Nobody but nobody does guff like the Irish. Meaningless symbolic blather totally free of any concrete action? We’re your people. As the centenary of the 1916 Rising approaches (Always with a capital R!) we’ll see our national guff production spike off the charts, and a collection of academics and “community workers” share with us what The Rising (great name for a restaurant that specialises in soufflés, by the way) means to them.
Of course, there will be a common area of agreement, and that’ll be that as a country we have not lived up to the values and hopes and aspirations of 1916.
The Proclamation (cue another capital) will be closely read, as will that far more interesting document, the Democratic Programme of the First Dail. Actually, the DP is by far the more interesting of the two documents, because it almost hints at what sort of country an independent Ireland was supposed to look like. Have a read of it here. If it were an actual programme of government, it could almost be a bit spicy, given its left-wing nature. Instead, as with most Irish declarations, which in later years were demoted to “calls” and “urges”, it was put out into the public domain with absolutely no intention of ever been carried out. In short, it was the very first use of the “It’s Sinn Fein’s way, or it’s the conservative Catholic Happy-With-The-Brits-Until-Five-Minutes-Ago establishment’s way”, and we know how that worked out.
People forget this, wilfully. As soon as we waved goodbye to the last British squaddie, and finished off putting down De Valera’s attempt at a military coup and overthrow of the Dail, we elected a crowd of bastards who then got off their knees in front of the King, turned around, unbuckled their trousers, and offered themselves to the Archbishop of Dublin. These were the men and women of 1916, ladies and gentlemen.
Ah, cry the misty eyed patriots, but the real men of 1916 died at the hands of the hated English and their perfidious ways. Really? What makes you think that they would have been any better? We had plenty of 1916ers left over, in fact, more who came out of the GPO that entered, in some cases), who didn’t die, and they gave us to get a very clear picture post-1922 of what they would have been like in power. What we got was a theocratic backwater which thought it radical to elect a man in 1932 who wanted most Irishwomen knocked up and shoeless. And let’s not forget, we chose these people in free and fair elections. Don’t believe me? Consider, say, something as simple as women’s rights: we brag that we appointed the first female cabinet minister, Countess Markievicz, in 1919. We did.
Know when we appointed the second one? 1979. Because the first one had been so mouthy and sure didn’t make a mug of tea or a sandwich for anyone.
When people talk of the betrayal of the ideals of 1916, more often than not they mean a radical, probably socialist ideal. Yet the Irish people never voted for that in serious numbers in any free election, instead voting for wave after wave of lying guff merchants who promised one thing and then did another, knowing full well that was what the Irish people really wanted.
How do I know that? That’s easy. Look at the opinion polls, and tell me which two parties continue to dominate politics in this country. Fianna Fail are neck and neck with Fine Gael despite have gotten drunk, taken the country out and wrapped it around a lamppost. What’s the country do? Stand in the driveway with keys to a brand new motor.
What is the key value of 1916? How about high-minded guff in opposition followed by conservative inertia and feather-bedding in government? Which is exactly what we have today. Get today’s cabinet to spend a day in a biscuit factory as we all take pot shots at them, and you won’t be able to tell the difference between them and the Men of 1916.