From the Editors. Learning to live together is as much about how we deal with the past and divided memories as it is about our vision of the future and the ways to get there. Transcending divided memories, searching for joint remembrances, and re-remembering some of the ways in which we can learn to live together. In this decade of commemorations, the following is an example of how the past can be used positively to enable us to learn to live together. This post is being co hosted by the Belfast Media Group/ Andersonstown News).
“Nationalism is the worst of all human diseases “ Albert Einstein
By Joe Doherty
I remember as a small boy my maternal grandfather Alex Darragh telling me of distant memories of bloody trench warfare, the smell and stench of dead bodies, eating raw horse meat and the constant barrage of cannon fire. I would sit with my mouth open listening to the graphic and sometime troubled images of what he went through as a young man. And to this day I can still remember that 1000 yard stare. Of course in my infant naivety I always thought he was talking about WW2 and was thinking of those John Wayne and John Mill’s films on TV and in the cinemas. There wasn’t much by way of films about World War One.
Granddad Alex’s own father, too, Alexander Senior, my great grandfather, had been a career soldier in the Royal Irish Rifles and thus young Alex joined the same regiment. Of course it was in part the poverty of those days that drew my grandfather and many of that generation into the British army. But Irish men had always been somehow caught up with the Imperial army including making up half of the Duke of Wellington troops at the Battle of Waterloo and at the height of Rule Britannia two thirds of the British navy were Irish conscripts.
One hundred years ago Irish nationalist leaders including John Redmond and the charismatic nationalist West Belfast MP Joe Devlin were encouraging thousands of young nationalists to fight for other reasons including King and Ireland and the promise of Home Rule and of course the folly notion that the Protestant Germans were invading Catholic Belgium. And by the thousands nationalists marched off to France.
Returning from France my grandfather joined the Irish Republican Army and fought in the 1919-22 Irish War of Independence. And this indeed was a source of open pride and tribute to our republican war veteran grandfather. I even got the opportunity in holding his precious and esteemed War of independence IRA medals and our family still have his Oglaigh Na H-Eireann war pension book from the Irish government.
But not much was spoken of his involvement in the British Army and his venture into war for King and country. And although Granddad Alex great uncle Daniel Darragh, an IRB Fenian, was taken to London and hanged in Milbank prison at the edge of the Thames River in 1867, Granddad Darragh’s involvement in the European war on behalf of the King was always a source of discontentment or bemusement. My granny Barnicle, even after his heroic involvement in the war against the British Army in 1919, often gave him spouse abuse about his involvement in the British Army. Granny Barnicle had strong republican credentials and, while Granddad Darragh was adorning the Imperial uniform, was in Belfast when Pearse and Connolly were marched to the front of British firing squads in 1916.
I guess like most nationalist families we were resigned to put that historical event behind us and relegated those material memories to a shoe box in the attic. The unionist celebrations and commemorations of Poppy Day and Remembrance Day put most nationalist off from reflecting on the events of WW1 and the bloody participation of many of our own fathers and grandfathers. While many may have wanted to reflect and understand the historical involvement and sacrifices Irish nationalists see dangers of somehow celebrating an imperial event rather than a mass slaughter of many of a past generation.
But I think it is important for nationalists to understand and reflect, and indeed to be involved in some centenary commemorations. We need at least to be open to be understanding of that event in Irish history. I think it would be fair to say that a majority of the chattering masses within the nationalist community do not recognize the fact that over 200,000 Irishmen had fought in the First World War and over 49,000 were killed. And indeed the majority of those who fought and died were Irish nationalists.
World War One showed the human impact of the war on the island of Ireland. And that this human impact affected both Irish Nationalist and Irish Unionist families.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war that took the lives of some 10 million young men across Europe and beyond. For some reason I have taken a keen interest in that war to understand my granddad and great granddad own involvement and have sought out official information and knowledge of how this horror had taken place and the extent it had on Ireland.
On Visiting the Warring Street Royal Irish Rifles museum in Belfast I found out that my granddad had 2 campaign medals and even a British war pension which he had chosen to not accept. On looking for additional information I found that most of the records were destroyed during the WW2 bombings in London. I was strangely attempting to retrieve his British war medals for his two surviving sons Alex and Billy and daughter Ann. So my research was much limited.
Being an Irish republican and an anti imperialist I found myself wondering why I had this almost enthusiastic interest about this war fought over by the self-indulgence of National Governments and Royal Households that conscripted millions of working class young men against each other in bloody trench warfare.
But I thought it incumbent upon me to search out why so many Irishmen, unionist and nationalist, marched through places like the Shankill and Fall’s roads to fight and die in the fields of France. And indeed from townships all over Ireland young men adorned the uniform of the Imperial army and marched to war.
This European event had also steered a course for Irish politics. This European Imperial War had established not only a more separatist mindset among nationalists but had also paved the way towards separatism in the north east and the eventual partition of Ireland.
This centennial year of the so called Great War is or should be a pivotal time of reflection and remembrance for those past generations who fought in the mud and the almost 50.000 young Irish men of all traditional backgrounds who did not come home.
The Coiste Exp Consortium has organized an event at the Duncairn Centre for Arts and Culture on the 7th of May at 7.00pm involving extensive presentations by noted historians Philip Orr and Sean Ó Hare on the establishment of both the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division. And of course to understand and challenge each other to why so many young men had served and died in some far off lands.
We owe it to them.
Venue of event.
Duncairn Centre for Arts and culture
174 trust Complex
Contact Joe Doherty for further information. 90-200770
World War One: Political Divisions
The Ulster Davison and the Sixth Connaught rangers
Over 200,000 Irishmen fought in the First World War and over 49,000 were killed showed the human impact of the war on the island of Ireland. This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war.
It is somehow taken for granted that those who fought and died were by unionist. Of course it is often celebrated and commemorated among unionist. But most of those who served and were killed were Irish nationalists.
On this centenary anniversary we see this event as an opportunity for all to reflect and understand the complexities and politics of the participation of both Irish nationalists and Irish unionist in this war.
While most Irish unionists joined the 36th Ulster Division many Irish nationalist joined the 16th Irish Division.
The 36th (Ulster) Division.
The 36th Ulster Division was formed in September 1914 to create a home for men of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Although not everyone who joined was an Ulster Volunteer the ethos was deeply Unionist. In July 1916 the division fought and died in great numbers at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.
The memory of this slaughter came to have deep significance for Unionists in the new Northern Ireland state, symbolising loyalty to Britain and standing in contrast to the Easter Rebellion which had taken place in Dublin just a few weeks before the Somme campaign began. Remembering the 36th Division’s exploits is still seen as important today by many Ulster Protestants.
Philip Orr, WW1 historian will give a presentation on the birth of the Ulster Division and the political circumstances around that period.
The 16th Irish Division and the Sixth Connaught Rangers
The 6th Connaught Rangers was a unique battalion of the British Army made up mainly of members of the Irish National Volunteers from the Falls Rd and other Catholic areas of Belfast. They went to the front in W.W.1 at the behest of their local M.P the charismatic Joe Devlin of the Irish Parliamentary Party. They were confident that Home Rule would be granted at the end of the war which most people then believed would be “over by Christmas”.
So in gratitude to the Westminster Government and in defence of Catholic Belgium they went off to war. The suffered heavy casualties and on their return found an entirely different political situation in Ireland especially in their own area. There were no flags or banners to welcome them as they slipped quietly home. Their story was to disappear from the memory of both communities in Belfast.
Sean O Hare, author of the Sixth Connaught Rangers will give a presentation on the events surrounding involvement of so many northern nationalists in the Connaught Rangers.
World War One and Political Divisions
The 36th Ulster Division and the 6th Connaught Rangers.
7.00pm to 9.00pm. May 7th 2014
Duncairn Centre for Arts & Culture (174 Trust Complex Antrim Road.)