Ireland’s own history wars

Ireland’s own history wars

On Sunday 18th Oct at the Barbican in London, as part of its Battle of Ideas event, academics and historians will debate whether or not Ireland should put the centenary of the Somme on the same footing as the 1916 Rising.

Columnist Ruth Dudley Edwards and Northern Irish historian Lord Paul Bew will debate the issue with lecturer author of Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising James Heartfield and Bushey school teacher and author Kevin Rooney.

Heartfield and Rooney are co-authors of Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising which argues against any equivalence between commemorating the Rising and the Battle of the Somme. Rooney is a politics teacher at Queen’s School in Bushey, in Hertfordshire.

Ireland’s own history wars - Battle of Ideas

The 1916 Easter Rising was short and brutal but its legacy was far reaching. Republicans took control of the General Post Office and various other locations, including a biscuit factory and a distillery, and declared Ireland an independent republic, free of the British Empire.

But the rebellion was suppressed by the end of the week and British rule survived until 1921, after conflict that continued in the form of a brutal civil war.

For some, like former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton, the Easter Rising was an act of vanity that did more harm than good to the cause of independence.

Bruton argues that ‘the Easter Rising damaged the Irish psyche, led to years of violence, terrorism and justified the Provos – Provisional IRA’.

Decade of centenaries

Many others, though, celebrate the leaders of the Rising, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse, as inspirational figures.

Lenin and Trotsky and suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst wrote about the Rising in glowing terms, as a seminal event that, longer term, delivered a devastating blow to British imperialism. In this ‘decade of centenaries’ most Irish politicians and academics have called for the Rising to be remembered alongside the Battle of the Somme (also in 1916), in which thousands of Irishmen died for the British empire.

They argue that in the spirit of reconciliation, we should use these anniversaries as an opportunity to build mutual understanding by giving equal recognition to both events.

The Barbican debate asks of this bestows a moral equivalence between Irishmen who fought for the British Empire during the Great War – widely regarded now as a tragic waste of life – Irishmen who fought against British rule in Ireland during the Easter Rising.

It will ask if the the contemporary language of post-Good Friday Agreement Ireland of ‘a shared past, shared future, forgiveness and reconciliation’ is preventing an honest assessment of both historic events for fear of damaging the peace process.

Sunday 18 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Conservatory, Barbican War and peace

More info on the Battle of Ideas website:


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