The hardest part during this miniseries for me was trying to reconcile how upset I was at the way people view 1916 and how wrong it all was with the fact that Ireland should have been independent in 1916, and that Britain had no right to rule over her at all. At all. I tried to dress it up, I tried to make it seem like no big deal, but it was. Ireland was under foreign rule in 1916 - to state otherwise would compromise my claim that I am in fact a patriot and believe that Ireland is a nation, and has been for some time. What I learned though, was that reconciling the two objects - Ireland under foreign rule, and my hatred for the revolt which overthrew that foreign rule - wasn't as hard as I'd expected.
You see, historians often complain that we as modern day humans see things that happened in the past from our own point of view. When we do this, they claim, we also apply our own moral standards to their actions in the process, and this isn't fair. It isn't fair because we forget how many different pressures were acting on the individuals in question that we end up judging; we forget that their world was very different to ours. To me, the penny dropped when I realised something critical - perhaps the most critical thing that I realised during the course of this miniseries. I realised that I wasn't applying my own moral standards at all, I was merely echoing those of 1916, because in 1916, just like personally in my own mind right now, the 1916 Rising was an event that was wholly condemned, that is, by the majority of the Irish people.
Such a fact jumps out at one from the pages and record of history, and it makes a lie of the modern claim that the rising freed Ireland from British tyranny. Even if Ireland became independent in the years that followed the rising, it did so at a distinct disadvantage, because its entire journey to independence after 1916 was completely unnatural - not only that, but it was totally unrepresentative of all the Irish history that had come before that. To summarise all that I've just said, my efforts to reconcile Ireland's justifiable call for sovereignty with my hatred of violence were made all the more easier by the fact that 1916 was condemned by the majority of people in Ireland in 1916. What that means is, I'm not applying my moral standards, I'm merely examining the evidence of the era and making a judgement based on that evidence; if Ireland as a whole would have condemned those that acted in 1916 for all the reasons that they did, then why shouldn't we?
That, essentially, was how I reached the conclusions that I reached. It is far easier to argue in terms of moral principles when I know full well that these arguments would have carried weight in Ireland in 1916. Therefore, I instead was able to judge that Ireland has since been shaped not by the majority opinion, but by the minority. The violent revolutionary republicanism which for so long had been seen as the fringe view in Irish society was embraced in a rebellious Irish atmosphere post-Rising, because the British act of execution vindicated all that the rebels had said and done.
It was too hard to go back once the final shots were fired at James Connolly and Sean McDermott in mid-May 1916. With every bullet Britain had proved itself less tactful and more out of touch than anyone could have previously anticipated. It changed everything to see these men die in front of British bullets, and those that chose to sign the proclamation knew full well that it would. They knew that Britain, consumed by its war on the continent and unable to afford threats to its prestige or security, would take the harshest measures possible. The martyrs also understood that this would inspire Irish people to take up their challenge and renew the fight. To me this makes the actions of the rebel leaders doubly wrong, because not only were they prepared to launch a revolt that nobody wanted in the center of the capital, thus endangering Irish civilians, but they were prepared as well to doom their countrymen to a hopeless military goal of separation from the greatest Empire in the world at that time, through force of arms.
This is why I have such a problem with how romanticised the lives and deaths of the martyrs now are. Had they really cared for Irish people, they would never have acted. You can make all the excuses you like for the need to place it in context, but what I learned from doing this is that the context says they were wrong. The context says that these rebels acted against the majority in the name of a hopeless goal that they knew could never be achieved, yet they set their nation up to achieve it, with every failed campaign and every wasted life that has been lost in Ireland since being on their hands. To this, many of my peers would passionately argue that the rebels had been brave, and that the British had been brutal.
To these quips I would say 'you're dead right!' but at the same time, such facts were also well known before the rising as well. It was perfectly appreciated before the rising ripped through Dublin that a secret organisation containing hardened Irish republicans existed - they had their own newspaper network and would have had their share of renowned figures after all. The whole reason Irish politicians had for so long endured the shortcomings of the Westminster system was because they were making the best of a bad situation - British rule may have been illegitimate and it may have been based on force, but Irish MPs appreciated at the same time that to resist such a system in kind was pointless - what could the less than 4 million Irish do against an Empire in excess of 100 million? Militarily, nothing, but politically, a great deal.
British rule was wrong, it was unfair and contradictory for a British Empire that liked to think and present itself as a morally principled and liberal society, where men were to be treated equally and slavery was to be abhorred. I have stated such things till I'm blue in the face, but where both my peers and some historians, and many public figures have then gone on to present the 1916 Rising as a response to this, I would stop. I would stop because if we continue and say that Ireland in 1916 was merely reacting to the unfairness of British rule, that it was merely freeing itself from the chains of oppression, then we perpetuate a lie. If this line of reasoning were true, then it wouldn't have been a Rising, but a revolution that took place in 1916, and Irish people wouldn't have joined the British Army in droves at the outbreak of war in 1914. Irish people wouldn't have invested their faith, time, energy and other significant resources into the political process.
They wouldn't have seen themselves as part of the Empire. They wouldn't have desired Home Rule, but they did. And they did because they were realistic, and they viewed the fringe section of the country that advocated a violent struggle to achieve Irish independence with utter scorn, since they knew where such ideologies had led Ireland in the past - look at the 1798, 1803, 1848 or 1867 revolts for examples. The point is, just like we can argue and say that British rule was historically unfair and unjust in Ireland, we can also argue with significant evidence to back us up, that Irish people as a whole supported and invested their time into the curious Anglo-Irish arrangement that existed by 1916. Consequently, this meant that Irish people, whether we like to admit it or not, were largely content to remain within the British Empire, or at least were willing to make use of the political process to bring about change in Ireland - as they had done for the past three generations.
When we look back at Ireland in 1916, we are doing so with the benefit of 100 years of history and over 80 years of legislative independence. Our views are thus molded by the perception that we believe Ireland shouldn't have taken part in the Westminster system or should have launched a revolution to free itself, but this is a view which is both a-historical, and morally wrong. Why should a largely contented Irish country wage a hopeless war against the larger power. Britain was not killing citizens at random, it was not locking Irish men and women up in cages, it was not silencing its pro-Irish or even anti-war press. It was running an Empire, for sure, but this was an Empire that Irish people as a whole were content to take part in the administration of, and invest their resources in. To state otherwise, unfortunately for nationalist historians, is factually incorrect.
Such incendiary claims are not being made for the mere craic - instead I'm stating this so that you understand why I don't support the Rising OR what it claimed to stand for. The reason why I don't support it, in plain terms, is because it killed people, doomed Ireland to suffer, and went against the express wishes of the majority. I cannot state my case any clearer than that, so hopefully after listening to all of what I've let loose in my conclusion, you understand where I'm coming from. Any Irish fans that have been led here, I hope you appreciate what I've done, and that even if you're not convinced, you are willing to admit that more than one side to the 1916 Rising exists. For too long our country has suffered under the weight of the doctrine that launched 1916. It has suffered because such an ideology was never meant to acquire such a following, because it wasn't compatible with the reality of Ireland on the ground.
This is a beautiful country. The people are incredible (how about those Irish Euros fans ay?), the weather is shite and the scenery is inspiring. You don't need the events of the Rising or the violent militarism which followed it to appreciate Ireland. All you need is an open mind, an understand heart, and a refill of your pint. Let me get that for your friend, you've come a long way.
So thanks for reading, and if you've made it this far and listened to all 20 of the episodes, thanks ever so much for listening. I hope you tell your friends and fam what I did here, and I hope it all gave you pause for thought as well. WDF will be taking a small break, probably until 1st August at the very latest, since I am in bad need of a rest from the stress that this has been, but also because I need to plan the next phase of WDF, and its next project. We won't be totally silent here, and you should expect a TALK episode to round this up, and celebrate the fact that we are now over FOUR YEARS OLD! Woohoo!
A little hint for both objects - my plan and dream is that soon, you won't be merely listening to When Diplomacy Fails, you'll be watching as well. As for what we'll be doing next, let's just say you've all been asking for years, and I've been putting it off for just as long. In case you didn't know, Britain Goes To War will be put on hold, until that aforementioned phase is over. I hope I'll see you there.