Category Archives: History

Jimmy’s Hall

Pauline and I watched Ken Loach’s film Jimmy’s Hall on Friday night. It was very emotional: we were both in tears at the end, and Pauline said to me ‘Think how great Ireland could have been!’ The film is based on the true story of Jim Gralton, the only Irish person ever to be deported from Ireland.

It is set in a small rural community much like our own, in the 1920s and 1930s. Gralton, a socialist, returns to Ireland from the US, having left in the aftermath of the 1919–21 war here. His friends and neighbours ask him to reopen a hall for use as a community centre, where people can meet for cultural, social and educational activities. He duly opens the hall, with assistance from the friends and neighbours, but the local parish priest resents its existence, believing that the Roman Catholic Church should control everything. Continue reading

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Thoughts on 1916 and all that …

I admire the bravery of the rebels. I think things would probably have turned out the same (partition and an independent 26-county state) without the Easter Rising, except that there would have been less bloodshed in Ireland over the following seven years, and the new state would have benefited from the contribution of the likes of Connolly, MacDonagh, Plunkett and Collins, and might have taken a road that would have offered better lives to its citizens.

I don’t like to see history simplified and reduced to black/white, good/bad, them/us. I don’t like tribalism or wallowing in victimhood, or a belief that the Irish are somehow special. Perhaps the two most important words in any language are ‘Yes, but …’ We should question orthodoxies, including the orthodoxy of Easter 1916, in my opinion. We should challenge the idea that nobody was ever an Irish patriot unless they shot someone or blew someone up. Continue reading

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John Delaney, the IRA and pub singing

John Delaney, chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, was in the news this week after he was filmed singing a song called ‘The Ballad of Joe McDonnell’ in a pub. Joe McDonnell was a Provisional IRA member who died on hunger strike in 1981.

It seems to me that, in the predictable controversy that ensued, an important point has been missed, which is that Delaney’s singing of this song was a strange and exceptional act – it stood out. Songs from the most recent Troubles have not entered the Irish ballad tradition and are not widely sung, unlike those from 1916–23 and even one or two from the 1950s. Continue reading

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Lie and deny

Those who exempt themselves from the taboo against killing will come to see themselves as special. And so it has been with ‘the Republican Movement’ (the term that Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA have used to describe themselves collectively, while denying, when it suits, that any collectivity exists).

Sinn Féin, led by Gerry Adams, does not take criticism well. It sees itself as ‘special’, and above criticism. During the 1990s it virtually invented the word ‘demonize’ by complaining bitterly that it was being ‘demonized’ every time it was merely criticized.

It has emerged in the past couple of weeks that a victim of rape and sexual abuse inflicted by a prominent IRA man was subjected to an IRA ‘kangaroo court’, and that sexual abusers within the IRA were moved across the border, into the Republic, by that organization (while remaining active members in some instances). Continue reading

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Tom Ashe, punster

Thomas Ashe (1656–1722) was a member of the Irish parliament, first for Swords and then for Clogher, and a friend of Jonathan Swift (who wrote Ashe’s dying speech years before he died).

Ashe was described as

‘a facetious pleasant companion, but the most eternal unwearied punster that ever lived. He was thick and short in his person, being not above five feet high at the most, and had something very droll in his appearance … There is a whimsical story, and a very true one, of Tom Ashe, which is well remembered to this day. It happened that, while he was travelling on horseback, and a considerable distance from any town, there burst from the clouds such a torrent of rain as wetted him through. He galloped forward; and as soon as he came to an inn, he was met instantly by a drawer; “Here,” said he to the fellow, stretching out one of his arms, “take off my coat immediately.” No, sir, I won’t,” said the drawer. “… confound you,” said Ashe, “take off my coat this instant!” “No, sir,” replied the drawer, “I dare not take off your coat, for it is a felony to strip an ash.” Ireland in the eighteenth century was almost denuded of trees [bark was used in the tanning industry] and this referred to a statute, probably that of 1698, aimed at their preservation. Tom was delighted beyond measure, frequently told the story, and said he would have given fifty guineas to be the author of that pun.’

[Quoted matter is from E.M. Johnston-Liik, History of the Irish Parliament 1692–1800: Commons, Constituencies and Statutes (Ulster Historical Foundation 2002), Vol. IV, p. 114.]

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To France, to fight

I’ve written a bit about Patrick MacGill on this blog before, and given extracts from his work: Patrick MacGill and the Red Horizon and The Women of France. In the centenary year of the start of the First World War, it’s worth considering the experience of the ordinary men who took part (which was brought home to me on a visit to Arras last November). A facet of this is captured well in the following extract, set on a troop-ship crossing to France, from MacGill’s autobiographical novel The Red Horizon.

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Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland 2

Continuing from my earlier post, Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland

Sometimes it was not only the defeated party in a duel that suffered the consequences. In 1807 William Congreve Alcock (former MP for Waterford City and Co. Wexford) killed John Colclough over an election dispute, apparently in front of a large crowd including the county sheriff and 16 magistrates. Afterwards, Alcock ‘became melancholy; his understanding declined; a dark gloom enveloped his entire intellect; and an excellent young man and a perfect gentleman at length sank into irrecoverable imbecility’. He was confined in a lunatic asylum, and died in 1813 at the age of 42.

Robert Edgeworth, a member of the prominent Longford family and MP for St Johnstown (1713–27), was described as follows: ‘He had no notion of good breeding, was outrageously rude and abusive to persons he disliked, had a strange disposition to fighting and quarrelling and was quite void of fear of any man living; but was most childishly fearful of apparitions and goblins especially after he had killed Mr Atkinson in a duel in Clontarf Wood, after which time he could never lie without a lighted candle in his room and a servant either in his chamber or within his call … He hated many people, loved nobody, nor nobody loved him.’ Continue reading

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