Saturday, April 11, 2015

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The Irony in Commemoration

Pete Trumbore with some observations on Sinn Fein's commemoration culture. Dr. Peter Trumbore is Associate Professor of Political Science at Oakland University. He blogs at Observations/ Research/ Diversions.

I left Belfast a week or so before Easter, and so I missed the annual commemorations in which Republicans remember the 1916 Rising and honor those who have fallen in the cause of ending British rule in Ireland. The YouTube video embedded above is an excellent example of the kind of official commemoration that Sinn Fein participates in and helps orchestrate. In watching the video it’s easy to pick out the faces of many of the party’s luminaries and well-known supporters amongst the ranks of marchers.
The pageantry is all there: bands, honor guard and color party in paramilitary attire, re-enactors wearing the uniforms and carrying the (dummy one supposes) weapons of the Rising, dramatic recitations of fiery speeches from the past.

What I find fascinating about these events (like the annual national Hunger Strike commemoration which I attended in 2010 in the village of Bellaghy) is the unacknowledged irony with which what has become a status quo political movement deploys the language of revolution and parades the images of generations of dead revolutionaries.

As a partner in the Stormont regime Sinn Fein administers British rule in Northern Ireland. This is a simple statement of fact. And yet the party apparently feels no contradiction between this present and the revolutionary past it celebrates and claims as its own. The party’s critics call this deep hypocrisy and naked cynicism. The party’s supporters argue that the revolution has entered a new phase in which the foundations of British rule are being systematically eroded from within the political system itself, both north and south of the border.

As an outsider I can’t, and won’t, try to argue which of these perspectives is the more honest or accurate. Frankly I believe there is truth in both assessments. Either way it is smart politics. But as an outsider I can’t help but be struck by the contradictions on display in commemorations like this. If you watch the first few minutes of the video above, you will hear the words that Patrick Pearse in 1915 directed to the “Defenders of the Realm” when he delivered his famous oration at the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood:

They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! – they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.

Today, for the moment, those Defenders of the Realm include Sinn Fein. A cynic might count them among Pearse’s “purchased half.” And Ireland still holds the graves of her Fenian dead.


Peter said...

An interesting read and, from a unionist perspective, an interesting video. Replace the green with orange and the tricolours with union jacks and it could have been a loyalist parade. In fact seeing this parading culture makes us all look so parochial. The north is by far the least British part of the Uk, and I can't see how the people of the 26 will want to rule these 6 counties when they watch these throw back parades. Do southern citizens watching the Ardoyne on the 12th July think: Oh I would love to see the Garda policing in the middle of that lot or We should be picking up the tab for that mess not the Brits? It seems to me that republicans have thrown in the towel on a UI and are quite happy just to wage a cultural war over parades and second languages.

Fionnuala Perry said...

A very insightful piece!
It manages to cover the contradictions of Sinn Fein's policy of changing the establishment through running it, and how this leads to feelings that swing from disenchantment to absolute betrayal.

They have long since abandoned the Republican ideal and replaced it with the very principles that drove the SDLP.

Shameful really, but then it's onward and upwards towards a Republican built on expedience and driven by quasi republican politicans who have long since shelved vRepublican ideals.

AM said...

I found it a discerning piece that unpicked the official narrative and called things right

Fionnuala Perry said...

Watched the video long enough to observe a former hood from this area in 1916 military dress .

Also observed the well purchased politicians, councillors, union officials from the ranks of Sinn Fein and some MLA's who have now aspired to the dizzy heights of slum landlords.

I wonder does Pete realise, that their smart politics was not only build on purchase but a form of barter that demanded, as all sell outs do, that they part with information on and deny full citizenship to people they once called their own?

Anonymous said...

Kelly has a neck of pure fucking brass standing over the dead proclaiming "the struggle continues" while the Brits continue to fill his and SF's bank accounts.

The fools, the fools, the fools, and while Ireland holds these fenian dead Ireland unfree shall NEVER...stop filling their bank accounts!

wolfe tone said...

I see Sid Walsh is still following Sheehan around. The tans they put a lot of time into obtaining when they were in the kesh sure did go a whiter shade of pale whenever the news of the docklands bomb came through a few moons ago! I suspect Sid ears were ringing to the sound of the long kesh gates being slammed shut? Anyway it's good to see they have got the colour back in their cheeks, bless them.

larry hughes said...

Have to agree with Peter's comment here. The Dublin government want nothing to do with the North and SF have accepted partition. These parades are like the DAAD shootings at the start of the 'process', designed to keep the fools happy in the ranks. There would be more integrity if they desisted from such embarrassing displays of hypocrisy but I suppose there is also the 'duty' to show their basses in London that SF still has 'control' of republicanism. Otherwise the money might dry up.

Anonymous said...

Kelly left out victory to the banquet men and god save the queen at the end of his speech.
The Tiocfaidh ár lá quote would have as much meaning if John Hume where to have said it.