As regular readers of Redline will be aware, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rebellion for irish freedom. The rebellion was brutally suppressed by the british and most of the key leaders of it were executed by British firing squad, including the great working class leader James Connolly. Connolly had been wounded in the fighting and the wound had turned gangrenous, so he was propped up in a chair, bound to the chair and executed by the firing squad.
The rebellion has always been a difficult one for the southern Irish establishment to deal with. On the one hand they wouldn’t have a state without it; on the other hand, they are the heirs of a counter-revolution within the independence movement, a counter-revolution which agreed to the partition of Ireland and shaped a southern Irish state very, very different from the ideals of the 1916 rebels.
Recent decades have seen the development of a ‘revisionist’ strand of Irish history-writing and politics; this strand seeks to rewrite and (re)present Irish history as a story in which the British and their rule were basically OK and the Irish were basically ungrateful natives who kept rebelling all the time when they should have been good obedient little natives.
Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin has a special place in Irish history as it contains a large Republican Plot where generations of Irish rebels are buried and there is a major commemorative area for the 1916 leaders who were executed by the British.
However, the Glasnevin Trust is going ahead with a new commemorative wall in which all who died in 1916 – Irish freedom fighters, civilians and the forces of British repression are lumped together with no distinction. For instance, the name of a member of the South Staffordshire Regiment appears between the names of Connolly and MacDiarmada on Glasnevin’s new wall! The same regiment bayoneted and shot fifteen innocent civilians to death on North King Street during the 1916 Rising – a war crime by any other name.
Irish republicans are totally opposed to this, as should be all socialists, because it’s a reflection of a much wider trend of rewriting WW1 history to gloss over the nature of that war and the rightness of rebelling against it and for liberation.
The Irish socialist-republican current éirígí is vigorously opposing this revision and has been organising a temporary alternative wall outside the GPO, which was the rebel headquarters in the centre of Dublin during the 1916 Rebellion. Below is the text of the speech delivered by Damien Farrell at Saturday’s rally outside the GPO in opposition to the ‘Glasnevin Tan Wall’.
by Damien Farrell
On behalf of éirígí I’d like to welcome everyone along to the first public display of our temporary 1916 memorial walls.
Earlier today the Glasnevin Trust unveiled a memorial wall that contains the names of everyone that died in the 1916 Rising. The names are listed in alphabetical order with no distinction between Revolutionary, Civilian or British Soldier. Like many of the relatives of the 1916 rebels we believe this wall to be grossly offensive.
In life each of the people whose names are on the Glasnevin wall fell into one of three distinct groups – Rebel, Civilian or member of the British forces. Glasnevin have no right to lump these three distinct groups into one group in death.
The state claim that the Glasnevin Wall is based upon similar memorials to the dead of World War One. This is a deliberate lie. World War One memorials remember combatants in a conflict that all sides now recognise as a war between rival empires. The vast bulk of those who are remembered on these memorials were British, French, German and US soldiers that died in a conventional war between conventional armies.
The 1916 Rising was not a war between two empires. It was not a conventional war between two states. 1916 was no quarrel between imperial powers and long lost royal cousins.
So it cannot and should not be remembered in the same manner as World War One or any other imperialist, militarist adventure. 1916 was an entirely legitimate uprising by a subject people against one of the most vicious, destructive empires the world has ever seen. And that is how it should be commemorated.
We all understand that the Glasnevin Tan Wall is part of the wider revisionist agenda – a blatant attempt to re-write history and create a version of history that places equal levels of innocence and guilt on all sides to the Anglo-Irish conflict. Thus 800 years of British invasion, occupation, genocide, ethnic-cleansing and the ongoing denial of the Irish right to self-determination are erased from the history books and the collective memory.
Today we have put on display a temporary ‘wall’ which shows the Glasnevin Trust the type of walls they should have built to remember 1916. The names on these walls have been taken from Glasnevin’s list of names of the dead of 1916.
One of our two ‘walls’ remembers the Rebel dead of the Rising including those who died in preparation for the Rising – during the Rising – and in the aftermath of the Rising. These revolutionaries voluntarily and knowingly gave their lives in a struggle for national, social and economic liberation. That struggle predated 1916 by centuries and it continues to this day.
Our other wall remembers the 260 civilians who died during the Rising. Theirs is a story that has been largely ignored over the last century, not least by republicans. It is well past time for us all to collectively remember these fellow citizens who also died as a consequence of the fight for the Republic. Other nations routinely remember their civilians who died in war, including those civilians who died as a result of the direct actions of their own government and military. And so should we.
In life the Rebel and Civilian fell into two different groups. And that is how they should be remembered – simultaneously but separately.
You might have noticed that there is no third wall containing the names of British troops or British police. That’s because there isn’t one and there shouldn’t be one in Glasnevin either.
The Glasnevin Trust say their wall is non-judgemental. They believe we shouldn’t judge the individuals who savagely suppressed the Rising and the Irish right to self-determination. They believe we shouldn’t judge the individuals who rained artillery and machine gun fire onto a densely populated city. They believe we shouldn’t judge the individuals who committed war crimes in North King Street and elsewhere. They believe we shouldn’t judge the individuals who executed unarmed men including the gravely injured James Connolly.
And in a couple of years’ time when they expand the Glasnevin Wall to include the names of more British soldiers, RIC men and the Black and Tans they’ll tell us we shouldn’t judge them either.
The Glasnevin Trust tell us that many who died in the British uniform were in fact Irish. As if this somehow excuses their actions. By that logic we should put up a memorial to Lord Haw Haw – sure wasn’t he a grand Irish fella that just fell in with a bad crowd of Nazis!
If the British state or the relatives of British troops who died in Ireland want to commemorate their dead, that is their business. But no Irish public money or other support should be given to memorials for colonial aggressors and war criminals.
The Glasnevin Trust, Sanit Bob Geldof and the rest of the political establishment will no doubt continue to push the revisionist agenda. But they will not do it without challenge or opposition. We know that they are trying to re-write history in a desperate effort to influence the present and the future. But the truth will out.
We have a great history of resistance to imperialism and injustice, which will continue to celebrate. And more importantly we will continue the legacy of our Rebel dead and continue to fight for an Independent 32 County Irish Republic that will deliver on the vision of the 1916 Proclamation.
For a short video of the temporary wall outside the GPO, see here.