Long Way to Tipperary

Nine decades of silence, indifference and frequent contempt have been heaped upon the memory of the part Ireland played in the British war effort during the great conflagration of the First World War – not by its disgruntled old colonial overlord, but by the Irish state itself. Boys and men from every corner of this island went to war on the continent; some with a sense of duty and patriotism, others for adventure, and many, many more to escape the grinding poverty of life at home. Those who returned – wounded and scarred by shrapnel, bullets, and shell shock – came back to a country ashamed of them and their treason. As Britain’s western province transformed from Free State to Republic the veterans of ‘England’s War’ were stripped of the dignity of their uniforms and honours, and sent deep into the internal exile of the ‘West Brit.’ They watched on as their beloved Ireland remained mute in the face of Nazi genocide and total war, and lived to see the flourishing of a native mindset that would demolish the monuments of the past and bomb human beings at the War Memorial at Enniskillen on Armistice Day. Now, too late for them, Ireland takes pride in its Great War past and commemorates – with affected mournful demeanour – the fallen.


Éire’s heroic myth was to be another Ilion. Not the mud-sodden boys, fallen face down in some foreign field, but the martyred men; Sons and Daughters of Éireann, who spilled out their blood in the hallowed cause of Easter 1916, were to be the gods of the New Ireland. Now Taoisigh have stolen from the Irish more than any king ever did. The crown may have taken the corn in a time of hunger, but Ireland’s chieftain is taking the water in a time of thirst. Open revolt on the streets of Dublin no longer offers the same comfort to the rulers of the Gael as once it did. Not so for the people in drought, who now more than ever rally to the Rising and its sacred memory: “In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.” To the new ascendancy the amassing masses are not the mud-sodden boys of Ypres or the Somme, they are just plain dirty. Disinherited of their antimonarchist, Napoleonic banner they turn on their croppies in their newfound glorification of the more refined and chivalrous memory of their Great War.

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