While it is part and parcel of a ritual reaffirmation of identity, republicanism in Ireland has no practical significance in everyday life: it does nothing to alleviate burning problems in areas such as housing, health, transport or pollution. The concept once had other, more fruitful, meanings.
On whether strategic thinking in peace negotiations should outweigh moral considerations, Bertie Ahern’s mind was clear. Isolating the extremes and supporting the moderates would not solve the problem: the challenge was to make peace with your enemies, not your friends.
Irish Protestant identity has always been a more complex and various business than is suggested by the image of a Big House aristocracy enduring terminal decline. Post-Brexit, the Republic will be forced to think more on this subject. Its past record has not always been inspiring.
Cathal Brugha, a brave soldier but an inept politician, is probably best known for his tense relationship with Collins and his refusal to surrender during the fighting in O’Connell Street in the early stages of the civil war. He preferred to die fighting, charging his opponents head on.
The Soviet Union was happy in the 1980s to forge links with a party that was acquiring more than its fair share of young intellectuals, many with influence in the Irish trade union movement. Nevertheless, Sinn Féin the Workers Party’s hostility to the IRA was a problem for Moscow.
Mary Ann McCracken, sister of the executed 1798 leader Henry Joy, was an advanced thinker, a dedicated philanthropist and a model of composure, dignity and firmness. Long surviving her brother, she could be seen on Belfast docks aged 88 handing out anti-slavery pamphlets.
Father John Spratt, a Dublin-born Carmelite priest whose energy seems to have been limitless, not only built Whitefriar Street church but established an orphanage, two schools, and a night refuge for children and dismissed servants. He also campaigned vigorously for temperance.
In their closeness to the church, practical timidity and occasional cautious defiance of authority, Ireland’s provincial papers in the early 20th century were exemplars of that elusive quantity ‘moderate opinion’. Yet by 1918 most had moved in the direction of Sinn Féin.