I see our estemmed Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, has added his voice to those seeking to rehabilitate the Irishmen who fought in World War I. Actually, in his case, he is more seeking to rehabilitate those with a nationalist bent who fought in World War I.
It is also right to recognise in the period ahead the sacrifice of those Irishmen who fought in the First World War. While some may question the value of their actions no one can set aside the scale of the loss or doubt the personal tragedy.
Republicans have no wish to erase the memory of their bravery or their part in Irish history. Many working class Irishmen fought in the British Army at that time because of the unrelenting poverty that they and their families experienced. Their motivation and their experience were articulated by Tom Kettle, an Irish National Volunteer, who shortly before his death at the Somme in September 1916 wrote these lines to his daughter:
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for Flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the Secret Scripture of the poor.
Among the courageous Irishmen who gave their lives in that war also were those who fully believed in their actions and the choices they took. Their sacrifice and their loss are no less worthy of remembrance.
The experiences of republicans, nationalists, unionists and all others form part of our collective memory. They are part of who we are as a community, as a nation.
While we must remember these events we also must critically engage with our past. The past one hundred years, while a fraction of the life of the nation, was taken up by partition, divergence, exclusion and conflict.
These failures must be consigned to the past. I believe that Ireland is now set on a course towards unity, convergence, inclusion, and lasting peace.
This is not a bland aspiration. In this way we will deliver equality, prosperity and reconciliation for all our people in all their diversity. In this way we will build a nation of which our children can be proud and a republic worthy of the name.
I couldn’t be bothered going on a long rant about this, but let me make a couple of points. Firstly, I’m amused that whoever wrote this speech saw no problem in citing Kettle’s clearly Catholic religious nationalism. Which in itself is enough to make one puke, rather than engage a desire to emulate it and respect it. Secondly, who cares if people believed in what they were fighting for? That doesn’t make it right. I’m tempted to break Godwin’s Law here as a fine example, but I’m sure we could all come up with answers closer to home. And lastly, some visual aids about what these people were really fighting for.
As I believe the saying goes,
Down with Imperialism!