Thursday, October 02, 2014


Felix Larkin on FX Martin
in the Central Catholic Library

You really can't get away from it. The country is in the middle of an anniversary bubble. We are told it will remain there for the next decade or so, presumably until the centenary of the end of the Civil War.

Well, its probably no harm. At least these anniversaries provoke a raft of new research, bring up old controversies and sometimes give rise to new ones.

Given the kind of history I got in school, and which influences me up to this day, this probing must be a good thing. I was raised on the simplistic nationalist version which saw "Irish good, British bad" and I was overawed by the "blood sacrifice".

Now we are finding out that these guys were human after all, that some of the nice guys may not have been so nice and and some of the not-so-nice guys may have something going for them at the end of the day.

The coincidence of two talks on two consecutive days brought this home very vividly to me.

The first, by Felix Larkin (above), was on FX Martin, who, in the hubris of the 50th anniversary of the 1916 rising dared to question its morality. An oversimplified version would be that FX rehabilitated Eoin McNeill at the expense of Pearse and his "blood sacrifice". OK, so it was a lot more complicated than that, but in taking a cold hard look at 1916, FX left us a legacy that many of us still have difficulty coming to terms with.

The morality of the rising cannot be justified in retrospect by its success in failure which was significantly aided by the executions and the establishment by the British of the Frongoch rebel university and training camp. Seen in prospect, the rising did not fulfill the conditions required for a moral revolt. And this is FX's main theme which Felix explored for a rapt and packed audience. The overflow was such that he nearly had to surrender his lectern as well as his chair.

The second talk was a sort of rehabilitation of John Redmond who has been airbrushed out of Irish history and whose dilapidated vault in a small graveyard in the middle of Wexford town testifies mightily to that fact.

Redmond achieved something that eluded both O'Connell and Parnell. He got Home Rule signed into law. How that would have ultimately translated into reality is not clear. Partition was the big bugbear; there was, however, the possible makings of a deal on offer that just might have been acceptable at that stage but WWI intervened and it was not tested. Then we had 1916 and the context changed utterly. So Redmond's "victory" cannot be validated at the end of the day.

Dermot Meleady on John Redmond
in Raheny Library

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