardly moral, strategy: deploy lies, fear, envy and greed—and the attendant promise that you, and you alone, can assuage the masses’ fears and sate their greed. You can always fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, and no matter where you go, as the fellow says, you need never to bring an eejit. Unionist eejits yesterday, Nationalists today, Unionists again tomorrow if that suits the revolution better. Go enough places, on the internet and on the ground, and make enough eejits think the way you want them to and you’re half way home, with eejits following your tune as rats followed the Pied Piper on the road to their own destruction.

The situation organisations like Aubane seek to engineer is one of uncertainty in which people will believe the most fantastic nonsense. The problems that this situation brings about were recognised over 2,000 years ago; the opportunities were exploited by Lenin and his cronies. Just as they were by Hitler.

You know the story. You’re busy working when your mobile phone chimes and it’s your herdsman, crying that there’s a wolf among your flocks. So you drop what you’re doing, grab the shotgun and a box of Eleys, into the four-by-four and head for the hills to sort out Mr Wolf. But there’s ne’er a sign of Mr Wolf when you arrive; your goats are all present and as correct as goats ever get, and your herdsman’s crying, “But he was right there, Mr Aesop! Honest! He nearly killed me! I’m lucky to be alive!”

Just like the time before and time before that. But what do you do? You have herds, you need a herdsman; you’d love to sack this lying bastard and hire an honest man but the lying bastard’s father is secretary of the Herdsman’s Union and he’ll sue you for wrongful dismissal if you do—for where’s your witness to prove that there wasn't a wolf? You bourgeois exploiter!

So you’re stuck with the liar.

And one of the many problems with liars is that they might be telling the truth—and indeed they do so as often as this suits so that people will more readily believe their lies when these suit. So next time your mobile rings what do you do? Your time is money but so are your goats.

And if you won’t answer, the herdsman might call some of your neighbours, who may resent you for making them do your work and resent you further for hiring a herdsman who wastes their time. So the neighbours get edgy.

And you’re edgy already.

And then you get a call to say that one of your neighbours is among your flocks….

And, out of habit, you reach for your shotgun before you go to sort him out.

Your neighbour has brought his shotgun to shoot the wolf.

And when the neighbourhood has killed itself off the erstwhile herdsman sells everybody’s goats, buys a Rolls Royce and moves into a dacha.

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet,
And the morals that we worshipped will be gone.
And the men who spurred us on
Will sit in judgement of all wrong:
They decide—and the shotguns sing the song.

Don’t get fooled again.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sat Dec 03, 2011 9:19 pm

Hence the simultaneous fostering of intelligent debate and the most dangerously stupid notions. Because, valuable though superficial respectability is, the real work, that done with fists and shotguns and Kalashnikovs and Semtex, will not be done by people like Mr Fennell and Ms Ryan.


:lol: :lol: :lol: :roll:
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Sun Dec 04, 2011 9:27 pm

thepremier wrote:I would recommend looking at the Cedar Lounge Revolution's comprehensive discussions of the background to the AHS for a background on that particular group. It also reproduces issues of their regular publication from the 1970s, which at the time was thoroughly unionist, pro-Zionist etc etc. Basically, they oppose what they perceive as the prevailing doctrine, and sometimes not in a palatable way, as in the suggestion of the then BICO that victims of loyalist violence merited their fate.


I took your advice and had a read of the various threads on CLR. I'm simply bemused that what appears to be much the same group of people can go from being on the barricades in Belfast in August 1969 (and getting their noses out of joint because Hanley & Millar didn't give sufficient recognition to their presence, instead of focussing on the absence of the IRA) to extolling the UWC strike of 1974 to being in the frontline in the fight against revisionist interpretations of history today. I'm all for people changing their opinions in the light of changing circumstances but there's a whole saga of self-revisionism in that little journey alone.

Maybe, as you suggest, they simply adopt a deliberately contrarian stance to whatever's going, but why is another matter. Attention-seeking behaviour?

Yet for all that, I still wouldn't go down the road of ascribing guilt by association, either to the other authors you mention to whom they give a platform, or to anything they themselves contribute to the debate on Ireland 1913-23. Judge everything on its own merits, in other words.

Michael, I get that you don't like the left. I'm no fan of Stalin myself. But I don't see how ascriribing motives to Aubane in the course of a McCarthyite dystopian fantasy adds anything to the discussion. Writing off everything they have to say as merely laying the groundwork for the establishment of the Millstreet gulag is no less blinkered than the very nightmare you rage against.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Na Fianna Éireann on Mon Dec 05, 2011 1:52 am

Reading this thread for months now and really comes down to this, the Irish wanted independance and amongst the Irish people there were Protestants alot of them could have been construed as fifth columnists, it is only reasonable to conclude that they would be targeted as they would be providing information about the activities of the IRA of the time, also as Irish homes were burnt to the ground and businesses destroyed by the British with cohersion of a largely unionist pro-British sympathies that the war of independance would in some respect descend into some aspects of religious tribalism.

As it did largely in areas like Belfast, Derry South Armagh and in Cork where protestants were murdered and homes destroyed. It is well that almost 100 years later we can write and argue about the rights and wrongs of this but what we can't really fathom is the true nature of what happened and why it happened and what was in the minds of the IRA at the time and to be honest what was in the minds of all the combatants and lest we not forget the innocent victims of attacks on all sides left homeless, injured or murdered, we can't change what has happened but at least the men of 1916 and beyond this gave us a steeping stone to a united Ireland a catholic Irish man is a good as a protestant Irish man and vice versa as we are all Irish men. These events took place in order to give us our freedom, in war soldiers do not stop to think about the rights and wrongs in the heat of battle they focus only on survival and on victory, we see this on a daily basis in Iraq in Iran in libya and in other conflict zones around the world whether injustices perpertrated against civilians be right or wrong after the smog of war has lifted it's easy to think oh that was right or that was wrong and reflect, what was called for to be done at Kilmichael or Crossbarry or in fact in other places even by Frank Aiken's men was deemed necessary given the time the place and the people involved, it is not up to us to judge them as we are only witnesses to a historical event.

I stand by the actions of my fore fathers in testiment to the sacrafice that they gave their lives to create a nation that has stood proud amongst the other nations of the word ... do the Americans criticise George Washington, no they see him as a father of their nation , Michael Collins lead the Irish Republican Army to victory against a savage imperialistic nation that had invaded these shores around 29th may 1169 and never sought to leave, in fact they murdered millions of Irish men women and children and practically destroyed our language did our soldiers not have the right to defend and to create a new vision for all we Irish people.
Na Fianna Éireann Fíor inár gCroíthe Neart inár Láimhe Comhsheasmhacht inár dTeanga.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:36 pm

DrNightdub wrote:I took your advice and had a read of the various threads on CLR. I'm simply bemused that what appears to be much the same group of people can go from being on the barricades in Belfast in August 1969 (and getting their noses out of joint because Hanley & Millar didn't give sufficient recognition to their presence, instead of focussing on the absence of the IRA) to extolling the UWC strike of 1974 to being in the frontline in the fight against revisionist interpretations of history today. I'm all for people changing their opinions in the light of changing circumstances but there's a whole saga of self-revisionism in that little journey alone.

Maybe, as you suggest, they simply adopt a deliberately contrarian stance to whatever's going, but why is another matter. Attention-seeking behaviour?


I don't know. I should say, of course that the Irish Political Review is always a good read, and the various members of the Aubane group are a very nice and prepossessing group of people. Irish academia in particular lends itself to snobby, exclusive (in the bad sense) cliques, though that is in the process of radical change, and good on them for gathering together nationalist historians when it was very difficult to get that kind of a platform or social group for a long time. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that they're partly responsible for the energy of nationalist history today. By the way, I think Tim Pat Coogan and Ruán O'Donnell and John Borgonovo have been somewhat involved as well, in that TPC gave a talk at the launch of one of their books, and Ruán O'Donnell wrote an introduction for one, and they launched one of Borgonovo's books. I think a couple of politicians have been at their launches too. They specialise in republishing old and hard-to-access books and memoirs, which is a valuable function. I would say that their version of The Crime Against Europe isn't worth getting, though. They should just have republished Herbert Mackey's version, which also contains some of Casement's other essays.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Thu Dec 08, 2011 6:59 am

Kieran:

You’re not right when you say that I “don’t like the left”. Enlightened left wing politics has changed our world enormously for the better—it’s terrifying to think what we would be like without those changes—and I am too grateful for the opportunities I have had to be hostile to the left, which provided those opportunities.

Furthermore, the few politicians I admire are overwhelmingly from the left of the spectrum: Gladstone and John Bright; Churchill and Lloyd George (for the People’s Budget—my admiration for that pair is very far indeed from unconditional); Clement Atlee; Noel Brown; Donagh O’Malley, Michael D Higgins—who got my number one in the recent election.

I loathe the far left, but for the same reasons I loathe the far right: each has moved so far away from normal standards of truth and decency that they’ve met 180 degrees away at the very antipodes of morality, a dark place where even Lloyd George would never find himself.

Don’t swallow the line, by the way, that Stalin was an aberration: Lenin and Trotsky each endorsed use of state terror, and Ramsay MacDonald, the first British Labour PM, had warned about the horrors of Communism when Stalin was a relatively minor apparatchik.

Nor do I “write off everything [Aubane] has to say”, as I think I have demonstrated. I just don’t trust any organisation that propagates demonstrably false ideas.

Shergar:

I cannot agree more that “it is not up to us to judge” the people of the past, who were on the spot and not hurlers on the ditch. It is a constant refrain of my own.

But if we cannot judge them, we can, and indeed as historians we must, judge their actions. If it “is not up to us to judge” the men of 1916 it is not up to us to judge, morally, John Maxwell, who was charged with defending his country from German aggression and who saw it as his duty to put rebels in arms and in alliance with his country’s foes, to death—and who gave £200 of his own money, a vast sum at the time, to relief of the poor of Dublin. But how can we fail to condemn his actions in putting to death the rebel leaders, and imposing martial law, as foolish, tragic, catastrophic? Even from a British political point of view his actions must be judged as wrong—he “lost Ireland for the Empire”.

I cannot agree with you that “at least the men of 1916 and beyond this gave us a stepping stone to a united Ireland”. They may have given us a stepping stone to an independent 26-county republic, but they also ensured by their appeal to German-backed violence that Ireland would, probably, never be united. (Of course this is merely my own belief—and “never” is a long time.)

The evidence suggests that 90-odd years ago we were in a conundrum: we could have full independence for part of the country—and at horrendous cost, as things turned out—or partial independence for all of it; and unity of even partially-independent Ireland would take the most sensitive negotiations between Northern and Southern Ireland, and the most careful fostering of the powers of the Council of Ireland.

The only people who then seemed aware of the enormous challenges with which we were faced were those of the All For Ireland movement. The Parliamentary Party thought the Unionists were bluffing, and that once faced with the reality of Home Rule they would knuckle under; the Advanced Nationalists thought they could be forced into a republic. Had either group read their history they would have known the sort of people they were dealing with up North, people whose truculence went back far beyond 1641 and even 1608, whose allegiance to the Crown, long before they crossed the North Channel, was always wary and conditional, whose loyalty was to themselves and their fundamentalist form of Calvinism.

A simplistic view of history was then, as it is now, part of Ireland’s problems. We flatter ourselves that we know our history like no other people but the truth was recognised many years ago by a lecturer (whose name eludes me—anyone know it?) who at the start of every academic year assembled his students and asked for a show of hands of all who were not Irish. He would then say (to paraphrase): “For you, I have some hope that you may some day make historians, but for the rest, almost none. Because, being Irish, you have been brought up not merely with a one-sided and partial view of history, but the wrong way of looking at the past, if you are to become historians”.

The best example of what the man seems to have meant is Roger Casement’s opening to “The Romance of Irish History” (I’m sorry to keep beating at poor Casement, a man I admire in many ways): “The history of Ireland remains to be written, for the purpose of Irishmen remains yet to be achieved”—as if history is to be defined by anyone’s purpose!

I can’t see how coercing 20 percent of the island’s population into a united Ireland could possibly have worked, even had the Rising been successful and Germany won the war. The Unionists could only have been kept down by an army of occupation, which would have been withdrawn at the end of the war and bloody civil war inevitably would have followed, with partition along the lines that we’ve had since 1922. Whatever chance we ever had of a united, independent Ireland, we lost it when we tried to force the issue.

It would be ironic if Irish unity came about by a diktat of the Fourth Reich … sorry, EU, which decides that administering two provinces on a single small island is an offence to Germanic efficiency. Already the Lisbon Treaty looks like justifying my fears when it was railroaded through that it would prove a Second Act of Union, with Ireland under Berlin rather than London.

Premier:

Might your mention of “nationalist historians” and “nationalist history” perhaps indicate the sort of thinking that the lecturer above had in mind? (I’m sorry if I appear to be pursuing some sort of vendetta against you; I’m not at all, I wish you well, we simply disagree on just about everything and this forum is for discussion of such differences.) If the intention is redressing of a perceived imbalance such a phenomenon is probably fine, as long as it remains aware of its own temporary nature and that it serves as a means to an end: a fuller understanding of the past, and not mere preservation of the nationalist narrative—or rather, I suspect, one strand of this.

I’m completely unaffiliated with any historical grouping in this country so for all I know there may be an equally partisan school of “history” in opposition to that of “nationalist history” (in actuality rather than as Aubane claims). And yes, academia can be notoriously cliquish. But no self-respecting historian, of any nationality, would respond other than pithily to the proposal, say, that Britain was responsible for the Second World War. Anyone who talks nonsense is going to be treated as a fool, in history circles as anywhere else, but he must not infer too much from such treatment.

Thanks for the tip on the new edition of The Crime Against Europe. I’ll check it out at the library. I suspect I have at least some of the essays, as well as the main text, but I’m curious to read Mr Mackey’s introduction—and even more so any foreword that Aubane may provide. One must try to be fair.
michaelcarragher
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