The following 3 years is going to see a surge in commemorations of Irish history starting next year with the centenary of the 1913 Lock Out. This will presumably reach a cresendo in 1916 with the centenary of the 1916 rebellion. This is a great opportunity for history, hopefully widening its appeal amongst the general population while giving us a chance to reassess these important events. However if former Taoiseach John Bruton’s intervention yesterday is anything to go by history will have little place in these commemerations. Speaking at a commemeration of John Redmond, the Home Rule leader in Ireland in the early 20th century, Mr Bruton gave a speech which included the following as reported in todays Irish Times

 “John Redmond’s achievement was enormous. Relying on wholly constitutional and parliamentary methods, he had succeeded where O’Connell, Butt and Parnell had all failed – he actually got Home Rule on to the statute book.”

He also said that the rebels of Easter Week 1916 were allied with imperial Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. “The morality of this ‘alliance’ has never been seriously questioned or debated in Ireland in the past century and perhaps it is time that it was.”

Its a pity Mr Bruton doesn’t read the Irish Times, only four days previously the paper printed the following letter by Historian Brian Hanley

Sir, – The Irish Times is to be congratulated on its commitment to furthering discussion of the events that transformed Ireland 100 years ago. However, I fear that a misleading impression of the Home Rule movement was given by your supplement (“1912: Home Rule and Ulster’s Resistance”, April 25th).

It is simply wrong to state that John Redmond “always opposed” violence for political ends. Redmond, did after all, endorse the Great War. His party honoured the memory of the Manchester Martyrs, had within its ranks former Fenians and in its parliamentary party MPs who supported the Boers against Britain in 1900.

Violence directed at political rivals was a recurring feature of Irish politics and the Home Rulers were notorious for engaging in it. The only objection many in Redmond’s party had about violence directed against British rule was that it was not practical. This in part explains why some former supporters of the party could so readily turn to Sinn Féin after 1917. – Yours, etc,


Institute of Irish Studies,

University of Liverpool,

Abercromby Square, Liverpool,

If commemerations are to be of use to history this type of rhethoric presumably based more in Mr Brutons dislike of modern republicanism than historical fact has no place.

0 comments on “Centenary Commemorations and Historical Fantasy

  1. Gerry Regan on

    Irish leaders’ concerns then were understandably, I think, largely parochial in nature, with perhaps the notable exception of Connolly. Was Sinn Fein’s dalliance with the Axis not understandable in the context of Britain’s ongoing manipulation of the Irish and Irish home rule. Britain would work with the devil to serve its strategic interests, and sometimes did. So it seems hypocritical to me to score the leaders of the Rising for adopting the real politik ways of their oppressor.


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