Duncan Morrow is an academic and political activist from Belfast with a unique childhood, part spent in Dublin. Here I explore his thoughts on 1916, the Rising and the Somme.
Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Duncan Morrow:
"At Primary School. My family moved to Dublin when I was ten where my Dad worked as a chaplain in TCD. We went to a tiny Protestant National School. I was in a very small class of 2, and we were largely left on our own to read for parts of the day. We had a book about Irish History which gave the straight republican narrative where all of history was about beating the Brits and the Rising was the central pint of resurrection."
"They draw on important ideas, but they involved shooting some of the men and women of Ireland, so it was always very compromised for me."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" DM:
"Also in Primary School. We learned about the First World War in general more than about the specifics of the Somme."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" DM:
"The bravery of soldiers at the Somme and the slaughter of so many young men means a lot. When you walk around the Shankill you are so aware of the devastation. But I was never really persuaded of ‘the ‘ or the political manoeuvring around loyalty which all sides in Ireland tried to emphasise in 1914."
"Not really. Like the Somme it is a massive and significant event with huge ramifications. But it is also another turn in trying to use violence to resolve issues which cannot be resolved by violence. It could be argued to have ending violence in 26 counties at the expense of continuing the tradition of romantic violence in six."
BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" DM:
"Not really. Neither my Irishness nor Britishness has anything to do with war really. It has to do with belonging in people, time and place."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" DM:
"If I am asked, I will participate in and contribute to public events. But I will mark and remember both - but celebrate neither."
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" DM:
"For me the tradition of violence to defend nation in Ireland, both Unionist and nationalist, has been catastrophic for us. I believe we should not just be marking events 100 years ago, but examining their consequences. We should not treat acts of killing, whether of slaughter or anger as sacred but as tragic. The Good Friday Agreement demonstrated the urgent necessity for a totally different approach, and in my view is the ultimate revision of the traditions of a century ago. For me we should be learning from these events not re-enacting them – ‘Not sacred but sad’ should be the watchword of our approach."
BJS: "As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" DM:
"Not really. Too often, we still approach the other as a threat or risk rather than as an enhancement or point of growth."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" DM:
"A future based on ‘reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust’ (the purpose of the peace process as stated in the Good Friday Agreement)."
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." DM:
"In the way we are celebrating this whole decade, it appears that we still want to celebrate apart rather than mark together. The doctrines of ‘All means necessary’ and ‘ourselves alone’ are disastrous if they are an invitation to violence. I think we need to acknowledge this 100 years on, not pretend that it is political correctness of that it doesn’t matter."