October 22, 2015

Dublin's dentists wives

The Queen’s visit to Dublin with well dressed women in attendance, Merrion Square (1900) (more here)
Irish republicans of 2020 portray Ireland of the early 1900s as a deeply unhappy island suffering under the boot of Britain. This picture could not be further from the truth. Thanks to the social revolution - which included the huge transfer of land to the less well to do, the enactment of the 1908 Old Age Pensions and 1911 National Insurance Acts etc. (part of the wider welfare reformation that swept across the UK under Lloyd George) - the Irish were incredibly content and saw themselves at home in Union with the Scottish, Welsh and English people.

John Redmond on August 4 1914 said in the Commons:
"The sympathy of the Nationalists of Ireland, for reasons to be found deep down in centuries of history, has been estranged from this country. But allow me to say that what has occurred in recent years has altered the situation completely."
John Redmond said in late 1916:
"[Ireland has] its feet firmly planted in the groundwork and foundation of a free nation."
John P. Hayden, twenty-one years a Nationalist Member of Parliament for South Roscommon, said in May 1921:
"If I did not think the Irish people would be satisfied today with self-government within the Empire my whole life would be a lie."
For republicans in the early 1900s this was a disaster. For them, their ideal of an Irish Ireland and the true Irish Nation was nearly extinguished. Todd Andrews wrote that "Dublin [in 1901] was a British city and accepted itself as one", and Ernie O'Malley said, "the old hatred of the redcoats had disappeared." 

Tom Barry wrote that he had "no  national consciousness" but events of Easter Week gave him a "rude awakening", and "Through the blood sacrifice of 1916 had one Irish youth been awakened to Irish nationality."

For the most revolutionary republicans of the early 1910s Home Rule was a sell out of Irish nationhood. Advanced nationalists said that Ireland of pre-1916 had given its heritage and nationhood away and simply become British. I would disagree, Ireland and the Irish were not dead or dying as the revolutionary republicans argued, rather their particular conception of Irishness and of being hyper-Irish was in danger of being sidelined.

But at the same time, it appear revolutionary republicans did not understand the true extent of how the Irish were content with the status quo of being in Union. As Conor Cruise O'Brien wrote:
"Irish-Ireland wrote and talked as if it assumed that the battle [the Easter Rising of 1916] would be over once Dublin with its garrison of dentists’ wives had surrendered."
This failure to understand the genuine affection and sincere will to remain in Union endured throughout the 20th Century.

In 1995 Trevor Ringland helped organise a game between Ireland and the Barbarians at Lansdowne Road. Its purpose was to promote peace in Northern Ireland. The experience pushed Ringland to learn more. He listened to IRA men in the Maze explain how they wanted to drive the British into the sea. Ringland responded:
"I said ‘that’s me’. They said ‘we don’t mean you, Trevor'. So who do you mean? The English? Most of them are only here because of you. Buy me a pint and talk to me about it but don’t shoot me. One conversation was about what we wanted for our children. Suddenly you saw they didn’t want their children to go through what they went through."
An ex-republican prisoner said:
"I think I only began to understand Loyalism in Magilligan prison when I befriended a couple of guys who were in the UVF. And as I listened to them talking I realised how much the British identity was part of their psyche, and it wasn’t something which was going to vanish just because a border would go, it was very much there. Up until then I hadn’t realised the depth of it, I thought that this ‘Britishness’ was just a superficial thing which would just disappear, but at that point I began to realise that it wouldn’t. It gave me a great insight into the depth of feeling that had to be dealt with and how many people in the Republican side hadn’t a clue about Protestants, especially people who live in ghetto areas. They just don’t know how the other side thinks. And, of course, we were never encouraged to understand them. I remember the parish priest coming into our primary school and telling us about all the Catholics who were martyred by the Prods, but there was no mention of any Protestants being martyred by Catholics, so there was a kind of a false picture of things. It was only when I had time to look into things that I realised we had only been getting half of it. Same for them about us, I would imagine."
As part of the ‘Journey North’ series in the Irish Times (May 5 1964, 'The New Voices’), Michael Viney spoke with a northern protestant who had southern Catholic friends:
"This was very good for me because it showed me that people in the south really thought that we in the north were militarily oppressed - that there really were tanks at every corner. They thought simply to "clear out the British” would automatically unite Ireland. I found myself having to explain the protestant position."
Tom Hartley said:
"In a way we made them [unionists] a non-people… We didn’t even see them as part of the problem, never mind as being part of the solution."

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