Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter Rising

Over in Dublin there are continuing celebrations and commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising - the actual anniversary is not until late April - which have attracted attention across the wider world.

I was taken aback by hearing on the BBC World Service News - but then, it being the BBC, perhaps I should not have been - the events of 1916 described as a uprising against "British occupation."  Now that is plain inaccurate - all those involved were British, subjects of the King of the United Kingdom. If some of them chose to define themselves - I think the phrase these days is self-define - as independent "Irish" rather than British, or as Irish British or British Irish, well that was their look -out, but it was not the legal fact. Dublin was as much under British occupation in 1916 as Edinburgh or Cardiff were then or are today.

An Irish friend with whom Iexchanged e-mails on this subject todayopined that the 1916 Rising might have been avoided if the UK government has concentrat don implementing the 1914 Home Rule Act. This may be the case, but the 1914 Act had raised expectations and fears to new a pitch in Ireland as awhole, and the Westminster government did have something else to worry about from late July of that fateful year. Home Rule, with the possibility of exemption for some parts of northern Ireland had been legislated for. It was merely suspended until the end of the European War. I doubt if those who  created the Rising cared much for the Act - they wanted to create a stir, and the War, ironically, allowed them the opportunity.

The price for Ireland ever since has neen pretty dreadful, and much still remains unresolved.

Charles Moore makes some trenchant points in today's Daily Telegraph about the events of 1916 which I have cop[ied from their website.

Irish rebels lying in wait on a roof getting ready to fire during the Easter Rising, 1916 
Irish rebels lying in wait on a roof getting ready to fire during the Easter Rising, 1916  Credit: Getty

The centenary of the Easter Rising was commemorated in Dublin yesterday. The unsuccessful revolt of Irish Republicans helped pave the way for the breakaway of southern Ireland from the United Kingdom in 1922 and the horrible civil war.

In the phrase “Easter Rising” is contained the central blasphemy of terrorist acts committed in the name of God. What has the resurrection of the Prince of Peace got to do with trying to shoot the British out of Ireland?

Patrick Pearse, the rising’s leader, who proclaimed the republic outside the General Post Office, suffered from what Yeats called “the vertigo of self-sacrifice”. He had a homoerotic vision of the macaomh, the beautiful young scholar warrior who would die for his country – half the Irish mythical hero Cuchullain, half Jesus. The night before he was shot by a British firing squad, Pearse wrote a mawkish poem comparing the Virgin Mary’s loss of her son to his own death.

A century later, this distasteful confusion of political fanaticism with faith is even more in fashion, but nowadays in Islam, not Christianity. Among those rebels executed by the British shortly after Pearse was his devoted brother, Willie. In Brussels last week, a pair of brothers, Ibrahim and Khalid al-Bakraoui, detonated two of the three bombs which killed 31 people.

In modern Ireland, I am glad to say, sentimentality about the murderous and self-righteous revolutionaries who helped condemn the Republic to 70 years of economic backwardness and narrow priest-domination – and the North to terrorist guerrilla warfare – is at last being superseded by a more clear-headed approach. I strongly recommend Ruth Dudley Edwards’s new book, The Seven, which dissects the attitudes of the founding fathers. The repentant IRA terrorist Sean O’Callaghan has published a brave, hostile account of the life of Pearse’s socialist co-conspirator and martyr, James Connolly.

It no longer seems so heroic to have provoked violence against a parliamentary democracy and slaughter among one’s own people, however much one may support an independent Ireland. Must it take another century before a comparable questioning of supposedly holy killing comes to dominate the Muslim world?

“A terrible beauty is born”, famously wrote Yeats. Actually, it was a terrible ugliness, and it is getting uglier.

Children collect firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising
Children collect firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising  
Credit: Getty
Text and images: Daily Telegraph 

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