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By Jason Michael
‘HAVE FUN,’ read the direct message from a colleague on Twitter. He had sent me a link to a tweet from Stirling University’s undergraduate economics, history, political theory, and all things independence wunderkind-cum-guru, Cameron Archibald. This enfant terrible and I have had one another blocked on social media ever since he threw a tantrum when I told him what I thought of his big plan to solve the world’s problems by simply printing more money. Anyway, after obtaining a screen capture of the tweet, I could see that this was indeed going to be fun:
Like Cherry, McEleny has completely removed historical context here. Between 1919 to 2021 [sic] there was a war that killed thousands of people, followed by another war. The war was what lead to negotiation on independence, not pro-indy MPs in 1919. This is beyond deceitful and moronic[.]
Christopher McEleny’s response – ‘I do not need a lecture on Irish history from you’ – was, one supposes, the best possible reply to this level of stupidity. McEleny had commented that a century ago Ireland departed from the United Kingdom when Sinn Féin, after winning a landslide majority in the 1918 general election, formed An Chéad Dáil Éireann (the First Irish Parliament) in Dublin and declared Irish independence. Yes, this happened. This was how Ireland – like the United States of America in 1776 – asserted its freedom from British colonial domination. But young Cameron, like the other ‘pro-independence’ crypto-unionist blogger James Kelly, rubbishes this monumental moment in modern Irish history by effectively blaming Ireland and the Irish people for the war that followed – the Irish War of Independence (21 January 1919 to 11 July 1921).
Being Irish, having both studied and taught Irish history, and holding a fellowship in the discipline, I feel that perhaps I am somewhat qualified to respond to this thundering, bigoted ignorance. What people like Cameron Archibald and James Kelly want us to think about Ireland’s long and painful road to independence (which is as yet incomplete) is essentially the British narrative of the conflict; that the Irish treacherously stabbed poor little England in the back in 1916 when it was off in Flanders fighting the Germans, and – ungrateful for the benefits being part of the British Empire brought Ireland – instigated a guerrilla war in which Irish ‘terrorists’ murdered innocent British soldiers.
Without glorifying the atrocious violence and bloodshed, which was never necessary, perhaps we should put a few things in order here. At no point in ‘the Troubles’ (1916-1921) did the Irish people pick a fight with England. When Pádraic Pearse, as commander-in-chief of the Irish Volunteers, read the Easter Proclamation at the GPO in Dublin on 24 April 1916, the Irish Republic was born:
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.
At this moment British rule in Ireland ended, England’s welcome – if its presence in Ireland could ever be described thus – expired. From the beginning of the Easter Rising to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (6 December 1921), as was ever the case, it was Britain’s aggression in Ireland towards the Irish people and nation that was being resisted as the Irish Republic asserted its right to exist. Britain’s response was barbaric, resulting in the shelling of the rebel-held positions and the comprehensive destruction of Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) and the GPO – resulting in the deaths of some 260 civilians. Following the surrender of the Irish forces, the British administration court martialled and executed 16 leaders of the Rising, including Pearse and James Connolly, a Scotsman and Irish patriot. So vindictive was the British desire to crush the Irish Republic that Connolly, having been wounded, was executed blindfolded and strapped to a chair.
This was Britain’s violence, not Ireland’s. And Britain’s violence continued even in December 1918 when, by sound democratic means, the Irish people elected to remind England it was no longer welcome in their country. It continued after January 1919 when, in its own parliament, the elected representatives of the sovereign Irish people ratified that decision and reaffirmed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Without a shred of moral claim to the possession of Ireland, Britain’s response then was to unleash terror on Ireland in the form of the Black and Tans – demobilised British soldiers from the Western Front tasked with harassing, raping, murdering, and terrorising the people of Ireland – civilians – into submission.
Like little Belgium against the might of the Kaiser’s armies, the Irish Republican Army was in no position to mount open warfare against British imperial troops seasoned in the trenches of Flanders and France. This was from the beginning an asymmetric – guerrilla – war of resistance. This was in no way a war of aggression, as Cameron and his pro-British ilk imply, but a defensive struggle against the most violent and murderous empire in human history. To strip the IRA of its moral justification in the 1919-21 ‘Tan War’ is the same as stripping the Polish or French Resistance movements of their moral justification in their struggle against Nazi occupation.
In the course of the war about 550 IRA volunteers laid down their lives for Ireland’s freedom, around 750 innocent Irish civilians were killed, and the occupying and invading British crown forces recorded 714 losses – hardly the ‘thousands of people’ claimed by Cameron. But yes, lives were lost, and the loss of these people’s lives was entirely unnecessary. Britain never should have been in Ireland. As has been said, if our rebellion rocked their state to its foundations, then maybe they shouldn’t have built their state on our land. But of course, people like Cameron Archibald and James Kelly – so called supporters of Scottish independence – wish to use Britain’s narrative of the conflict in Ireland as a cautionary tale for modern Scotland. Scots, they say, must not rise up from their knees and stop playing Westminster’s game. They should take ‘no’ for an answer, even when that means the denial of their democracy and the violation of their national sovereignty. Scots must not do this because it leads to the sort of badness and violence we expect from those potato-munching ingrates in Ireland. Not exactly a million miles from that weasel Ross Greer in the Scottish Green Party who refers to troublemakers like me as ‘Michael Collins with a keyboard.’
What we have here are three excellent examples of cowardice; the kind of person you wouldn’t trust to hide you when the Gestapo is after you. It is perfectly acceptable in Britain to get an excited erection ‘remembering’ the Somme, the Battle of Britain, and Thatcher’s war in Las Islas Malvinas – that’s national pride and ‘patriotism’ – but to be prepared to lay down one’s life for one’s own country against the vicious and merciless aggression of the same imperial power that starved Bobby Sands – an elected MP – to death in the Long Kesh concentration camp near Belfast and massacred unarmed civil rights protesters and civilians in Derry and Ballymurphy is ‘terrorism.’ Scottish people can’t be doing that sort of thing, no. If these spineless maggots require a lesson in Irish history, let it be this: no nation has the right to exist that does not produce the men and women with the fortitude, integrity, and courage exhibited this last hundred years on the island of Ireland.
And before I forget, Mr Cameron, there were no ‘MPs’ in the Dáil of 1919. Here in Ireland, a free and independent nation, we have a Dáil and those who are elected to represent the free people of Ireland are TDs – Teachtaí Dála. Rather than whining and moaning about it, we respect and assert the right to speak our own language here. We have earned the right to speak our own language in our own country. You – you – have earned nothing but my contempt.
James Connolly’s great-grandson delivers passionate speech to 1916 centenary event in Mansion House