Our acts of remembrance in this decade of commemoration should perhaps include some consideration of the failures of the past as well as its successes, and indeed the failures of the present. And might this not be a good time to have done with militarism once and for all?
In spite of television documentary investigations proclaiming the notorious Black Diaries of Roger Casement to have been solely his own work, there is still an excellent case to be made that they are forgeries, based on erasures and interpolations, designed to blacken Casement’s name.
It is clear that no real effort was made by the Irish government to seriously consider alternatives to the strategy of institutionalisation developed in the nineteenth century. Adoption was illegal until 1952 and boarding out was resisted on the religious grounds of concerns about proselytism.
In the 1920s many republican leaders insisted that they did not object to the commemoration of the WWI dead but to the jingoism and glorification of imperialism that accompanied it, like the ostentatiously offensive behaviour of Trinity College students and the overt militarism of the British Legion (issues that also vexed the Garda).
The common religious outlook of the English and Scots, albeit favouring different forms of Protestantism, produced conditions that were more favourable to political union than was the case in Ireland, where the majority continued to cling stubbornly to its Roman Catholic inheritance.
Ireland’s first independent government was faced with the ruinous cost of the Civil War, low levels of educational attainment and a tax base heavily eroded by emigration. While they could perhaps have done more to develop the economy, they succeeded in establishing a stable democracy and, in a Europe that was plunging into authoritarianism, transferred power peacefully to their successors.
It’s a wonder any of Georgian Dublin survived at all given how many enemies it had, from government ministers bearing historic resentments to state companies wishing to make a mark, speculative property developers in cahoots with party fundraisers, dangerous buildings inspectors and demented roads engineers.