Irish Defence Forces Say No to British Army War Memorials in Barracks

As any long-time readers (and all the people who get here by searching for images of Nadine Coyle) will know, one of my favourite hobby horses is the poppy. More specifically, the way that the wearing of the poppy has been promoted in Ireland as some act of reconciliation. Here is some of what I had to say on the issue previously (previous posts here and here):

“In addition, I am sickened by the way in which a war that cost tens of millions of lives over the oppression of the peoples of other continents is trivialised and presented as a good things by idiots because Catholics and Protestants fought in it together, and we should all unite and honour their memory. Well no. We shouldn’t. We should condemn imperialism. And we should condemn the type of facile politics that produces the trivialisation of the greatest imperialist war in history. And reject them. If people want to wear a poppy, it should be a white one.”

The determined attempts to inject the commemoration of those who died in the furtherance of imperialism into culture across the island have a received a lot of support from influential people in the south such as Mary McAleese. And the southern army has participated in this as well. In its own words

The Defence Forces also give significant support to the recently established annual event organised by the Royal British Legion at the National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, with its emphasis on the Battle of the Somme and the Great War.

However, it seems that a limit has been reached, and not before time. Unlike the Guards, who essentially have long viewed themselves as having organisational continuity with the RIC (hence the Guards band playing songs associated with that era for example), the Defence Forces have recently rejected attempts to have a memorial to British troops placed in their barracks in Cork. The reason given was that the Defence Forces – whose Irish-language title of Óglaigh na hÉireann is a reminder of their self-image and origins in the Treatyite wing of the IRA – represented a different tradition to that of the British army.

In considering any monument or event commemorating the Great War, the department wishes to ensure that due regard be had to the separate traditions of the Defence Forces and membership by Irish people of the British armed forces.
“The dedication of memorials in Defence Forces barracks and churches to personnel and units of the British services could give rise to confusion in relation to the separate traditions.
“As a general principle therefore, it is not intended that any further memorials be erected on Defence Forces properties relating to military service other than with Óglaigh na héireann.

The Royal Munsters Fusiliers Association, a commemorative society, had wanted to put a window in the garrison church in Cork for the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. Its spokesperson had the following to say.

It does not seem to gel with what Taoiseach Brian Cowen has recently said with regard to honouring the dead on all sides.
“This is not a subject that is ever broached in our schools and it is only when you delve further, you realise how much a part of our heritage this is.
“A lot of these men went out to fight these wars in the hope of helping Ireland and I think now they are being hard done by. We appear to be heading in the wrong direction in remembering their sacrifice with this decision.”

I couldn’t disagree more with his final sentence. What we need to remember is that a lot of those who went out to fight, in WWI in particular (though note he talks about wars in the plural), did think they were helping Ireland. But they were also doing so as part of an imperial project to which the Irish Parliamentary Party was dedicated. If we are to face up to this period in all its complexity, the imperialist nature of the Irish nationalist elite – and probably a large proportion of its electorate – must be faced up to. Putting an end to the culture of celebration of imperialism through facile words about the different traditions in Ireland shedding blood together, and unyieldingly shining a light on Ireland’s imperialist heritage is essential, especially if we are to understand our island’s role in the world today.

UPDATE: WP Cork city councillor Ted Tynan has issued a statement on this issue warning that commemoration of the dead must not slip into glorification of imperialism and war.


14 Responses to “Irish Defence Forces Say No to British Army War Memorials in Barracks”

  1. Drithleóg Says:

    Good points. It should also be remembered who is pushing this agenda of rehabilitating imperialism here. The chief movers in this are three national newspapers – The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner. All three of these publications were actively involved in encouraging recruitment of Irishmen into the British Army to fight in the Great War; the Irish Times as the voice of unionism and the other two as promoters of Redmondism.

    Incidentally just a few yards away from the propsed location of the stained glass window the Royal Munsters wanted to install is the grave of Thomas Kent, one of the 16 men executed in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. The main railway station in Cork city is named after Thomas Kent.

  2. Garibaldy Says:

    Hadn’t thought about the newspaper angle Drithleóg. I agree what we are seeing (and have seen for a few decades) to some extent is the revenge of the home rule party – literally in the case of Conor Cruise O’Brien, who was consciously acting on behalf of Redmondism.

    Thanks for the info about Thomas Kent. There is no equivalence between his politics and those of the British Empire and its Irish supporters.

  3. Rabelais Says:

    When I was a kid I used to sit with my Granda, a veteran of the First World War, and assemble the poppies in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday. All the little bits – the paper red petals and green leaf, the plastic stalk and black button in the middle came in separate boxes.

    My Granda came back from the war a pacifist. Couldn’t even bring himself to speak about it. His brother-in-law was the opposite. For him the war had been the most significant moment in his life and he talked and re-enacted it endlessly. He’d never felt so alive as he did amongst all that death.

    I stopped wearing the poppy after my Granda died. I’d reach the same conclusion as you, Garibaldy. I just wore it because didn’t want to offend the old fellow while he was alive. I was in my late teens at the time and I took dogs abuse from family and strangers when they noticed that I wasn’t wearing one.

    I got called a ‘taig’ on a couple of occasions and then when someone vouched for my Protestant credentials, well, I was a ‘fenian-lover’.

    My objection to it was as a socialist who saw nothing glorious or ‘great’ about an imperialists war. The problem with trying to discuss the poppy in Ireland is that any attempt to make sense or discuss the broader context of that history is always made subservient to our domestic rivalry.

    I’m glad someone wants to make an issue of it. I just haven’t the patience these days. Fair play to you.

  4. Garibaldy Says:

    Cheers Rab. I can understand not wanting to upset your grandfather. Fair play to you for breaking the tradition when the time came though. Can’t have been easy Your story about taking dog’s abuse, and being called a taig and a fenian lover doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I heard a similar story about people who liked unusual types of music getting called the same thing.

    It is a shameful indictment of people, north and south, that while there is a lot of rhetoric about taking our place in the world, embracing the outside world, leaving behind local jealousies etc what we in fact see is the subordination of global issues to our petty concerns, exactly like you say. It shows the so-called European liberals up for what they are.

    On the topic of the post, I see this on the WP website

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  6. Rabelais Says:

    Thanks for the link Garibaldy. I think when Tynan says that there has been a ‘blurring the lines between genuine reconciliation of the different traditions on this island and the glorification of imperialism and war’, he hits the nail on the head.

  7. Garibaldy Says:

    Yeah I thought that line was perfectly spot on myself. Far too many of these commemorations are the latter, especially with the conscious efforts by the British Legion to link them to current conflicts. Drives me up the wall.

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  13. L/CPL Roger Iain Mason Says:

    What a numpty, this is 2014 not 1916. Whatever side, whether orange or green they are heroes. Lest we forget.

  14. Garibaldy Says:

    My exact point is lest we forget – we should remember what the war was about in the first place. And the simple answer to that is imperial rivalry. This was neither a just war nor a good one, but a war fought to oppress, enslave and plunder the peoples of Africa and Asia. It has nothing to do with orange and green, but a lot to do with red. Both the red of the blood of the tens of millions of lives destroyed across the globe, and the red of socialism. which offered and offers a better alternative to war.

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