I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Big World Spins

The Big World Spins

Ronan Fanning
Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World 1912-1923, by Maurice Walsh, Faber & Faber, 544 pp, £16,99, ISBN: 978-0571243006 “Sinn Féin”: “We Ourselves”, “Ourselves Alone” or however else it may be translated all testify to a cast of mind that chose to emphasise the uniqueness and particularity of the Irish revolutionary experience. Maurice Walsh’s point of departure is very different: it seeks to show that Ireland was “part of a civilisation in turmoil. A national revolution which captured worldwide attention from India to Argentina … In the era of Bolshevism and jazz, developments in Europe and America had a profound effect on Ireland, influencing the attitudes and expectations of combatants and civilians.” In this task he succeeds admirably. This is partly because his story begins not with yet another wearisome iteration of the opera-stage rebellion of 1916 that never had the remotest chance of success but in 1918, with the turmoil that beset so many of the European polities in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. This second phase of the revolution eschewed nineteenth century romantic theatrics. “I do not think the Rising week was an appropriate time for the issue of memoranda couched in poetic phrases, nor of actions worked out in a similar fashion,” Michael Collins had witheringly written when interned in Frongoch in October 1916. There was no nostalgia about the pragmatic realism of his revolution in 1919-21, which marked the end of Ireland’s long nineteenth century and heralded a new dawn for liberation movements all over the world. It instead took the form of a guerrilla war, the first of many such wars waged successfully against the British and other empires throughout the twentieth century. Another essential element of this postwar context is that the Irish were but one of the many peoples trying to capitalise on the espousal of the American president, Woodrow Wilson, of the doctrine of self-determination. Although the Anglo-American alliance – Britain’s so-called “special relationship” with the United States had begun with the belated American entry into the war in 1917 – denied Sinn Féin access to the Versailles peace conference of 1919, its sweeping victory in the 1918 general election gave it a democratic mandate that resonated around the world. No one understood this better than Eamon de Valera, who spent the most critical eighteen months in the war of independence criss-crossing the United States garnering support. Maurice Walsh succeeds…

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