Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ireland: 'Changing History'

From Mary McAleese's Longford Lecture in Westminster:

"...With a new confidence in our future Ireland has begun to look the past in the face. We are prising open the sealed space between historiography and history, a space that had always found it difficult to place men like Frank Pakenham, men and women too whose stories did not fit the conveniently-shaped boxes that have shaped separate and unreconciled narratives of Anglo-Irish matters for so many years. These old narratives are now giving way to a more considered story of our two peoples and, while coloniser and colonised are unlikely ever to stand easily in each other's shoes, we are nonetheless beginning to reveal those stories where we can at least stand side by side.

One powerful such story is that of the significant Irish contribution to the First World War which until recently had been the subject of what has been described as a 'policy of intentional amnesia'. In a remarkably short period of time the 210,000 volunteers from all over Ireland, a majority of them Catholics and Irish nationalists, had been airbrushed into a stark story which recounted on one side only the sacrifice of Ulster Protestants, mainly in the 36th (Ulster) Division and on the other only the heroism of those who took part in the Easter Rising.

Last year for the first time Dublin hosted two commemorative events, one commemorating the ninetieth anniversary of the Rising and the other the ninetieth anniversary of the Somme. The fifty thousand Irish men who died are commemorated in the joint Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines in Belgium. It was opened nine years ago by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the King of the Belgians and I, and its opening helped to create a platform of shared memory through which we hope to realise the dream of the great Irish intellectual, Professor Thomas Kettle, one-time nationalist MP at Westminster, who died at the Somme fighting with the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers:

'Used with the wisdom which is sown in tears and blood, this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain.'

Today, as we seek to effect those reconciliations, a barely-credible narrative, distorted by all sides for political ends is being replaced by a truer narrative which gives all of the people of Ireland a point of common cultural reference, and a shared history to commemorate.

Similarly, and contemporaneously, the history of the Easter Rising in 1916, which has long been the subject of attempted manipulation by different parties in history, is now looked at in a broader light and commemorated in Ireland with confidence, dignity and pride. Forty-one years ago, Lord Longford, then in Wilson's cabinet, caused an outcry by attending the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Rising where he was photographed beside his friend, President De Valera. Last year, representatives of the British government attended the ninetieth anniversary parade through the city of Dublin. Changed and changing times..."

full article ~


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