“To praise him would have made it impossible for us to justify armed insurrection.”

Fintan O’Toole highlights the haphazard nature of commemoration by the Irish state (subs required) and its greater willingess to embrace those who sought change by violence than those who achieved it by parliamentary means, especially Daniel O’Connell.

O’Toole argues:

“It expresses in microcosm a great deal about the State’s ambivalent relationship to Irish history, about the way it has encoded, almost in its DNA, a distrust of non-violent change.”
An event which broke this pattern was Dev’s participation in the re-opening of O’Connell’s ancestral home and his speech praising O’Connell’s success by parliamentary means. The architect of the restoration project and the person who had persuaded Dev to attend asked him why the 1916 rebels had little time for O’Connell? De Valera replied:

“You must think, you must consider our feelings at that time. We firmly believed that the Irish people could only be ‘jolted’ from their lethargy and Irish freedom and liberty achieved by force of arms. How then could we promote the memory of the man who achieved so much by parliamentary means with no loss of life? To praise him would have made it impossible for us to justify armed insurrection.”

However, the pattern seems to continue as this year the Irish state re-embraced the 1916 rebellion but has decided to virtually ignore attempts to commemorate the centenary of Michael Davitt death. Is Northern Nationalism’s hagiography of the hunger strikers rather than the founders of the Civil Rights Movement or the likes of John Hume repeating this pattern?

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