MEATH PEACE GROUP and the MEATH ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY JOINT SEMINAR
“HISTORY IN MODERN IRELAND/NORTHERN IRELAND”
Saturday, 13th September 2014
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Session I. “The Socio–political importance of History in Modern Irish/NI Society particularly in this Decade of Centenaries”
Mary Ann Lyons (Head of History Dept, Maynooth University),
Gordon Lucy (Belfast historian)
Thomas Byrne (Fianna Fáil Senator)
Chaired by John Clancy
- Presentations of speakers in Session I
- Relevant quotes from Session II (“History in Irish Education” – Damien English TD (Fine Gael), Minister of State at the Department of Education; Professor Fionnuala Waldron (Dean of Education, SPD/DCU). [This session was chaired by Peter Connell and was also addressed by Niamh Crowley of the History Teachers Association – a full report is in progress]
- Questions and Comments (summary)
- Biographical notes on speakers etc
Session I presentations
1.Mary Ann Lyons (Professor of History, Head of History Department, Maynooth University)
“I would like to thank Julitta for her very kind invitation to participate in this seminar. I want to speak about the socio-political importance of history in modern Irish society particularly in this decade of centenaries. Most of my comments will focus on the Republic of Ireland, as I know Gordon will be referring to Northern Ireland in his presentation.
‘States have long had an interest in how key events in their past are commemorated, and historians have equally long been complicit in promoting dominant political mythologies. Since the development of professional academic history, however, its practitioners have tended to view commemorations more as opportunities for attempting new interpretations, and for critiquing the official version. Yet, when the event commemorated has clear implications for ongoing conflict and attempts at reconciliation, historians can come under intense pressure … to prioritise contemporary political concerns over their primary duty to engage critically with the sources’.1
Historian Tom Dunne from UCC contends that this is what happened in Ireland during the late 1990s when the bicentenary of the 1798 rebellion coincided with the final stages of a complex peace process aimed at ending the conflict in Northern Ireland. Dunne claims that the bicentenary as a result was based ‘in large part on a blurring of historical memory’2 since the Irish Government was eager to find a way of commemorating the rebellion that did not emphasize the sectarianism and violence that were also at the heart of The Troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1990s. The government, he contends, found this in the idealism of the rebellion’s ostensible organizers, the United Irishmen, whose Belfast origins and commitment to a union between Catholic and Protestant were especially helpful. But as Dunne also points out, regrettably the role of the United Irishmen and the relevance of their ideals in Wexford were unclear in the historical record in contrast with accounts of the sectarian conflict and violence which absolutely dominate contemporary sources.3
What Dunne found particularly regrettable was the regressive step for historical scholarship that this involved on the grounds that
‘In the decades prior to the bicentenary a highly complex picture of Irish politics and society during the 1790s had been developed, yet [in publications to mark the bicentenary] many historians of the period appeared to endorse the state’s idealistic, one–dimensional approach to the rebellion as a ‘United Irish Revolution’.’4
In light of this relatively recent experience of contentious commemoration, with this decade of anniversaries now under way, it is timely to reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities facing historians and commemorators alike.
To this end, I propose to present you with a very general overview of some of the major issues that leading historians working in the field have highlighted as worthy of reflection and debate.
It is worth remembering that we in Ireland are by no means alone in facing the challenge of interpreting the contentious events of 100 years ago. Tom Dunne has sought to contextualize our decade of commemorations by reminding us that historians the world over are grappling with how to interpret and write the history of difficult chapters in their respective lands. Citing three ongoing situations of historically inflected conflict or controversy, namely the treatment of Jews by their Polish neighbours during World War Two; Turkey’s responsibility for the massacre of Armenians during the World War One, and the legacy of the wars in former Yugoslavia, he points to historians from across national and ethnic divides who are attempting to write ‘shared narratives’ of these past events in an attempt to contribute to present–day conflict resolution.5
But such participation in collaborative work with a political goal clearly presents challenges to historians engaged in scholarly research. Whilst acknowledging the validity of Professor John A Murphy’s assertion that an historian’s primary duty is to historical research and not to historical healing6, at this time it is worthwhile asking whether there might be ways of making that principal duty of the historian compatible with a reconciliation agenda, without compromising the professional integrity of history or of historians.
Dunne is not optimistic. He is wary of the language used by the ‘Advisory Group’ of historians assisting the Irish Government’s ‘Consultation Group on Centenary Celebrations’ who have promised to consult widely, “at all times acknowledging the multiple identities and traditions which are part of the historic story of the island of Ireland and Irish people world–wide”.7 He also has concerns in relation to the Northern Ireland Executive’s stance. Commenting on its appointment of two ministers to “jointly bring forward a programme for a decade which will offer a real opportunity for our society to benefit economically and continue its transformation into a vibrant, diverse and enriched place to visit”, Dunne thought it significant that while the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin could agree on the tourist potential of the centenary celebrations, if nothing else, and have thus promised commemorations involved “inclusivity, tolerance, respect, responsibility and interdependence”, no reference was made to achieving historical understanding.8
He does, however, commend Belfast City Council Subcommittee for its commitment to approaching the decade in a spirit of ‘Shared History, Differing Allegiances’ which is more in line with the international model of ‘shared history’, involving cross–community organizations such as ‘Healing through Remembering’ in projects aimed at promoting a genuine shared history at grassroots level.9
Dunne singled out as significant the endorsement of that approach in an editorial featured in the Irish Times two years ago, on 29 September 2012, which urged that we all
“go beyond grudging tolerant understanding of the other’s history” by developing a greater understanding of the “interconnectedness of our stories”, this being the best way of “celebrating our different narratives”.10
There have been some positive developments in this regard; for example, the change in approach to commemoration of those Irishmen who died during the Great War, notably initiatives by individual politicians in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic, followed by the participation in Remembrance Day ceremonies in Northern Ireland by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and An Tánaiste Eamonn Gilmore in 2012. (Dunne also draws encouragement from the recent attempt by some members of An Gárda Síochana to commemorate their RIC predecessors.11)
And yet, despite these positive developments, Dunne warns against complacency, remarking that despite World War One becoming a sort of neutral ground in terms of commemoration, there still appears to be a nervousness in the official approach on the part of politicians both North and South around the commemoration of complex events of 100 years ago. He points to how the former Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Paterson, cautioned the Oireachtas Group on Centenary Commemorations about the “danger that people who do not have such a benign view could hijack them” and also to a TD’s admission that “some of these commemorations may be taken over by hard–line people from both traditions”.12
Dunne has highlighted the significant and relatively unique stance assumed by President Michael D. Higgins who, in a number of addresses, has emphasized the need to commemorate “in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect” with making “historical accuracy a cornerstone of commemoration”. In this, Dunne asserts, President Higgins has provided historians with an important lead, in sharp contrast with what he denounces as
‘Fear of causing offence, an obsession with ‘balance’ and all the other manifestations of this damaging ‘political correctness’ [that] can only lead to bland, meaningless history that may get political establishments safely to the end of the decade but will do nothing to deepen understanding of this island’s historical past]’.13
Dunne is also encouraged by the fact that the Advisory Group of historians assisting the Irish Government includes historians Eunan O’Halpin (TCD) and Diarmaid Ferriter (UCD), and by the latter’s blunt assertion that “commemorations should be divisive. They should create a certain discomfort. You don’t have to please everyone. History is about conflicting interpretations.”14
If we embark on commemoration in this spirit of openness and loyalty to the historical record, certain demands are made on us as historians and as commemorators. We need to broaden our horizon, dispensing with one of the most unhelpful divisions that has been set up in how we view the 1910s, namely the separation of the Irish experience in the 1910s from its European context.
As TCD historian Anne Dolan has observed, the thought of placing the Irish story within a wider European narrative, of sacrificing Irish exceptionalism, still seems to frighten some: we need to reflect on why this is so. In a thought–provoking article titled ‘Divisions and divisions and divisions: who to commemorate?’, Dolan posits the notion that arguably Ireland was never so European as it was in that decade, if we consider the trenches dug in St Stephen’s Green during the Rising, the appeal to Versailles for recognition, the Treaty that placed the Irish Free State at the heart of the Commonwealth. At each stage, Ireland was very much part of a wider international and European history.
Dolan goes further, challenging us to consider the reasons for this reluctance to view the Irish experience in a European context, suggesting that this may stem from the fact that when viewed in that comparative light, we see that Ireland had ‘small wars, few casualties, and a remarkably quick return to peace and stability’.15 The trouble is, if we admit that, do we undermine all the importance that so many have placed on those small wars for so long?
Yet another division that historians and commemorators have been slow to address is that of class. As Dolan has pointed out, class divisions are among the most striking of this decade in Ireland, and yet no one seems keen to seek out ‘shared history’ here, arguably the easiest place to find that ‘shared history’ North and South. Consequently, she asks: ‘Is it not a division that should occupy us all a little more?’16 Dolan presents us with another challenge, asking: ‘Do we … miss the division between the ardent and the indifferent at our peril?’17 It is worth reminding ourselves that far more people carried on with their everyday lives throughout all these wars than went out to take whatever part in the conflict, and yet we listen to, write about and commemorate the minority of fighters, for whatever cause, so much more. Dolan argues that it is precisely in focusing on the lives of these ordinary men and women who got on with their daily lives in spite of the conflicts, that we are most likely to find some form of ‘shared history’ or common ground through which they too can be commemorated. She poses the penetrating question: ‘What will happen to those who did not follow any flag when flags come to be half–masted in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2021?’18 Here, perhaps the Letters of 1916 Project which is based at Maynooth University is a good approach. This crowd–sourced project invites people holding any type of letter dated 1916, from Ireland, regardless of its subject matter, to submit the letter which is the added to a fast growing collection of letters capturing not just the Easter Week events but a plethora of aspects of everyday life in Ireland at that time.19
Professor Keith Jeffery from Queen’s University Belfast equally throws down the gauntlet to historians and commemorators on where we go from here in commemorating Irish involvement in World War One and 1916. Commenting on the blossoming of First World War commemoration that we have witnessed from the late 1980s, he has observed how ‘much of this enhanced … commemoration draws on a belief that shared military experience and the shared human costs of that experience might transcend local Irish political and sectarian differences.’ On the other hand, he remarks that to our great cost, ‘one thing [that is] largely absent … from what we might call the ‘civil war’ of the Troubles is any sustained sense that shared military experience on each side of the conflict might have any sort of reconciling potential.’20 And the same, he contends, can be said of 1916.
Jeffery then presents us with a stark challenge in the following terms:
‘If we are serious about trying to extract some good from common suffering in 1914–18, then we must also seriously contemplate the possibility that some good might be extracted from an understanding of the common suffering and loss not just on the battlefields of continental Europe but also here at home’.21
He goes on to suggest that ‘Ireland’s domestic (and not just recent) past is perhaps so painful that we may require the more remote experience of, for example, the First World War to help us come to terms with it.’22 Jeffery also presents us with a thought–provoking speculation for the commemorative attraction in Ireland of the First World War, namely that commemorating the Great War affords people, North and South, the opportunity to reach back to a time when Ireland was politically united, albeit it under British control, and he suggests that this might help engender a sense of unity between those on both sides of the subsequently created border.23
Another leading historian in this field, David Fitzpatrick (TCD), has itemized many challenges facing us all in this decade of commemorations. Rather like Tom Dunne, he is especially wary of the desire for pluralism that so often goes with commemoration. He reminds historians and commemorators that it is ‘all too easy to achieve the spurious appearance of ‘inclusivity’ in ceremonies, events or exhibitions by adopting simplistic misleading dichotomies.’24 Here, he asserts, it is incumbent on the historian to complicate the picture. Fitzpatrick believes a connected problem is an excessive focus on 1916, the year of the Battle of the Somme and the Dublin rebellion, as commemorators find irresistible the temptation to weave these two episodes into ‘a seamless sacrificial narrative’.25 It is not appropriate, he argues, to concentrate on a single year marked by massive casualties on the Western Front or on the dramatic character of the Easter rebellion in isolation since to do so ‘fails to convey the slow and messy course of political change in Ireland or the monotony and attrition of trench warfare… To sideline the seamier aspects of the past is to distort public understanding of history.’26 Fitzpatrick also acknowledges that in the present day, ‘many would prefer to remember constructive rather than violent aspects of the revolutionary epoch in Irish history’27 and argues that the problem for historians is that it is not ‘easy to devise a truthful narrative incorporating supporters and opponents of the Anglo–Irish treat in a common enterprise of democratic state–building in the South, given the performance of both parties in the Civil War. Faced with this conundrum, many historians as well as politicians have portrayed those who actively supported the Treaty as democrats acting in accordance with the will of the majority, and their opponents in the Civil War as idealists’.28
That way, no one is too upset. But as Fitzpatrick is quick to point out, that is a spurious comparison since of course ‘there were idealists on both sides but very few genuine ‘democrats’ in either party until it became apparent, after the Civil War, that the constitutional framework of the Free State offered practical opportunities for all factions.’29 Equally, Fitzpatrick, emphasizes, it is not acceptable to depict Ulster Unionists as unwavering imperialists and opponents of home rule. After all, the Ulster Unionists almost rebelled against the Crown in 1912–14; their leaders proved reluctant to urge their followers to commit to the imperial war efforts, and they eventually accepted and controlled a home rule state of their own in Northern Ireland.30
So what does this mean for commemorating their experiences? According to Fitzpatrick, ‘good commemoration would stress the common influence of fraternity and solidarity in nationalist and unionist Ireland rather than the strength of political idealism.’31 This would reflect the historian’s overriding concern which is historical accuracy.
Fitzpatrick also identifies another ‘tempting but dubious stratagem for commemorators’, namely, ‘the notion of equality of suffering between perpetrators and victims of political violence.’32 He insists that suspending moral judgement when attempting to give meaning to human losses results in poor history. He also insists that historians must draw a clear distinction between on the one hand combatants who delivered and often courted death, and on the other, non–combatant civilians who did neither. In that context, he reminds us that non–combatant civilians constituted the great majority of fatalities in 1916 and almost half of those killed between 1917 and 1921, which begs the question – how will they be commemorated, if at all? Fitzpatrick strenuously argues that the lives of both perpetrators and victims should be remembered, but not in the same way. He asserts that ‘far from avoiding all forms of judgement, historians should try to add moral intensity to the ways in which we commemorate and comprehend the past. Morally neutral commemoration’, he warns, ‘is a dangerous deception …’ and ‘commemoration, like good history, should help us to understand what forces impelled people to commit terrible as well as courageous acts.’33 While he admits that the outcome of such investigations is ‘often contentious and morally unsettling’, nonetheless he is convinced that it is ‘preferable to a bland recitation of general blamelessness.’34 In this context, the work of Fitzpatrick’s TCD colleague, Eunan O’Haplin, in identifying many alleged civilian spies and informers shot dead by the IRA during the War of Independence has shed valuable light on a long concealed, deeply problematic and still highly sensitive secret that has, until recently, been preserved in local communities the length and breadth of Ireland.35
Furthermore, Fitzpatrick warns again the peril of crude stereotyping that so often accompanies commemoration; here again he sees historians playing a crucial role in challenging stereotypes. In this context, he also issues a warning against efforts to de–politicize the commemoration of the Crown forces in Ireland by reverting to use of stereotypical representations of the Black and Tans, the Auxillaries, and others.36 Here, like Keith Jeffery and Anne Dolan, Fitzpatrick presents us with some potentially difficult–to–swallow pills. Although on first reading it may seem bizarre, he suggests that one area in which we could have common commemoration is in relation to the Black and Tans in Ireland. He dismisses the notion, often advanced by conciliatory figures, that the Black and Tans behaved as they did because they themselves were victims of ‘brutalisation’. He backs up his claim citing comparative studies that have shown they were no more brutalized than the bulk of Europe’s male population who survived the Great War. Fitzpatrick argues that most atrocities committed by the Black and Tans were ‘largely the result of weakness of central control compounded by paranoia arising from ignorance of their opponents.’37 The same was true in the case of the IRA and the civilian population’s paranoia and ignorance of the Black and Tans.
Hence, Fitzpatrick suggests that a way forward in commemorating the War of Independence is to view this as a shared psychological problem inviting common commemoration, arising from ‘shared fear, ignorance and indiscipline’.38A controversial view indeed, but then the job of the historian and of good commemoration is to challenge, to unsettle, to probe debate and reflection in the hope of achieving deeper understanding of our historical past and how it has formed our outlooks, values and aspirations today.
Again and again, historians emphasise that the 1916 Rising, the Battle of the Somme, the Treaty, the Civil War are much more than significant historical events; they are also cultural products of generation after generation of Irish men and women, products whose significance is constantly changing. Thus, the Newcastle–based historian Róisín Higgins predicts that 2016 will be an opportunity ‘to assess the progress made in Ireland over one hundred years and to consider the benefits and abuses that have resulted from independence.’ The commemorations will, she believes, ‘operate as a bellwether for the Irish state and nation’, reflecting people’s view of the credibility of those who represent power in Ireland – north and south. As such, she argues, the commemorations will be ‘a telling indication of Irish citizenry’s relationship with authority.’39
Fearghal McGarry, from Queen’s University Belfast, approaches the commemoration of 1916 from a slightly different angle, seeing it as providing historians with an opportunity to advance a re-evaluation of the Rising on three counts. Firstly, it affords historians a chance to show that the Rising was in fact ‘infinitely more complex than the historical myth’ would have us believe.40 Secondly, he argues that although the memory of 1916 is frequently invoked to criticize the manifold short–comings of the present–day Irish State (most recently when the IMF intervened to address our financial crisis), there is a need for a much more nuanced understanding of rebel ideology since, on the basis of his study of the testimony of rank–and–file rebels, even in 1916 there were ‘tensions between the Proclamation’s egalitarian rhetoric and the social conservatism that characterized much of the revolutionary movement.’41 Lastly, and in common with Anne Dolan, McGarry stresses the need to interpret and commemorate the 1916 Rising as ‘part of the broader historical experience of the Great War rather than as an event that occurred parallel to it’42 on the grounds that the Great War backdrop ‘explains much that is otherwise inexplicable about the British State’s response to the 1916 rebellion’ and it aftermath (the Army’s willingness to devastate the city centre by artillery bombardment; the preemptory nature of the executions; the heavy–handed coercion that followed; the attempt to impose conscription).43
As I hope I have shown through introducing you to the perspectives of this selection of historians currently publishing in this field, there is consensus among most professional historians of the revolutionary period in Irish history today that in terms of the decade of commemoration, we should (in the words of David Fitzpatrick): ‘do our best to avoid the use of simplistic and exclusive dichotomies or facile attributions of motive; raise awkward issues, and above all, seek to broaden the terms of debate in this interminable round of national soul–searching that we now face’.44
I conclude with a recommendation for some reading. One of the hardest–hitting but challenging and stimulating studies of the fraught business of commemorating a key event of this era which appeared in recent years in is the TCD historian Anne Dolan’s book Commemorating the Irish Civil War: history and memory, 1923–2000, published by Cambridge University Press in 2003. Dolan asks a penetrating question which she pursues with a relentless incisiveness and humanity that one might wish to see underpinning all debate around this decade of commemorations:
‘After civil war can the winners honour their victory; can they commemorate it; can they raise their flags, cry from their well–guarded rooftops; can they hail their conquered heroes with the blood of their comrades still fresh on their boots? Or does civil war, by its very nature, demand silence? Should the winners cover themselves in shame, bow their heads and hope that the nation forgets ‘our lamentable spasm of national madness’?45
With that thought, I thank you for your attention.”
Chair (John Clancy): “Thank you Mary Ann…. We will have a Question and Answer session after the presentations. Our next speaker is Gordon Lucy who will give a perspective from Northern Ireland…
2. Gordon Lucy (Belfast historian)
“First of all, I would like to thank you all for having me here today, particularly Julitta where I think the invitation originated, so I am very very grateful. May I also say that I am somewhat overawed by my predecessor because it was a tremendously substantial and meaty presentation compared to this rather feeble one I think in comparison.
The Rough Guide to France used to describe Le Chambon-sur-Lignon as a ‘rambling, rather unattractive village with a somewhat faded air’. It doesn’t get a mention in the current edition of the Rough Guide at all. However, this village in Haute-Loire has two significant claims to fame. First, Albert Camus, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1957, stayed nearby in 1942 and wrote part of The Plague [La Peste] here. Secondly, and more importantly, the town offered sanctuary to thousands of French Jews during the Second World War. In all, the people of Le Chambon may have saved the lives of as many as 5,000 Jews. In 1988, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Institute, counted the war-time population of the village among the ‘Righteous among the Nations’. Le Chambon is the only place in France to have been accorded this honour.
Just before the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Jacques Chirac – the then French President – visited the village and claimed:
‘here in adversity, the soul of our nation manifested itself. Here was the embodiment of our country’s conscience‘.
Unfortunately, this assertion is not true. Robert Paxton, the American historian and political scientist, has estimated the number of active resisters to be ‘about 2% of the adult French population (or about 400,000)’. The post-war government of France offically recognized 220,000 men and women as active resisters.
Pierre Sauvage, a film-maker born in the village on 25 March 1944 and who emigrated to the United States, claimed:
‘There is nothing at all symbolic about Le Chambon as far as war-time France goes. Quite the contrary: it was the exception in a country that overwhelmingly submitted to the Nazi regime.‘
Secondly, in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country, the area’s inhabitants were predominantly Protestant. Sauvage, a Jew, contends:
‘The key to their extraordinary behaviour during the war is their collective memory of their own persecuted past.’
One pastor told Sauvage: ‘The Jews felt close to us, because we believed in the Old Testament and they were people of the Old Testament.’ The day after France surrendered, Pastor André Trocmé told his congregation it was their duty to protect the Jews. His flock agreed: ‘Everybody knew of their presence and were involved in protecting them’. 46
Let’s fast forward a few years. In 2008, President Sarkozy, who is of Hungarian and Greek Jewish ancestry, stirred up a hornet’s nest with an instruction that every ten-year-old French pupil should know the identity of one of the 11,000 Jewish children who were deported from France to their deaths at Nazi hands. And in a speech to Jewish leaders on 13 February 2008, President Sarkozy said that France should be secular but positive about religion. ..’The tragedy of the 20th century was not born from an excess of the idea of God, but from His … absence‘.
Writing shortly afterwards in Libération, the French historian Henry Russo observed that for President Sarkozy, ‘The past has become a depository of political resources where everybody can pick what they want to serve their interests.’
In a similar vein, there is a Spanish proverb: ‘History is a common meadow in which everyone can make hay.’
In The Spanish Holocaust, published in 2012, Paul Preston detailed the brutal and murderous persecution of Spaniards between 1936 and 1945: the mass extra-judicial murder of some 200,000 victims, cursory military trials, torture, the systematic abuse of women and children, sweeping imprisonment, the horrors of exile. Those culpable for crimes committed on both sides of the Civil War are named; their victims identified.
How have the Spanish coped with the turbulent past and can we identify any lessons for us?
After the death of General Franco in 1975, both the parties of the left and the right agreed that it was desirable to have a period of silence – the pact of forgetting (‘El Pacto de Olvido‘) – to underpin and facilitate the transition to democracy and to facilitate the reconciliation of the ‘Two Spains’ [‘Las dos Espaňas‘] which had confronted each other during the Civil War. 47
In October 2007, the then ruling PSOE [the Party of the Spanish Socialist Workers] passed a law of historical memory (la ley de memoria históica), assigning public funds to the families of victims of the Civil War (on both sides) and the victims of the Franco Regime so that they can exhume their bodies. The Law also formally condemned the Franco Regime. Two parties opposed the Law but for diametrically different reasons. The Popular Party accused the Socialists of weakening the political consensus which facilitated the transition to democracy and ‘using the Civil War as an argument for political propaganda’. However, in fairness, it is also worth noting that the Popular Party supported some elements of the Historical Memory Law, including seven amendments to the original text of the law, facilitating the ‘depoliticisation’ of the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos, where Franco is buried) and monetary aid to victims of the Civil War and Franco regime.
The Republican Left of Catalonia, on the other hand, voted against the Law because it didn’t go far enough.
In 2011, the Popular Party returned to power after seven years in opposition, but the Party has neither repealed nor amended the Historical Memory Law. The Centre for Historical Documentation [Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica] gives information on victims of Francoist repression, but the government has curtailed State help in the exhumation of victims – now that could be just simply as a result of the economic crisis, I just don’t pretend to know.
Interestingly enough, the United Nations has repeatedly urged Spain to repeal the pact of forgetting, for example in 2012, and again in 2013. The United Nations maintains that under international law amnesties do not apply to crimes against humanity.
Why Study History?
In 2008, Penelope J. Corfield (a professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London) wrote:
‘All people and peoples are living histories. To take a few obvious examples: communities speak languages that are inherited from the past. They live in societies with complex cultures, traditions and religions that have not been created on the spur of the moment. People use technologies that they have not themselves invented. And each individual is born with a personal variant of an inherited genetic template, known as the genome, which has evolved during the entire life-span of the human species.
She then proceeds to observe:
‘understanding the linkages between the past and the present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human. That, in a nutshell, is why History matters. It is not just ‘useful’, it is essential.’
Elsewhere Professor Corfield writes that she is strongly opposed to the current trend in education-politics which elevates ‘Skills’ above ‘Knowledge’. That, she says, is not only wrong in principle but it also leads to an inadequate learning of skills, thus defeating the very aim of the ‘Skills’ mantra.
That would be a view I would share very strongly.
I also looked at the website of the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, because I have had the privilege of speaking at Irishfest in Milwaukee twice, and the Department of History offers the following excellent rationale as to why you should study history:
‘You should study history if you wish to learn how and why the world and its peoples came to be as they are today. History asks “How did things get to be this way?” There is nothing in the world that does not become more intriguing and far more mysterious – once we recognize the complicated events and causes that led to its creation.
At the same time, history also recognizes that there is far more to the past than the events that created the world we know today. As the British writer L.P. Hartley once famously remarked, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Recognizing what we share with people in the past, while simultaneously exploring how profoundly their lives differed from our own, provides some of history’s most fascinating insights.’
Cambridge University offers a similar rationale for studying history which has much to commend it:
‘The aim of studying history at university is to further your understanding and knowledge of the past and your ability to present that understanding and knowledge with clarity, insight and discrimination. The historian has to mine a large body of material efficiently; to evaluate its significance and utility in answering important questions about societies, institutions, cultures and individuals; and to order her or his thoughts on these matters succinctly, clearly, yet with sensitivity. The teaching that you will receive over the next three years is designed to develop these skills’
TheTeaching of History:
From the origins of national school systems in the 19th century, the teaching of history to promote national sentiment has been a high priority.
In most countries, history textbooks are tools to foster nationalism and patriotism, and give students the official line about national enemies. In many countries – probably most countries – history textbooks are sponsored by the national government and are written to put the national heritage in the most favourable light. For example, in Japan, mention of the Nanking Massacre has been removed from all textbooks and the entire Second World War is given at best cursory treatment. And of course Japan’s neighbours have complained bitterly about it, not least the Chinese. And of course, it was standard policy in communist countries to present only a rigid Marxist historiography.
In the United States after the Great War, a strong movement emerged at the university level and in public schools to teach courses in Western Civilization. And the reason for this was to assist their students to identify with the home countries in with Europe. Since the 1980s, in the United States attention has increasingly focused on teaching world history and requiring students to take courses in non-western cultures, to prepare students for life in a globalized economy.
In Northern Ireland the most popular subject for males at A-Level is mathematics, while the top choice for females was biology. The other three subjects in the top five are religious studies, history and English. 2, 260 students sat A-Level history this year, representing 7.2% of the total. That actually strikes me as quite shocking, not that so many people study history at A-Level in Northern Ireland but actually that so few do.
Through the study of history, students in Northern Ireland are expected to explore the key political, economic and social events that have helped shape today’s institutions, governments and societies. And there’s a wonderful wish-list of what History is supposed to achieve, particularly A-Level History:
A-Level History is supposed to –
‘develop an interest in and enthusiasm for history’
‘gain an appreciation of different identities within society and an appreciation of social, cultural, religious and ethnic diversity through the study of British and Irish history and aspects of European history’
That would be excellent too but I suspect that teachers are much more interested in enabling their pupils to pass their exams rather than achieve all those things.
It’s also supposed to –
‘develop the ability to ask relevant and significant questions about the past, to carry out research and evaluate conclusions;
‘gain an understanding of the nature of historical study, for example that history is concerned with historical interpretations based on available evidence’
If A-Level History in Northern Ireland achieved all the things it’s supposed to achieve I would think we would have grounds for being very happy indeed; I am just a little sceptical, I am conscious of the fact that I think that much of what passes for historical knowledge in Northern Ireland is on the level of ‘a man in a pub told me…’
Decade of Centenaries:
In June, 1988, in a talk at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, Roy Jenkins delivered a paper entitled ‘Should politicians know history?’ I just want to pick one line from it:
‘No communities are more difficult to bring together‘ – and he then cites Northern Ireland and Cyprus – ‘than those where the contemplation of ancient wrongs is a way of life.’ 48
We are in the midst of a decade of centenaries during which unionists and nationalists are celebrating, commemorating or marking centenaries of a wide variety of events. Some people have viewed these anniversaries with fear and trepidation, and they may still be proved right.
However we could approach this decade of centenaries in a different spirit; we could embrace these anniversaries as opportunities to learn about the past, to reflect soberly on those events, and to evaluate their significance. Above all, these anniversaries afford us the opportunity to explore the complex relationship between the past and the present and to contemplate the challenging relationship between the past and the future.
The Peace III Southern Partnership, based in Newry & Mourne, Craigavon, Banbridge and Armagh Council areas, has been conspicuously successful in enabling people on both sides of the border to move beyond ‘the contemplation of ancient wrongs‘ and consider the past more dispassionately and more objectively. The Partnership has organised a travelling exhibition, talks and lectures and conferences in both Newry and Dundalk. These have all been well-received and I would like to see the Peace III Southern Partnership’s efforts extended to the rest of Northern Ireland – and other parts of the Republic should the demand exist. I would be of the opinion that the demand clearly exists in County Louth, I am not too sure about County Meath.
And one of the reasons why I am so keen to see Peace III Southern Partnership’s efforts extended throughout the rest of Northern Ireland is that, as Professor Lyons has already said, two Ministers were appointed to oversee the Decade of Centenaries in Northern Ireland and it’s not exactly obvious to me what precisely they have done. There is a job of work to be done, but it is not being done, and it would be nice to see the efforts of Peace III Southern Partnership extended … what I would suggest is that time spent studying these events is a significant investment in the future. Thanks very much.”
Chair (John Clancy): “Thank you very much, Gordon. I would like now to call on Senator Thomas Byrne…”
3. Senator Thomas Byrne (Fianna Fáil Seanad spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform)
Thanks very much for having me speak here this morning, and I would of course like to give the apologies of my party leader Micheál Martin who was originally invited to speak but unfortunately could not be here this morning, and he sends his best wishes and regards to both societies and for the seminar.
If Gordon Lucy feels feeble, I certainly feel that after both those presentations, and indeed it’s a privilege to speak on the panel alongside them.
I suppose I do have some practical experience in this area because I am a member of a political party that actually carries out commemorations on an annual basis in various parts of the country and indeed in part of County Meath as well. But I suppose the very fact that we have to discuss commemorations shows that they are problematic, and those of us in political parties can often overlook the problematic elements of Irish commemorations when we do indeed carry them out.
Commemorations in other countries – France for example – don’t appear to be so complicated. I suppose their main focus of commemoration generally is of the birth of the nation state…
In Ireland, because of the diversity of traditions – both north and south, and then within the political party structure in this country – we have a wide variety of commemorations not all of which relate back to the commemoration of the foundation of the State. In fact the foundation of the State itself is disputed….
From a personal and practical experience, the commemoration of the Civil War in this country is the most problematic of all, and I was taken by Professor Lyons’ quotation from Dr Anne Dolan of Trinity – ‘does civil war demand silence?’ And I have to be honest, I have often thought that myself … That would present further complications in the early part of the next decade. I myself come from a family that, on one side, was very active in the Civil War – on the republican side – in this area, and on the other side, my grandfather and two of his brothers were gardaí at the foundation of the State, and they certainly weren’t on the republican side … in that era.
These commemorations are complicated, and they are increasingly complicated …. and we do have to think carefully, we do have to think of the sacrifices made by the people who died and the ideals and the visions and the values that they had, and the reality of what they did, and the good that they did, but also recognise that at the time there was another point of view which was oftentimes radically different.
So we have a lot of commemorations, and I suppose what is happening – and I am not sure if it is positive – is that many people, depending on their own particular political or social position, are latching on to a particular commemoration, saying ‘we’ll commemorate that‘, and we have certain groups – and I am not criticising any of them, all of these events deserve to be commemorated – but the point I am making is that some people perhaps commemorate them more than others do.
The Lockout [Dublin, 1913] has particular resonance for maybe the Labour Party and the trade union movement. That’s to be recongised. Maybe other parties on the political sphere didnt get involved so much. The Civil War, as I mentioned, will be commemorated by many, but maybe not by everybody in society. And then we have commemorations connected to the Unionist tradition which will perhaps be given more emphasis in that tradition….
What I would be arguing for is that we really should decide as an Irish nation what is the most important commemoration, and by that I mean what is the commemoration that celebrates the foundation of the State … and the ideals of the State we are in, the ideals that we live for? And in my view that must mean the Easter 1916 commemoration, that must be the one thing that gives us common purpose in the Irish nation, and particularly as an Irish republican…. and we must give recognition to that as a key stepping stone in making our country free, if we are to be honest about it.
There were men and women who fought for those ideals in 1916, including guaranteeing religious and civil liberties, equal rights and opportunities for all … cherishing the children of the nation equally….
The key principles of the 1916 Rising have to be, in my view, the cornerstone of Ireland today, how we interact together as a country and how we emerged from that Civil War, but also how we relate across the border, the two parts of this island….
So we should remember them with reverence, with regard, and with – I would say – recognition of the fact that the Irish state in its modern form was born at that time.
Now I would say as well that there are certain elements at official level and at Government level which maybe aren’t as keen to emphasise the importance of the 1916 Rising and the commemoration thereof. And in the experience of some of my colleagues who serve on the Decade of Commemorations committee, they certainly have the feeling that the 1916 Rising – which in our view, and in my view, is the most important of the commemorations – that that is being kind of played down at official level and at Government level, and that the Decade of Commemorations is giving equality to a wide variation of commemorations when in fact it is the 1916 commemoration which in our view should be celebrated as the most important one, as the key moment in the modern history of the State.
The 1600 men and women who went out on Easter Week took on an empire on which the sun had never set at that time – by the time the First World War had finished, there were 17 million men mobilised … the Irish Volunteers at the time were taking on 11,000 to 1...
We did at that time obtain our freedom as a nation – and I am being deliberately controversial here – but we must recognise that, that we were able to get our freedom, and we cannot be embarrassed about commemorating that. There is in my view an element of that going on at the moment.
Now what we have done, at a practical level, in our party is to commemorate in Ashbourne, particularly the battle of Ashbourne, and we also commemorate Philip Clarke of Monknewtown who died in Stephen’s Green in Dublin.
The economic benefits were mentioned, I think, in passing at the very start – and I suppose it is right in an historic forum not to emphasise them – but I think it is important that we do show ourselves as a modern nation, as a state that is happy in itself, happy together looking north and south … but is not ashamed to say these are the historical facts, what happened…
And while, as Professor Lyons said, it is important to look at the ordinary lives of people at the time, the extraordinary sacrifice of a relatively small amount of men and women who went out in 1916 should be recognised with poignancy in this State.
I am not saying that you ignore everything else, it’s important we commemorate all the sacrifices, all of the events that went on including the terrible Civil War that took place, and I have questioned myself whether we should almost forget that … …. but I think the 1916 Rising was such a key event in this country and it should be the key celebration. And it’s not controversial for me whether the royal family are here …. I don’t think that’s the point. The real point is that we show ourselves as a forward-looking independent nation that is proud …
Chair (John Clancy): Thank you Senator. This morning has been an excellent session. Professor Lyons has opened the kaleidoscope in terms of the dilemmas of historians, and the danger of how history can be treated. I’m going to invite questions from the floor. I did like Gordon’s idea of history being like the ‘meadow’ in which we all can make hay’….
Gordon Lucy: “I was quoting that….!”
John Clancy: “Nonetheless it is true… And [we had] Senator Thomas Byrne’s point that 1916 is the core issue in terms of the celebrations of this decade of centenaries. So we invite questions…..
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summary)
Q1. “Can I ask a question to each panel member? Three questions, and after that I’ll keep quiet!
(i)for Gordon: “should we have politicians at all or just have historians and technocrats to administer the way a country is run?
(ii)for Professor Lyons: “can we really face the truth, or whatever the truth is, and how do we bring that out into the public space – in a tentative manner or more robustly?
(iii)to Senator Byrne: “is 1916 finished or is there any unfinished business there? And what exactly do you mean by the Irish State, or the Irish nation?”
Chair (John Clancy): We have quite a lot to go with there. Can I ask the speakers to take them in the order that the questions were given.
Gordon Lucy: “I think I regard politicians increasingly as a necessary evil. I’ll leave it at that!
Professor Mary Ann Lyons: “I was very struck by something that the Senator said which was this idea of embarrassment.It’s something that iscoming through more and more in the literature about commemoration in Ireland. If you look at how in the immediate years after the ‘teens’ in Ireland, there is this recurrent pattern of embarrassment in the government and polities but also in local communities. And I think something that could be quite positive that might come out of this decade is by actually exploring the realities of what went on in this ten year period that we might actually take out and address why we are embarrassed, what’s so awkward? And by shedding or throwing light on those awkward questions, those things that people are partly ashamed of or feel awkward about, that in the process then you can dust yourself down …and begin to move on and say ‘this is where we are now, warts and all’.
Part of the problem I think has been that there has been a reluctance to go beyond the familiar narrative and the familiar myth. I think that’s what’s really exciting actually about now and history is that people are lifting stones and seeing sometimes quite ugly realities, but getting a much more real sense of what happened in Ireland in that ten years. And I think that will help us move on, much more mature …”
Sen. Thomas Byrne: “I had an answer to the first question actually – we already have technocrats and historians running the country and I’m not sure whether the politicians have too much influence … the civil servants have the entire say! But the point that I’m trying to sort of form in my own head – I think many people still are in this country – is what is Ireland, and you asked the questions. And I suppose that if we were to say ‘well, the 1916 Rising – this is what the State is about, this is what the nation is about’ – and I refer to the modern sense of it, it’s an attempt to take the Rising for that purpose and I think there’s some justification for doing that.
But that’s not to say that people who were involved in other events of that time are not relevant. I was very pleased to see – maybe some of you were there …. the Bellewstown Historical Society commemorating all the men who went to fight in the First World War … to see the names of the people commemorated there, they are all local names, they all have relations living around there, but that was hidden in this country for quite some time. I can think of one Fianna Fail councillor long dead whose father fought in the First World War, and that was certainly an unspoken topic, that was never mentioned. And I think that if there is one thing that is hugely positive about the Decade of Commemorations …. is that these things that were closed down in Irish society for a long time are now being remembered and commemorated.
And when I make the point about 1916, I’m not trying to say that they were terrible, listening to John Redmond and going over there – absolutely not! I mean some of them did it for his reasons, some of them did it out of sheer economic necessity. But when you actually see the names of the people who went over there to fight in World War One, and to realise that each and everyone of them you know who their relations are, and that this was never mentioned! It was never something I learned in school … there were always Remembrance Day commemorations in towns around the place but they weren’t community events I suppose, they were maybe one tradition … But now I see a much more involved commemoration of those events, and I think … the principles of 1916, and the principles of the Proclamation – that’s the practical application of it, I hope, even if it is not exactly what the people of the time had in mind.
Q2: “Just two comments… Seven years ago I went to a seminar in St Patrick’s College Drumcondra on slavery, which related to the whole issue of human trafficking today. So that’s the first point I want to make, about the strength of the arguments that teaching history is irrelevant to the development of human rights in the broader sense today
The second point I want to make is more significant, and that’s on tools of analysis, because I don’t think it’s enough to have information about history, and knowledge about history, without understanding, and there I think there is a deficit that could perhaps be enrichened … one has the opportunity through the study of politics and philosophy and so on. To give an example of what I mean – outside an academic setting …. for example, at the Kells Hay Festival I gave a lecture on Francis Ledwidge and I said what I thought were some provocative and challenging things, that at the end of the day I thought he was wrong to go to war. On another occasion, I talked about … a young Meath man who ended up as a strike-breaker in 1913 in Dublin and was killed … But there was very little response, because I think people don’t have the tools of analysis to engage these issues properly, we don’t have the confidence. And in that context, the default position is usually a conservative position – and these issues aren’t adequately addressed. So if I could just get a response from the panel to the second issue in particular?
Professor Lyons: “ … I am not sure that it’s a question that people don’t have the analytical capability, or the analytical skills. I think if you look, for example, at the popularity of, say, Michael Collins …. as opposed to, say, Arthur Griffith. I think we need to be conscious that we are very susceptible to the cult of personality, and in that context, for example, film representations of iconic charismatic characters in history.
And sometimes it’s down to simply a question of the idea of a particular character being out there, being constantly portrayed, as – in his case – the role of the unfulfilled hero… and all of that. And there’s a degree of laziness on the part of not just historians but also of the wider public, to actually look beyond that very attractive character for other more complicated, less charismatic characteristics, but it’s nonetheless extremely important. So I think we are very comfortable with the traditional narrative … and part of what we are trying to do now is to look beyond that, trying to get the sense of a much more complicated picture and to dare to ask … I have a colleague who is a military historian who had the audacity to say that Padraig Pearse was not a wonderful military leader, some of the students complained, ‘how dare he say that?’ But Padraig Pearse was an ideologue, he certainly wasn’t a military strategist, yet there’s that protectiveness around Pearse’s character. So it does take bravery, it takes confidence as well, but it also takes work to follow up …”
Sen. Byrne: ‘Just to follow up on Professor Lyons there – you can compare I suppose the public knowledge and perception of Francis Ledwidge with that of John Boyle O’Reilly. Both of them lived right beside each other, and yet Francis Ledwidge is much more widely known than John Boyle O’Reilly who was the republican. I don’t know why that is, maybe just the poems are just better known, but they are both very important people from the same area. Ledwidge is on the school curriculum, I suppose, it’s as simple as that, he’s better known, maybe his memory is preserved very well there. I certainly grew up going to the John Boyle O’Reilly commemoration with my uncle…
Q.3: “ I would like to ask – is it the way we actually teach history that we are so different? For instance, if we are supposed to be talking about a shared island now, that period we are talking about, pre the 1913 Lockout, from the early 1900s – if that were taught right up to 1916, right up to ’22, ’23 and beyond, you have a different mindset because you are covering all things, and you can’t cover all of them without covering north and south, and particularly the Somme… And this idea that men were great in 1916 – any man who gives his life for anything is great – but are they lesser men because they went out to Europe and they actually died in the fields or whatever, and they had this notion of home rule anyway… So, I am just thinking north and south here, if that were taught, that whole period, it would leave us much more attuned as to what actually happened, both north and south, for A-Level and for Leaving Cert?
And another thing I feel strongly about is when we commemorate something… it’s always soldiers, men out there in black suits with white shirts telling us about their perspective of history. So if we had schools like this [seminar], summer schools in conjunction with all of that, surely the next generation would learn far more, and I actually think you have got to start from an historical perspective in the schools, and I just wonder if there are any moves made by anybody in that area, either north or south?
Sen. Thomas Byrne: “Just in relation to our own party commemorations – and the other parties have their commemorations – our commemorations are very old-fashioned, they really are, and it is probably about time for us to look at how we actually do them. There is kind of a militaristic tone to some of them … it actually got laughed at in one of the papers a couple of years ago, the Daily Mail, there was a picture, two or three of the flag-bearers weren’t wearing caps, wearing quasi-military garb, it doesnt look modern. Personally I would move on from that, we need to look at how we have our commemorations. What we try and do – I have given orations here locally and the party leader does them when we commemorate Wolfe Tone or when we commemorate 1916 or the Civil War and the individuals in them- we do try and look at the relevant text, the Proclamation in the case of 1916, or we look at the lives of the people who died in particular commemorations and we try to apply that to modern life.
These things are sensitive too though because in many places there are very close relatives still alive for whom these ceremonies are extremely important…
Questioner: “I have people who were involved in the War of Independence and the Civil War. I have gone right back through genealogies to what they did. Some of them I approve of, some of them I certainly do not, but that’s up to me to interpret what my vision is going to be, and that vision should be shared by each person. Just because it’s sensitive does not mean it shouldn’t be out there. It’s okay having all these commemorations … and the amount of people that are actually studying history, and of that, how many are going on to TCD or any of these colleges, who actually take it as a degree… Where are the informed, is there an intelligentsia behind the Government who are informing them, I sometimes do wonder about that?
Sen. Thomas Byrne: “The first point you made, about your own personal story. I get my own conflicting impressions of the Civil War, coming from two sides, that’s a difficulty I have, and everybody has difficulties. You mentioned the Somme and the First World War, and I agree with a lot of what you said there…”
Q.4: “When you reflect back, 1916, the Civil War, they generated an awful lot of hatred…..there was a negativity generated in Ireland. I see it in lots of little places, different areas, Catholics didnt like Protestants, and Protestants didnt like Catholics and I suppose the poor old Jew, he wasnt happy either… Negativity on a vast scale – how did it influence modern Ireland as it is at the moment, and if it has forged the bitterness in us, how long do you think it might last?
Mary Ann Lyons: “.. the complexity of trying to commemorate that period is down to precisely what you have put your finger on now, which is, that when people were killing each other with different causes in mind, obviously that left a huge legacy, and as Irish people we had some success in generating different strategies for dealing with that – in some instances it’s trying to ignore what happened, in government or in society in general, in some instances it’s silence, not talking about it..…. The legacy of it is, for us sitting here today, is trying not to shoe-horn the experiences of those people into some sort of an anodyne commemoration where we put people who would be turning in their graves if they thought they would be put in the same sentence … This is where I think that group in Belfast have really developed something very important which is there will be a shared experience but different traditions. It recognises that, in some respects, never the twain shall meet ….
Gordon Lucy: “There’s a lot to be said for just agreeing to differ… The Senator’s view on 1916 and mine don’t exactly dovetail, but I won’t fall out with the Senator on it. … At school I spent a term and a half studying 1916…. but I still end up with a different perspective on it from the Fianna Fáil Party. We just agree to differ.”
Thomas Byrne: “There was some research done … in DCU – on these differences in Irish society and they believe that they are tribal and go back many hundreds of years in fact, but that the Civil War showed them up, and they may continue for many more hundreds of years in other forms, I don’t know.”
Q.5: “I remember growing up in the 1960s, we got the Proclamation in 1966, I remember people with poppies out, I remember we got a free day off school on 21st January 1969 for the 50th anniversary of the First Dáil. Those commemorations then disappeared and it’s only in recent years there has been a procession past the GPO, I think that was re-introduced around 2006, so how we remember and why we were embarrassed for those 30 or 40 years to commemorate those things I am not sure.
If we look now at this Decade of Commemorations, there is only one county council – as far as I know – in the whole of Ireland that has put together a document (I think that is Mayo) – and with the election of new councils this year the emphasis was on positions on committees and things, and I think in our neighbouring county, Cavan, one political party tried to go back and re-negotiate who was getting [the office of] Cathaoirleach for 2016! They realised afterwards that it was of such significance for their political party that they wanted to be Cathaoirleach or Chairman of the particular area for one part or the other part of that year. So I suppose, how we commemorate, and the emphasis of the commemoration, and history – as Professor Lyons said – the vast majority didn’t know about 1916, and it raises the question as well: do we remember those people who died as martyrs or heroes, without any human faults? I am struck with the Civil War – one side remembers Michael Collins, the other side remembers Liam Mellowes, the martyrs are remembered with rose-tinted glasses. And maybe that’s where we are headed in relation to 2016 – that some people want to remember it with rose-tinted glasses, and the rest of the people won’t have anything to do with it because of that.
Chair (John Clancy). “Thank you – we’ll take the next question, this is the last question.”
Q.6. “It’s not so much a question as an observation. First of all, thank you very much to all the speakers, a wonderful presentation. I was struck by what Gordon said aboutamnesia in Spain. I have been in a number of countries where I came across the same thing, but in different ways. In Austria, where I was until a few years ago, there was a strong amnesia factor at work there about the role of the Austrian people, the Austrian State, in the Anschluss and subsequent events which has only in recent years begun to be rolled back and recovered. And it’s the subject of lively debate in Austria up to the present day. And it used to be said – Austrians themselves used to say – that Beethoven was an Austrian and Hitler was a German, whereas the opposite of course is the case, because that’s what suited their view of history. In contrast to that, in Italy, you have a diferent kind of amnesia, amnesia to a certain agree about the Mussolini Fascist period, but what totally infuses Italian politics right up to the present day is the Civil War that took place after the capitulation of Mussolini and the division into the Left and the Right, the partisans on the Left and the pro-Fascist rump on the right. That is still the essential division in Italian politics today so these things do sometimes have a different kind of amnesiac effect.
I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s here and we had our own amnesia about the events of the Civil War in particular, but even about the 1919-21 period. Very little was taught about it in the schools, we as kids only learned about it through commemorations that took place at that time. Now – as Danny was saying – we have sources and resources, we now have a much better database of resources available to us…..”[tape incomplete]
Closing the first session, John Clancy thanked all the speakers and participants and invited all to return after the break for the 2nd session “The Place of History in Irish Education” chaired by Peter Connell and addressed by Damien English TD (Minister of State at the Dept of Education and Skills), Professor Fionnuala Waldron (Dean of Education, SPD/DCU) and Niamh Crowley (Vice-President, History Teachers Association).
Session II – report in progress – below are some comments made in relation to the Decade of Centenaries:
Speaking in Session II – “the place of history in Irish education”, Minister of State Damien English TD (Fine Gael)also addressed the theme of the Decade of Centenaries: “I note that the final event on this Society’s calendar for 2014 is linked to the events of a hundred years ago [MAHS lecture by Ruth Illingworth on “National Volunteers and Irish Volunteers 1914-16”, Nov. 26th, St Mary’s Church of Ireland, Navan at 7.30pm]. I think you will be happy to know that my Department and the educators of Ireland continue to be heavily involved in what is called the Decade of Centenaries.
Every historian likes to argue that their research period is the most seminal in history. However, those involved in researching the events of 1912-1922 have a considerable advantage in this regard. This decade witnessed some of the most traumatic events of Irish history and directly led to state formation on both sides of the border. These events include the Home Rule crisis; the formation of the Ulster and Irish Volunteer Forces; World War 1; the 1916 rebellion; the formation of the 1st Dáil; the War of Independence, and many more.
My Department is seeking to ensure that the education sector contributes to and benefits from the commemoration of these seminal events in Irish history. The ‘Decade of Centenaries’ all-island schools’ history competition was a significant success in this regard in the last school year. The competition, which was a joint venture by my Department and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, with support from ‘History Ireland’, stimulated a remarkable response from primary and post primary schools across the island.
The winning competition entry, ‘The Mystery of the Medal’, was produced by a primary school in Donegal. It was a fascinating story which combined a number of narratives – World War 1, the war of independence, and the civil war –which impacted on the history of one particular family from Tipperary. The enthusiasm of the students and teachers who got involved in the competition indicates the passion for history that exists across the island. All 12 of the winning essays are available to view on the scoilnet website which is funded by my Department and we are hoping to run a similar competition again in this new school year.
My Department is also currently working with the Royal Irish Academy to develop history lesson plans for post primary schools. These plans focus on items that have been selected from the ‘A history of Ireland in 100 objects’ series for their relevance to the ‘decade of centenaries’ period. The lesson plans are currently being developed by the RIA and will be launched later in 2014.
In addition, my Department hopes to be able to support a number of potential ‘flagship’ projects in the third level sector that are relevant to the period 1912-1922. The intention is that any projects funded in this manner will involve schools as well as third level institutions. My Department is determined to ensure that its contributions to the ‘Decade of Centenaries’ commemorations are as accessible and inclusive as possible. ”
Professor Fionnuala Waldron (Dean of Education, SPD/DCU) asked some key questions in relation to the commemoration of 1916: “how do we manage the tensions between celebration and commemoration in the context of child education, between the expectation of many parents and some teachers that what children should experience is an uncomplicated, consensual national narrative and the recognition that 1916 cannot and should not be reduced to a single story? What kind of context does the Irish classroom provide for such engagement?How important is it for student teachers to interrogate their own assumptions and perceptions of past events? Is child education an appropriate space to engage with those tensions?”
Seminar recorded by Anne Nolan; report compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON SPEAKERS and CHAIR
Mary Ann Lyons is Professor of History and Head of the History Dept at NUI Maynooth. She is President of the Irish Historical Society and Chair of the Irish Committee for Historical Sciences. Professor Lyons’s publications include France and Ireland, 1500-1610: politics, migration and trade (London, 2003); Church and Society in County Kildare, c.1470-1547 (Dublin, 2000); Gearóid Óg, the ninth earl of Kildare (Dundalk, 1998), and (with Thomas O’Connor) Strangers to Citizens: the Irish in Europe, 1600-1800 (2008).
Gordon Lucy is the author of Schomberg (2004), The Great Convention (1995) and a new edition of The Ulster Covenant (2012). He has co-edited (with John Erskine) Varieties of Scottishness (1995), which examines the relationship between Ulster and Scotland, and (with Elaine McClure) The Twelfth: What it means to me (1997), Remembrance (1997) and Cool Britannia? What Britishness means to me (1999)
Thomas Byrne is Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform in Seanad Éireann (Senate). A solicitor by profession, he previously served as TD for Meath East from 2007 to 2011. Most recently he ran as his party’s candidate in the Midlands-North West constituency for the 2014 European Parliament election.
Chair: John Clancy is President of the M.A.H.S. and a member of the Meath Peace Group. An architect by profession, he has been very involved in the preparation of the M.A.H.S. submissions on planning/heritage issues, and is one of the Society’s representatives on the Meath Heritage Forum.
Seminar organisers: Julitta Clancy and Kevin Reilly with assistance from the committees of both groups.
Acknowledgments: The Meath Peace Group and the Council of the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society would like to thank all who have participated in this seminar and all who have helped with planning, publicity, organisation and catering on the day. In particular we thank the speakers and chairpersons, the organisers, and the audience, some of whom travelled long distances. Special thanks are due to Cllr Jim Holloway, Chair of Meath Co. Council (who opened the seminar), to Anne Nolan, Marie Cosgrave, Leona Rennicks and Canon John Clarke, and to the Columban Fathers and Lisa and David of Dalgan Park for assistance on the day, and to the Dept of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund for financial assistance given to the Meath Peace Group.
MPG and MAHS report; (c) Meath Peace Group and Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
1 Tom Dunne, ‘Commemorations and ‘shared’ history: a different role for historians’ in History Ireland, 21, no. 1 (Jan./Feb. 20130, p. 10.
4 Ibid., pp 10–11.
5 Ibid., p. 11.
6 Cited by Dunne in ibid., p. 11.
7 Ibid., p. 12.
8 Quoted in Dunne, ibid.
10 Quoted in Dunne, ibid.
12 Quoted in ibid.
13 Ibid., p. 13.
14 Quoted in ibid.
15 Anne Dolan, ‘Divisions and divisions and divisions: who to commemorate’ in John Horne and Edward Madigan (eds), Towards commemoration: Ireland in war and revolution, 1912–1923 (Dublin, 2013), p. 151.
20 Keith Jeffery, ‘Irish varieties of Great War commemoration’ in Horne & Madigan (eds), Towards commemoration, p. 123.
21 Ibid., p. 123.
22 Ibid., p. 124.
24 David Fitzpatrick, ‘Historians and the commemoration of Irish conflicts, 1912–23’ in Horne & Madigan (eds), Towards commemoration, p. 126.
26 Ibid., pp 126–27.
27 Ibid., p. 128.
32 Ibid., p. 127.
35 Professor Eunan O’Halpin was principal investigator on an Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences–funded project The Dead of the Irish Revolution. For an introduction to one aspect of this project see his essay titled ‘Problematic killing during the War of Independence and its aftermath: civilian spies and informers’ in James Kelly and Mary Ann Lyons (eds), Death and dying in Ireland, Britain and Europe: historical perspectives (Dublin, 2013), pp 317–48.
36 Fitzpatrick, ‘Historians & the commemoration of Irish conflicts, 1912–23’, pp 127–8.
37 Ibid., p. 128.
39 Róisín Higgins, Transforming 1916: meaning, memory and the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising (Cork, 2012), p. 209.
40 Fearghal McGarry, ‘1916 and Irish Republicanism: between myth and history’ in Horne & Madigan (eds), Towards commemoration, p. 52.
44 Fitzpatrick, ‘Historians & the commemoration of Irish conflicts, 1912–23’, p. 129.
45 Anne Dolan, Commemorating the Irish Civil War: history and memory, 1923–2000 (Cambridge, 2003), p. 4; see also David Fitzpatrick, Ireland and the First World War (Dublin, 1986); Ian McBride (ed.), History and memory in modern Ireland (Cambridge, 2001); Mary E. Daly and Margaret O’Callaghan (eds), 1916 in 1966: commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007); Catherine Switzer, Unionists and Great War commemoration in the north of Ireland, 1914–1918 (Dublin 2007); Mark McCarthy, Ireland’s 1916 Rising: explorations of history–making, commemoration & heritage in modern times (Farnham, 2012).
46The were hidden in private homes, on farms in the area, as well as in public institutions. Whenever the Nazi patrols came searching, they were hidden in the countryside. After the war, one of the villagers recalled: “As soon as the soldiers left, we would go into the forest and sing a song. When they heard that song, the Jews knew it was safe to come home.” In addition to providing shelter, the citizens of the town obtained forged identification and ration cards for Jews to use and then helped them cross the border to the safety of neutral Switzerland.
47A consensual agreement to simply “forget” and never to discuss the war or the 40-year dictatorship that followed it.
48Roy Jenkins, ‘Should Politicians Know History’, in Roy Jenkins, Portraits and Miniatures, Selected Writings (London, 1993), 212
16th October, 1995
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Roger Bradley (Education Committee, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland)
David Richardson (Lodge of Research, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland)
Gordon Lucy (Chairman, Ulster Society)
Dominic Bryan (Researcher, University of Ulster)
Chaired by John Clancy (Meath Peace Group)
Roger Bradley: Introduction
Gordon Lucy: Historical aspects
David Richardson: Religious aspects
Dominick Bryan: Orange parades
Questions and comments
John Clancy welcomed everyone to the first Autumn talk of the Meath Peace Group for 1995, the 18th in the series. On behalf of the Meath Peace Group he thanked the speakers for coming to address the group on the subject of “The Orange Order Today”. He mentioned the fact that there are c. 3,000 marches a year in N.I. and well over two thirds of these are Orange marches. “I think it is very timely also to mention that it is 200 years this year since the founding of the Orange Order in Armagh… it is particularly brought out in this quarter’s issue of History Ireland by Jim Smyth where he discusses the origins of the Orange Order. One of the most telling points he makes is that at the time of the foundation of the Orange Order there was a lot of politicisation of the whole structure of Ireland as a result of the French Revolution, and we must look at the formation of all of those bodies at that time and the Orange Order in the context of a pan-European ferment as a result of the French Revolution. It is important to bear that in mind – though no doubt the longevity of the Orange Order is based much more in the roots of Ulster. ”
ADDRESSES OF SPEAKERS:
1. Roger Bradley (Education Commitee, Grand Orange Lodge): Introductory words
“First of all I’d just like to say that we’re very pleased to be here. Since we were asked to come down we have talked amongst ourselves and have been looking forward to coming. I should stress that we are here in an individual capacity – we’re not authorised to actually represent the voice of Orangeism itself, so I would stress that point. I’ll introduce the speakers that we have – Gordon Lucy is Chairman of the Ulster Society, a society that was formed 10 years ago to promote Ulster/British heritage and culture. He is a member of the University Shield of Refuge which is a reasonably new Orange Lodge, formed just a few years ago, which draws its candidates from the universities of Ireland and also a broader field as well. He is an historian and author and I think I should mention that he has a book coming out next week on the Great Convention of 1892, so that is the commercial over. Anyone interested in Unionism during the Home Rule period I think would find the book interesting. Then we have David Richardson, a former schoolteacher who recently gave up teaching temporarily to do a Ph.D. and he’s taking John Miller Andrews as his subject, who was the second P.M. of N.I.
“David’s a member of the Rising Sons of Killegar which is a Leitrim Lodge so we actually have a representative of Southern Orangeism, perhaps some would say a rare breed. He is a member of the Grand Lodge Education Committee and a member of the Lodge of Research. I’ll just make a few short comments about myself – I work as a public servant and have done so for the past 20 odd years. I’m a member of the Cross of St. Patrick which was formed in 1968 and the primary aim of the Lodge was to promote the heritage and teaching of St. Patrick, so he is a figure who, certainly in my lodge, we hold dear. I’m also a member of the Grand Lodge Education Committee and a member of the Lodge of Research.
“I just want to explain in brief the form that we will speak in – I am going to make some opening remarks in general terms about Orangeism and then Gordon Lucy will follow to speak about the history of Orangeism and how it has evolved up to the present time, and he’ll also speak about the developments of Orangeism and some notable members of the Order.
“David Richardson will speak then on the spiritual and religious aspects of the Orange Order. Usually the stereotyped image you would have of the Order is of a bunch of skinheads with a “blood and thunder” band and that is the image that everyone has of Orangeism – in fact that is very much a minority view. I apologize to Dominic Bryan – I have omitted to say what he will be speaking on. As you know, Dominic is a graduate of Coleraine, University of Ulster. He holds a Masters Degree from Cambridge University and is now currently doing his Ph. D. in anthropology. He will speak about the marching tradition of Orangeism – in fact the perceptions that are held within the group of Orangeism and outside the group – so a sort of insider/outsider view of Orangeism and the actual parading tradition, and after that we’re open for questions.”
Orangeism: “If I could just start by making some general comments about Orangeism. As I’ve said there is a stereotyped image of Orangeism which does give quite a false impression. I’ll just start by explaining the structure. There are actually 3 distinct organisations which are completely separate although linked: the Orange Order itself operates a 2 Degree system – the Degree of Orange and the Degree of Purple.
“When you advance to the Purple Degree, you can advance to the Royal Arch Purple Chapter, which is the second distinct organisation, and it is basically a passport organisation to the Royal Black Institution of which there are 11 Degrees. I’m not going to say anything about the degrees because that is going to be David’s territory, so I don’t want to steal his thunder.
“There are many types of Orange lodges – and again I want to emphasise that we’re not just the very narrow type of organisation which you would see represented on your TV screens when they’re out on parade. There are lodges which are associated with a particular trade or craft and many of these types of lodges have come out of particular industries such as aircraft, shipbuilding, linen etc., and quite often the images on the banners would give you a clue as to the origins of the lodge.
“For instance, a lodge formed from the shipyard would depict shipbuilding, and so forth. Also, lodges have grown out of individual churches, so you would have banners which would depict the church where the lodge was actually founded, and there would be a tradition that members of those lodges would come from these particular churches. There are of course many examples in Belfast of lodges of that nature. If you move outside Belfast, to the country and rural areas, you will find that there are lodges which have a particular tradition with a certain locality. There would be a tradition where farmers and their sons would actually join with a lodge in their district, whereas a lodge such as I am in draws its membership from a very wide geographical area. In fact, we even have members outside of Ireland who belong to my lodge, so you can get quite a varied set of Orange lodges.
“You can also have lodges that would be associated with a military tradition – you would have lodges that were actually formed from the 36th Ulster Division, from the Burma Star, Star of India. In fact, one of the founder members of my lodge actually was a founder member of the Star of the East which was a lodge set in Hong Kong, and as the regiment moved around the world, the lodge moved with it. Also, you find that there are lodges which could be described as having been set up for a particular purpose. I’ve mentioned that both David and myself are members of the Lodge of Research – that’s a lodge that undertakes research, undertakes to give lectures, present papers and to add to the knowledge which is held within Orangeism.
“Again, you would have lodges that would be actually formed to promote the Gospel. Orangeism is set for the defence and promotion of the Reformed Faith – you would have members who would be required to have a Christian testimony – in fact I know lodges where, in order to gain entry to those lodges, you have to actually give your Christian testimony in public. So you can see that there is a very broad representation of Orangeism – it’s not the narrow view that the press present – it’s much wider than that.
Meetings: “I think that’s really all that I want to say, but I’ll say something about the meetings, before I finish. I would imagine, and if I’m wrong you can say I’m wrong, that most people who don’t know very much about Orangeism would say that they meet in secret and they conspire and plot, and they’re anti-Catholic, but really if you want to examine the business of most Orange meetings – some of them can be quite boring – they discuss quite mundane routine matters such as finance, such as how much are we going to raise the dues by, such as if the roof leaks etc. – they have to maintain the hall, so there is a lot of routine business. In addition to that, and I can certainly speak of my own lodge, we invite guests along to speak to us. We have had Dominic, who has actually come to my lodge and addressed the members. We also have debates, we discuss all sorts of religious and political issues and we sometimes refer matters to senior lodges at District level. But really there’s no plotting, there’s no scheming, we are actually not anti-Catholic.
Qualifications of an Orangeman: “I brought with me, and I can leave these for anyone who wants them, the “qualifications of candidates”, and if anybody wants to find out what the qualifications of an Orangeman actually are, I have brought about 20 copies. I think at this point I have said enough. I want to pass over to Gordon who will speak about the development and history, and some notable personages who have been involved in Orangeism.”
2. Gordon Lucy: Historical aspects
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I would like to just echo what Roger has said in terms of our pleasure in being here tonight and accepting your very kind invitation. It’s very very difficult to talk about the history of the Orange Order, especially if you’re dealing with an organisation which has celebrated, or is celebrating, its bicentenary this year. It’s very difficult to summarise the history of 200 years in the amount of time that I have available to me. By its very nature I am being selective – I can’t be other than selective in picking out things to talk about, or themes – but I do hope I’m avoiding being tendentious.
“There are a number of points which Dr. William Smyth, the President of Maynooth, has made during this year about the history of the Orange Order during the last 200 years, and since I suspect that not everyone present was at the Oldbridge Summer School, perhaps it might be worthwhile to focus on those 3 points that he wished to emphasise.
Longevity: “First of all, the sheer longevity of the Orange Order. Very few organisations ever last or exist long enough to celebrate a bicentenary – he suggested the churches, Trinity College Dublin, and some of the public schools, e.g. my own – those are the sort of organisations that tend to exist long enough to celebrate a bicentenary. The Orange Order is one of that small select band of organisations that exist long enough to celebrate a bicentenary.
International character: “Another interesting facet of the Orange Order is its worldwide spread. Roger alluded very briefly to a lodge in Hong Kong – it’s largely spread throughout the English-speaking world to some extent. I’ve suggested elsewhere that many of these lodges are military and their warrants, the authority by which an Orange lodge is set up, seems to have travelled in the knapsacks of individual soldiers. Certainly the origins of the Orange Order in Canada and Australia can be attributed to military lodges. It also exists in the French-speaking territory of Togo where Orange Lodge meetings are conducted in French rather than English.
Social inclusiveness: “The other interesting feature that Dr. Smyth thought of the Orange Order was its social inclusiveness – just the sheer range of people from different social groups that can be members of the Orange Order. I think that’s worth bearing in mind.
“I noticed in some of the papers during the summer that they tended to suggest that the Orange Order was a narrow working-class phenomenon – to some extent that’s true in Belfast but there’s great diversity in the Orange Order. Certainly, outside Belfast and a number of other urban centres, the Orange Order embraces people of all social classes. I think the social inclusiveness of the Orange Order is something that it would be silly to overlook.
Change and evolution: “An organisation which has existed for some 200 years does not remain fixed or static. There has been change and evolution – I don’t know how to address this exactly, but certainly the organisation which sprang into existence in 1795, in response to the attack on Dan Winter’s cottage in September of that year, is not exactly the same sort of organisation that exists in 1995. That, I suppose, is only to state the obvious. The Orange Order over that period of time has evolved – in different periods and different times there are different emphases, e.g. if one was just thinking in terms of the Orange Order at a number of years at the beginning of this century. I remember reading the Northern Whig accounts of the 12th July in the years 1910-1915. In 1910, the 12th July was a social occasion; in 1911-14 it was less of a social occasion – it was becoming more of a political occasion because of the impact of the Third Home Rule Crisis. Again, if you go to 1915, the Orange Order is essentially a religious organisation imploring God’s blessing on the Allied cause during the First World War. So you’ve got that change in that short time span – you’ve got change going on all the time.
Diversity: “The other thing I want to stress is this question of diversity – the image that you see of the Orange Order in Belfast, overwhelmingly a proletarian organisation. Outside Belfast, it is usually much more socially mixed and diverse. Very often when I was reading some of your papers during the summer, one noticed this focus or attention on “skinheads” and people carrying cider bottles and all the rest of it – these weren’t members of the Orange Order at all; they were, if you like, the “hangers-on”, they were there witnessing the thing, they weren’t actually Orangemen. Sometimes there’s confusion as well over some of our bandsmen – the bandsmen aren’t necessarily Orangemen either.
Origins of the Order: “Now this question of what exactly I’m supposed to concentrate on in the time allocated to me. I’m going, just very briefly, to tell you about the origins of the Orange Order.
“As you may know, especially if you’ve read History Ireland, the Orange Order was formed in the late 18th century against a background of sectarian conflict which was particularly intense in Co. Armagh. Now why the political and sectarian rivalry was particularly intense in Co. Armagh is something for historians to haggle over – it’s one of the interesting questions that there are many theories around. I don’t think anybody has come up with the exact explanation. One of the reasons undoubtedly was the fact that N. Armagh was one of the most densely populated areas in Western Europe, so there was, perhaps, this hunger over land.
” There’s also the explanation that a lot of the people at that time in North Armagh were comparably wealthy – they were almost the equivalent of “yuppies”. They had far more money and time on their hands then they knew what was good for them, but you know I don’t know really what the absolute explanation is – that’s for historians to argue over. In terms of the general detail – on 21st September 1795, approximately 400 “Defenders” (a Roman Catholic agrarian society) attacked Dan Winter’s cottage at The Diamond, near Loughgall, and they were confronted by much stiffer resistance than they had anticipated, with the result that the aggressors were repulsed by a dozen determined Protestants, at the cost of one Protestant casualty. Perhaps as many as 50 Defenders may have been killed in the assault, but, as the enemy carried away their dead and wounded, the total must remain uncertain. That evening, the victorious Protestants formed an Orange Society for the defence of Protestant interests and from those very, very humble beginnings sprang the Orange Society.
“Now at different times in its history the Orange Order has had greater importance than at others. In the first two decades of the 19th century I think it had considerable importance and enjoyed the support and interest of social elites. For much of the 19th century it lacked that support altogether. It even voluntarily dissolved – the Grand Lodge of Ireland voluntarily dissolved itself in 1836 – but despite the fact that the Grand Lodge didn’t exist, individual Orange lodges continued to exist, maintaining a very lively underground existence until the Grand Lodge reconstituted itself in 1846 under the leadership of the Earl of Enniskillen. Dolly’s Brae is the episode you are probably familiar with – I’ll not actually bother telling you the story of Dolly’s Brae but I’ll sort of deal to some extent on the “fall-out” from Dolly’s Brae.
Dolly’s Brae: “What happened at Dolly’s Brae was that the Orangemen were essentially ambushed by an agrarian secret society called the “Ribbonmen”, and, although the Orangemen, I think it would be fair to say, won the battle, their opponents contrived to win the propaganda war with the result that in 1850, there was the passage of the Party Processions Act which had the effect of banning Orange parades.
“Now much of the leadership of the Orange Order, at this time, was fairly aristocratic, and, while the aristocratic leadership didn’t exactly welcome the legislation, they were sufficiently cautious, and anxious to remain within the law, not to challenge it. The Order’s fortunes in the 1850s and the 1860s languished to the intense displeasure of the rank and file. Eventually, a minor Co. Down landowner, William Johnston of Ballykilbeg, who shared the frustration of the rank and file Orangemen, came forward to offer alternative leadership. In July 1866 he held an Orange Jamboree, within the law, on his own estate, to celebrate the 12th. In 1867 Johnston decided to challenge the legislation directly by appealing to the working-classes and organising a massive yet peaceful demonstration from Newtownards to Bangor. On its arrival Johnston delivered a speech in which he stated that Orangemen would no longer tolerate the situation whereby it was illegal for them to walk on the 12th, when nationalists could parade in Dublin with complete impunity.
“Contrary to the very shrewd advice of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who I think at that stage was the Earl of Mayo, the Government insisted on prosecuting Johnston and he was sentenced to 2 months in prison in Downpatrick Gaol. Imprisonment had the effect of conferring martyrdom and heroic status upon him, and in the General Election of 1888 Johnston contested the Belfast constituency, which at that time returned 2 Members of Parliament. It was the first election after Disraeli’s “leap in the dark” – huge sections of the working-class had been enfranchised for the first time and Johnston headed the poll and was returned to Parliament. During his stay in Parliament he had the very signal distinction of achieving the object for which he had been elected within the lifetime of a single Parliament. Most people enter, certainly our Parliament, and I’m sure your Parliament also, making all sorts of promises and they actually are able to honour very few of them. For securing the “right to march”, Johnston was to the people of Sandy Row, the Shankill and Ballymacarett, an Orange and Protestant folk hero second only to that other William of “glorious, pious and immortal memory”.
“A legend in his own lifetime, Johnston’s portrait continues to feature prominently on Orange banners, not only in recognition of his successful campaign to secure the repeal of the Party Processions Act, but also his sterling contribution to reviving the Orange Order’s fortunes and boosting its morale.
“That sort of revival that Johnston initiated was really the precursor of another revival which was to occur in the 1880’s. The Orange Order was incidentally initially quite sympathetic to the Home Rule movement – there was a by-election in Monaghan in 1871 and a lot of rather disgruntled Orangemen gave their support to a Home Rule candidate, Isaac Butt. In fact, Butt wasn’t the original preferred candidate – the original preferred candidate was a man called John Madden, but the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in the guise of the Bishop of Clogher, took very considerable exception to these Orangemen, and, I just throw it out as a suggestion, there may have been a possibility of Roman Catholics and Orangemen campaigning in Monaghan in 1871 for the same candidate, but that’s life. Anyway, the point was, the Home Rule movement ceased to be a vehicle for Protestant discontent and annoyance with the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and instead started embracing a programme which Orangemen found repugnant and, as a consequence, Orange support for Home Rule disappeared, not to say evaporated, although there were one or two Protestants who obviously did continue to have an interest. So Home Rule was obviously a tremendous boost and filip to the Orange movement.
12th July: “Now maybe, without wanting to delve into too much history, I was just going to go forward and make a few remarks and observations about the “Twelfth”. If you feel unhappy about how I’m doing things, please feel free to ask plenty of searching and penetrating questions which I may, or may not, be able to answer afterwards. The 12th of July is the most important date and event in the Orange calendar, and this has been so since the first parades in 1796.
“Over the years fashions have changed – sashes have been replaced by collarettes, flags have been displaced by banners and the fife and drum have been displaced by a wider variety of musical instruments. But even allowing for all this evolution of the Orange Order in some respects, there would be aspects of these parades which I think would be familiar to the first Orangemen. Now how do we interpret the “Twelfth”?
“The historian A.T.Q. Stewart was cited in the Guardian of 5th October 1988 as observing “the BBC is quite wrong when it says with ill-conceived astonishment every 12th July that so many thousand Orangemen celebrated the victory of Protestant over Catholic in 1690. It is not about that at all. It is about the continued survival of Protestants against the unitary Catholic state.” Now I think there’s a lot of merit in that, but I think that the fact that people can debate and argue over that highlights the fact that the Twelfth is an event capable of many diverse interpretations. Some view the 12th July as an expression of triumphalism – a triumphalist and provocative occasion, others view the 12th as an expression of Protestant solidarity – a badge of identity in the face of a perceived threat, and even to participants themselves the 12th July has very many different meanings because the Orange Order embraces so many of the diverse strands of Ulster Protestant society. I suspect perhaps that Roman Catholics… because perhaps Roman Catholicism, though it may not be quite monolithic, it may not be quite homogenous, but if you are Roman Catholic I don’t think it’s necessarily all that easy to understand the complexity, the diversity and the vociferous character of Ulster Protestantism. As I said, I want to go back to this idea that the Twelfth is a multi-faceted event – it combines historical commemoration, political demonstration, religious service and carnival, and for many people involved in the 12th July it’s essentially a family day out for every stratum of Protestant society, it’s an opportunity to meet friends and renew old acquaintances, and an occasion to exchange news and to chat. In rural areas, especially when you have good weather, which fortuitously on the 12th July very often is the case, even in a bad year the 12 July frequently manages to be a good day, it’s really something in the nature of a picnic, a large-scale picnic. So those are just some general observations about the 12th July and I’d like you to take some of them at least seriously.
Marching season: “This question about the “marching season” – there are numerous church parades organised by the Order across the country, the most important of which, I suppose, is Reformation Sunday in October which commemorates the occasion on which Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Cathedral. There are also a series of “mini-Twelfth” celebrations on the 1st July and the purpose of these is to commemorate the fact that so many Orangemen fell on the first and second days of the Battle of the Somme. The biggest of these demonstrations is in East Belfast. There are also Junior Orange celebrations – they tend to take place on Easter Tuesday, and Bangor very often is the principal venue.
“The marching season is just not confined to the Orange rder. Roger mentioned the fact that there was the Orange, the Arch Purple and the Black. The Black itself has its own calendar.
“The Black organisation does not have the same concentration on one particular date – in different parts of N.I. they celebrate their day on different dates, e.g. Fermanagh and S.W. Ulster, including Cavan, Monaghan and S. Donegal, they tend to commemorate their festivities on the Saturday nearest to the 12th August, and in doing that they’re commemorating the Battle of Newtownbutler. In much of N. Armagh and Co. Down they celebrate Black Day on 13th July in Scarva, and in the rest of N.I. they tend to celebrate their day on the last Saturday in August, hence the phrase “the last Saturday”. Then you have another organisation called the Apprentice Boys which is not, strictly speaking, linked in any way to the Orange or the Black at all and they have 2 principal demonstrations in December when they celebrate the closing of the gates of Londonderry in 1689, and they also celebrate the relief of the city in August. So that’s part of the marching season, that’s part of the rationale for it and I was just going to conclude my remarks by looking at Orangeism in N.I. today, just some general remarks which you can pick up on later.
Role of Orangeism: “Orangeism continues to play a significant role in the life of N.I. Much significance is attached to the fact that all 6 Prime Ministers of N.I., most Cabinet Ministers, most Unionist MPs, have been Orangemen. N.I. has been represented as the “Orange State”, the Cabinet has been viewed as a sub-committee of the Grand Lodge, and Stormont has been described, was described in the past, as a “glorified Orange lodge”. It is true that Sir James Craig once boasted that he “was an Orangeman first and a politician second”, but in practice James Craig and other politicians were politicians first and Orangemen afterwards. The fact that the Government at Stormont on more than one occasion was prepared to ban parades is a very clear illustration of this fact. For many, perhaps most, Orangemen the Order is primarily a religious organisation – something David will address in greater detail. As I’ve already hinted, Protestantism is institutionally divided and fragmented compared to the more unified structure which exists within Roman Catholicism.
“The Orange Order therefore affords Protestants of different denominations the opportunity to meet together to share their common Protestantism and to co-operate.
“In terms of its religious outlook the Orange Order is predominantly evangelical and it tends to be unsympathetic to ecumenism, as conventionally understood. The reason for this is quite simply that Orangemen are anxious to preserve a distinctive and undiluted Protestant and Reformed witness.
Social role: “The Orange Order has a social significance as well, despite the creation of community centres by the Government, which I imagine is a way of trying to minimise the Orange Order’s influence, but historically the Orange Hall has long occupied a central place in the social life of the community. Orange Halls serve as venues for a much wider range of gatherings than simply those that are strictly Orange. They are the venue for dances, concerts, cookery demonstrations, flower shows, meetings of young farmers and youth clubs – a wide range of events and activities take place in Orange Halls.
“I was just going to conclude by suggesting that the Orange Order may be a minority organisation in the sense that not all members of the Protestant community are members of it, but nevertheless it remains the most cohesive force in Protestant society and is an essential expression of the cultural heritage of the Ulster Protestant people. Thank you.”
3. David Richardson: Religious aspects
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d just like to thank you very much indeed for the invitation here tonight. My own experiences are largely in the Province of Connaught, that’s where my mother comes from, and in actual fact I am a member of the Orange Order in the Province of Connaught, so this is a new province for me. I haven’t any Orange connections with Munster yet but maybe that will come.
Fundamental basis of Orange Order: “I’m not sure what experience many of you will actually have of the Orange Order and I’ve taken the liberty of bringing along a short video with me to give you some visual demonstration, if you like, of a 12th July parade [video shown]
“I’m sure you noticed several things about that video. For a start it wasn’t raining, which sometimes happens on 12th July despite all our protestations, and of course there was a very low police presence, but one thing does stand out perhaps more than most – all the marchers were black men and a very large number of women as well, and you may have noticed some children there at the beginning. Now you might well wonder what that was – that was actually the Grand Orange Lodge of Ghana in W. Africa. What on earth do the Orange men and women of Ghana have to do with the N.I. problem and the situation there? But that is to misunderstand the Orange Order completely.
“The Orange Order is not completely for Ulster, Irish or even European people – the Orange Order is for Protestants. That is the fundamental basis of the Orange Order, and if you don’t understand Protestantism you don’t understand the Orange Order.
“Now to many people Protestantism has a very negative image of protesting against, e.g. one aspect of Protestantism which is often portrayed …in N.I. is the aspect of how the Lord’s Day, Sunday, is observed. Many stories are told against that, many Borough Councils, for example, have strict laws as to how the Lord’s Day, Sabbath, Sunday is observed, and the story is told of what happened in one such borough in the north of Co. Antrim – a pilot was flying over the countryside, his aeroplane developed difficulties and the engine went on fire. He had no other option but to bale out, he got his parachute on, pressed the ejector seat button, flew out of the canopy and down towards earth, and no matter how hard he pulled on the parachute cord nothing happened. He finally landed crash into a haystack and the farmer came running up to see what was the problem. The pilot said “I’ve just had a dreadful experience. I was pulling my parachute cord and nothing happened.” The farmer said, “I’m not surprised, nothing round here opens on a Sunday!”
“Now that’s a story that’s told against us, but very often that’s the perception many people have of Protestantism – it is a negative “you can’t do this”, “you can’t do that”, “we won’t talk to them”, “they’re not for us” – that, as I say, is to misunderstand Protestantism.
What Orange Order stands for: “Protestantism comes from the Latin word “protestatio”, meaning “witness” – a stand for something. I just want to spend a few minutes’ time this evening concentrating on what the Orange Order stands for.
“At its very root Protestantism is based on the Bible and the doctrine of the Reformers from the 16th century onwards, and in fact before that, from the time of Wycliffe, was “sole scripture” – scripture alone. This is the book on which we base our beliefs. We don’t actually worship the Bible itself as some people would hold that we do but we do believe that it is the word of God. Paul, in his 2nd Letter to Timothy, says that “all scripture is God breathed”. It’s the very word of God. These are the standards we hold and this Bible should be the yardstick by which we live our lives and conduct our worship. In fact we’ve got a very good example for that: our Lord Jesus Christ, whenever he was confronted by the Pharisees on a matter of doctrine, very often said, “it is written”. Very often that is the stand Protestants take – “it is written”.
“So I just want to spend some time looking at the fundamental message of the Bible that Protestants uphold. Now I realise that that’s a bit of a gargantuan task, and people have spent hundreds of years defining the essential message of the Bible but that is a certain core that I would like to concentrate on tonight and the aspect that Protestants wish to defend.
Sin: “First of all, from the Bible, we learn that man has a problem. In the early chapters of Genesis we read of God creating man in His own image in the Garden of Eden and then sin entered the world and man turned against God, and the problem that entered into the world was sin. Now we sometimes have a mistaken concept of sin – we think that sins are individual things such as stealing or murder – they are individual specific compartmentalised things in our lives.
“However it is much more widespread than that. Sin is an attitude of mind and can be summed up as love of self – notice the little letter in the middle of sin – “I” – sin is putting “I” in the middle, putting yourself first, and above all putting yourself before God. In Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome we read these words – “people have become filled with every kind of wickedness, with greed and depravity; they are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice; they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” These words were written nearly 2 millennia ago yet they do not sum up the state of the world today.
“The human condition is the same now as it was in Paul’s day – all people have fallen short of God’s standard. It’s easy to be judgmental and say “I haven’t killed or murdered, I don’t steal, I’m not included in that, I’m not a sinner”. But the Bible tells us we are.
“The Bible cuts through our self-defence, our excuses, and again slightly later on in Paul’s Letter he says these words (Rom. 3, vv. 22-23): “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” God’s standards can be likened to an examination where the pass mark is 100%; you might get 10%, or you might get 80%, but you still fail. God’s standards are so high that we cannot possibly hope to reach up to them. We are naturally sinful and have turned our backs on God, everything we do, no matter how good it might seem to us, is tainted by that sin, if we do not love God.” Again, Paul says in his Letter: “those controlled by their sinful nature cannot please God” and one hymn often sung at Orange services expresses it this way:
“Not the labour of my hands can fulfill thy laws’ demands, Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears for ever flow, All for sin could not atone. Thou must save and Thou alone.”
Fundamentals – justification by faith: “So that’s the first thing Protestants learn from the Bible – that we have fallen short of God’s standards. But the Bible provides us with the answer, and I’m really working through Paul’s Letter to the Romans to try and draw out the fundamentals of the message that we as Orangemen believe in. In Rom. 5:6-8 we read these words: “At just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly; very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die, but God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
“We could not reach out to God because all of our actions, everything we do, is tainted by sin, but God reached out to us at a terrible cost to Himself. God is a loving God, but He’s also a holy God and He cannot overlook sin. That sin must be paid for before our relationship with God can be restored and God gave His only son to do just that. God is a holy God and cannot tolerate sin, God is angry with sin. Now our human anger is provoked by the most irrational things, it blazes up and is gone. God’s anger is a just anger…[tape ends]….a crime has been committed and someone has to pay the penalty.
“But the judge’s son, who hasn’t committed any crime, steps forward and takes our place, takes my place. We have earned punishment but Jesus takes our place and takes the punishment for us, and that is the central doctrine that the Orange Order defends – justification – that we can be made just in God’s sight because Jesus Christ died in our place.
Royal Black Institution: “Now Gordon has referred to the Royal Black Institution – I am actually a member of the Royal Black Institution in Co. Cavan, and this is a Royal Black collarette – this is what we wear on demonstrations and parades at various times in the year. Now you’ll see that…there’s a badge there which says “Killeshandra Dist. No. 1 Co. Cavan” and on the other side you’ll see something very simple – a red cross – that is the highest symbol that the R.B.I. has because it reminds us that Jesus died on the cross to save us.
“Protestantism is the theology of the cross and the doctrine that we as Orangemen defend is that everything was done on the Cross for us, we can’t contribute towards that. It is by grace we’ve been saved, and not by works – nothing we’ve done, but by grace… We have been made right with God because Jesus died on that Cross. And we as Orangemen believe that if you repent of your sins and place your faith in Christ, you will be saved. Your sins – they’ve been put behind you – God has wiped the slate clean. We can do nothing. Christ has done all for us.
“It’s been said that the difference between Christianity and other religions is 2 letters. Many other religions say “do this, do that, and you’ll be saved”. Christianity says “Jesus Christ has done it” and that is what we as Orangemen, I reiterate, defend. It’s such a precious truth that we want to stand for it. As the scripture says, “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence”. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place, we can approach God in prayer directly, we can speak to God directly as our heavenly Father. We believe as Protestants we have that privilege again, not because of anything we’ve done, but because Christ has done it for us. We can approach God in prayer and will spend eternity with Him; we don’t need any other mediator or intercessor because Christ has gone before us. As Paul wrote to Timothy – “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. Now that is a very short summary of the essential doctrine of the Protestant Faith – justification by faith – that by faith in Jesus’ death on the cross we can be made right with God, and if Orangeism stands for any one particular doctrine, it is that.
Degrees of Royal Black Institution: “Now very quickly I just want to take a brief look at some of the structures of the degrees, for example, that we undertake. The Royal Black Institution has more degrees than any other – it has 11 degrees, culminating in the Red Cross, as I have said. The Red Cross Degree informs us of Christ’s death on the cross and the fact that paradise is open to those who have a firm belief in Jesus’ blood shed for them. And the various degrees are essentially scripture lessons and they teach such things as charity and other Christian virtues. The degrees focus on the lives of various biblical figures such as Moses, Adam and Eve, Daniel and King David. The best analogy I can find for the degrees – I don’t know if you’ve ever been to York or any of the great English medieval cities where the mystery plays are acted out and where various stories from the Bible are dramatised and the fundamental message of these is brought home – and that’s what degrees essentially are, they’re like mystery plays where biblical stories are brought to life and the doctrines which we as Orangemen believe are brought home to us.
Orange banners: “These lessons are often visually emphasised on Orange banners, especially Black banners. As Roger and Gordon have both [mentioned], Orange banners very often reflect the origins of particular lodges e.g. “The Great Northern True Blues” Lodge in Belfast has a picture of a steam railway engine of the old Great Northern Railway because most of the Lodge members originally came from the railway officers and the railway staff. Other lodges might for example have political figures like Lord Carson or the Earl of Erne. They also have religious figures, and many of the banners depict Protestant martyrs such as Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, and great Protestant spiritual leaders such as Wesley and Martin Luther. And in the Royal Black Institution what you tend to find is the banners are exclusively religious – they concentrate on biblical figures such as Noah releasing the doves from the Ark, Daniel in the lion’s den, which bring home the spiritual lessons we’ve learned through the degrees.
“I would just like to close what has been a very inadequate survey of some Protestant beliefs by telling you something about my own lodge’s banner. I’m with the Rising Sons of Killegar, Co. Leitrim, as you’ve got on your sheets there, and we’ve got a new banner this year – on one side you’ve the parish church, Killegar parish church, and on the other side we have a picture which to me encapsulates the essence of Protestantism and therefore Orangeism – it’s a picture of a cross, a bleak stone cross, nothing glamorous or romantic, on a rock lashed by waves and to that cross a prone figure is clinging saying “My faith looks up to thee”, clinging to the cross. And I think that’s an ideal summary of what we in the Order stand for. The “true Protestant”, not in name only, is someone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. This is the Protestantism which the Orange Order espouses. There is far more to the Orange Order than wearing a sash and parading on the 12th July. Thank you very much.”
Chair: John Clancy thanked the speakers from the Orange Order and introduced the fourth speaker, Dominic Bryan, a researcher from Q.U.B. and co-author of a recent publication Political Rituals: Loyalist Parades in Portadown published by the University of Ulster.
4. Dominic Bryan: “Parading”
“Thanks very much. I’m going to show a little video from a programme…called “Blood and Belonging” because I think what this will do is perhaps show you images of the 12th Parades with which you are familiar – it will ring true with you. But before I talk, have a look at the images – it’ll take about 5 or 6 minutes….you’ll notice some rather ominous music played all the way through this to give it a particular image…you go to these bonfires, they’re actually very happy-go-lucky cheerful events…
“This is a little talk I gave at a meeting just before the 12th this year which was looking particularly at the Ormeau Road situation. I had individuals from both communities in the audience so you might notice that the little talk treads very carefully. I’d been looking for 4 or 5 years at parades particularly, not specifically about the Orange Order, but predominantly.. [tonight’s talk] is going to be about the Orange Order.
Change: “Parading has a complex history in Ireland. The institutions and political organisations that attempt to control these events have gone through a number of reforms and played a variety of roles at different points in history, and Gordon mentioned some of the changes the Orange Order has been through – the Orange Order is a case in point, it is not, and never has been, an unchanging monolith. Its development into one of the focuses of Protestant identity did not happen immediately and has been due to particular historical circumstances. Over the years it has been used by the British State and in turn has been suppressed by the British State – again Gordon mentioned some of these occasions. It has been an institution of economic and political patronage and also one that has at time served radical class and agrarian causes. It has been used by the aristocracy, by employers, by politicians, and has in turn been abandoned by them. During the Stormont years it was central to the State and patronised by a large majority of the Protestant classes. In recent years it has been going through changes and will, in my view, probably become more politically marginal and not the focus of unionism.
The problem: “[The Orange Order] has provided a sense of community and security but in doing so has at times provided good reasons for Roman Catholics to fear and even despise it. Thus we have a problem – that which has come to be seen by a significant amount of Protestants in the community as central to their identity is seen by many Catholics in the community as symbolic of historical oppression. How can these rival claims be negotiated? Have we any reason for optimism at all? The Orange Order is a disparate organisation and contains a variety of broadly unionist opinions. Its various local lodges, district lodges, county lodges, have their own localised identities and internal politics and you’ve been given a flavour of these identities tonight. Its members vary from being highly religious, almost non-politicial, to those involved fundamentally for political reasons. The supposedly united political line displayed on the streets often hides the internal politics of the Institution and the actions of members. Decisions which appear to outsiders to be directed at them are often more to do with the internal politics of Orangeism and Unionism, and we could discuss it later, but what happened at Drumcree was very much also to do with what was taking place inside unionism, and not only the opposition between the Green and the Orange.
Changes in parades: “The parades have undergone great changes; it is difficult to see them now as a celebration of the State of N.I. as many working-class Protestants feel themselves as alienated from that State as do the Roman Catholics. In recent years the parades have come to contain what are called “blood and thunder” or “kick the Pope” bands, and you saw some images of those on the video, which have no formal connection with the Orange Institution.
“Authority and control over the parades has become more diverse than the Institution would always care to admit – in other words it can find it difficult to control the events even though it wouldn’t always admit that it finds it difficult to do so.
Optimistic message: “To call events traditional as you heard on the video is therefore to hide the many changes which events have been through. He [the video presenter] is making that image there of it having always been like that – I just don’t think that is true. Indeed the past contains an optimistic message – the meaning and role of parades is not set in historical stone – when economic and political structures change so do the political groups that work within them. Now if you want an interesting example of that I set for you perhaps Guy Fawkes Day. My background is one of a Catholic from England, although I wouldn’t practise or be a believer now. I used to stuff this Guy, put him on top of a bonfire and burn him. Now essentially part of what is being done is burning a Catholic, and 100 years ago that would have been the reason, part of the understanding of Guy Fawkes in England, but to a great extent that, if you like, sectarian understanding of that event has completely gone from the English celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, so much so that people like myself never gave a second thought to the fact that we were supposedly burning our own. I offer that as an optimistic sign.
Cultural tradition: “Now we’ve seen one particular image of the “12th” – there is another image which will be found in the Belfast Telegraph, The Newsletter and on BBC and ITV highlights in the evening – that’s of a cultural tradition, of the coming together of a community to take part in one of Europe’s biggest folk festivals. I put it to you that the way rituals work is that they can be both of these things. Both these images can exist at the one time within one ritual. Clearly neither is totally right nor totally wrong.
Mistaken notion of territorialism: “There is one aspect that I want to make quite clear- that is the idea of “territorialism”. You’ll be aware of events such as have taken place in Portadown, on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, and in Derry, and you often have this image of a sort of territorialism, and you hear about “animals marking their territory”. Many journalists present Orangemen as marking their territory like animals, scaring their opponents…. I have recently seen Orangemen described as acting like cats, robins and dinosaurs as well. However the territorialism we are talking about here is not that sort of territorialism. To see it as some sort of primal instinct is to totally misunderstand what takes place.
Parades as an expression of identity: “The parades are a means through which people express their identity and by which people symbolise a political opinion, therefore to block an Orange parade is understood by those in the parade as an attack upon their identity. To ask someone to stop taking part in something that is viewed as central to their tradition, albeit often a recently-invented tradition, is to ask that person to reconsider their way of viewing the world. These parades therefore signify the wider complex political disputes over identities within a territory, not simple animal instincts whereby one male animal seeks to control access to resources and sexual partners. I think it will move the debate on a little bit if we start understanding what we’re talking about when we talk about territorialism.
Conclusion: “Just to conclude, I’ll put forward a few questions. It’s not to say that these things should not be approached critically since, for those outside, the parades act as a reminder of injustices and a barrier to the full expression of their own identity. But there are no easy solutions.
1) “Do we want, yet again, to enhance the ghettoes of Belfast by reinforcing boundaries? Because when we stop people parading in certain areas that is what we’re going to do. At the end of the day, nationalists have suffered more in that sort of situation than have unionists.
2) “Are those claiming the right to march prepared to publicly support the rights of all to express their opinions in a public space, no matter how unpalatable those views? These truly are a test for civil and religious liberties.
3) “Are those marching prepared to show respect for others’ rights by limiting inconveniences to the fewest possible occasions and by showing the utmost respect for neighbouring communities? Whatever the outcome of the Peace Process, it seems absolutely necessary that people’s identities should be respected and where are the deeds on all sides to show that these identities will be respected?
Governments need to face the issue: “Finally, and most importantly, both Governments must seriously address this issue. Both the British and Irish States need to examine some of the sectarianism within their own political structures and constitutions. Further, it is not acceptable for the British Government to leave it to the police to deal with – that’s been the general routine this summer – “it’s a police issue”, and the police have left it till about 10 minutes before the parade is going to take place before they’ve given a decision. To my mind that’s produced the sort of disastrous effects that we’ve had. Unless we face the problem we will yet again have working-class community facing working-class community, policed by predominantly working-class, albeit well-paid, police officers. Confrontation over the parades has in the past led to other forms of communal violence, and unless we face the issues now it may well lead to major communal violence again. Thank you.”
Chair: Thanking the speakers on behalf of the Meath Peace Group, John Clancy pointed to the fact that Orangeism started at a time when Jacobinism was very rampant in Europe – “many would contend that the early years of Orangeism was to do with the maintenance of the concept of monarchy in Europe and they were part of that movement, and it was particularly obviously focussed on the monarchy in England. I think it is interesting that it happened at the same time as the great changes that were coming over Europe. It is also important to realise that 200 years later the kind of issues that were faced then we are facing again, but maybe in a calmer atmosphere, and maybe at a time when both the Protestant and Catholic perspectives can.. prepare more focussed views of one another, in terms of developing respect for the intrinsic values of each ethos… ”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summary only)
Q.1. Julitta Clancy [Meath Peace Group]: Re Drumcree situation: What happened at Drumcree – what went wrong, was there any dialogue?
Roger Bradley: It was his belief that issues like Drumcree and the Lower Ormeau Road have been politicised. “If you go back to the ’60s you had the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, Sir George Clarke, actually meeting with the President of the A.O.H. and you had the “Green/Orange Talks” – you had a situation where Orange lodges would have lent banner poles to the A.O.H. for their parade on 15th August – you would have had bandsmen who would have played in each procession. If you compare that situation with the situation which existed in the summer, clearly things have changed. And what has changed is that Orangeism, or the actual parading tradition, has become politicised, whereas before it wasn’t politicised.” He said that he would prefer to talk about the Lower Ormeau Road situation because he knew it better than Drumcree. “If you look at that road you will find that there are virtually no residential houses located on that road – it is a commercial route in that the residential houses are confined to the side streets. You have a situation where people have come in from outside and politicised it.” He referred to allegations of intimidation, where people from the community had allegedly had their cars damaged and homes attacked because they refused to sign a petition. The whole situation had been politicised he said and he could only explain it in that way.
Julitta: “…Can you see at all the problems that people like those in Garvaghy Road might have with Orange parades?”
Gordon: “The Garvaghy Road situation is very similar to the Ormeau Rd. situation, in the sense that the houses, by and large, do not look on to the road, so in order to be annoyed or offended you actually physically have to get out on to the road to be there.” He believed that some of those who spearheaded the protest were members of “Provisional Sinn Fein/IRA” amd many people also believed that leading Provos from E. Tyrone and S. Armagh were actively involved in stirring up the trouble in the Garvaghy Road. “It is significant I think, as well that the local parish priest in Portadown is not involved …in any shape or form in the protest.” He referred to the presence of the Jesuit Order in Portadown. “My understanding and knowledge of the Jesuit Order is that Jesuits are often highly politicised – they sometimes lead the politics of extreme left, sometimes the extreme right. … I regret to make this point, but it seems that in terms of chronology there seems to be a clear correlation between the participation and activities of the Jesuit Order in Portadown and these disturbances over parades…. I notice next month that you are actually having people from Garvaghy Road so I would be very interested if you would like to focus on those points….If the houses do not actually face on to the road, as they do not, and it’s a very short piece of road, it takes approximately 7 minutes to walk down that road, if people have to actively get out there to be upset or annoyed, I just really can’t understand…it’s not even exclusively a nationalist road, it’s the main road from the church into Portadown. You know, people do not actually own the road – and yet these are the same people who are demanding “parity of esteem”.
“Parity of esteem is something they claim obviously exclusively for themselves. They’re people who fly an Irish tricolor – the symbolism of the tricolor is Green, White and Orange – amity between the two traditions Orange and Green. They demand “inclusive talks” and yet they deny Orangemen what they consider to be their rights…” He referred to some of the graffitti on the walls – “I think there should be some focus and some attention on the political attitudes of those people who are orchestrating those protests. Incidentally, I don’t want to tar all the residents of Garvaghy Road with having those views. I’m not accusing them of being necessarily Sinn Fein. I am given to understand some of them are actually intimidated out of their houses to be there, so I think you know it would be interesting to put the people of Garvaghy Road on the spot and find out what they’re about – what their objections are? Certainly we, or some of us at least, would see it to be very politically motivated, and Sinn Fein simply orchestrating or organising confrontations.”
Q. 2. Bill Willis (Wilkinstown, Navan; originally from Co. Down): Referred to the amity between the Hibernians and the Orange Order in the ’60s, and this was borne out by his experiences as a child in Co. Down. “The perception now is that perchance the politicians and various other people seem to have an undue influence on the Orange Order…. are you doing anything to restore the image?” As for Home Rule, his own grandfather was actually Master of an Orange lodge and he was a Home Ruler. He said he had been living in Meath for 46 years and when he goes back he is shattered to see the changes… “I think you must return to that period you referred to, when there was an understanding and mixing.” He mentioned his belief that the Orange Order actually supported the ’98 Rebellion, “and that was one period when we were all together”.
Gordon Lucy: “The politics of late 18th century Ireland are so confused that you actually have cases of entire groups of United Irishmen going over to the Orange Order, but on the whole the Orange Order was not sympathetic to the ’98 Rebellion. Ironically enough the Order wasn’t actually sympathetic to the Act of Union in 1800 either”.
On being asked by David Richardson to expand on what he meant by his reference to the public perception of Orangeism, the questioner replied: “I refer to the triumphalism seen in the summer – Trimble and Paisley running down holding hands … that only harms the Orange Order”.
David: “…Ian Paisley is not a member of the Orange Order and we have no control over him.” As for how Orangemen get on with the other community, he mentioned that in Co. Fermanagh he has never seen any suggestion of trouble. “The community comes out and takes part…but unfortunately that’s not good news … the media cameras go where there is likely to be some friction, and very often the cameras would exacerbate that friction….In the vast majority of parades there is amity and real parity of esteem – it’s just unfortunate that the media don’t choose to present it.”
Roger Bradley said that he had recently attended a function in Royal Avenue, Belfast. There was a “peace parade” organised by members of the fringe unionist parties – and he felt a bit intimidated, although he is a unionist…”there they were with the battalion colours, flags, banners, in semi-paramilitary dress, some of them in all black T-shirts, actually looking quite intimidating.” Those political parties do not have a mandate, he said, and “those are the parties the Government is trying to bring into talks.
“Now that is alien to me… they don’t speak for the majority of unionist and loyalist opinion. They speak for their own paramilitary organisations and most people want nothing to do with them. …The people who are not really being consulted are the people who actually have a mandate.” He felt this experience illustrated the point made “that some parades can be intimidating and …give Orangeism a bad name”, but he stressed that this particular parade was nothing to do with the Orange Order.
Q. 3. [Slane resident]: She said that she would be classed as a “Dissenter” – “a very small minority on this island”. She always feels very frightened when she hears about religion “because it strikes me always again and again that once you make religion of it….it leads to bloodshed for somebody…People who claim to be religious on either side have to look very carefully at what they’re doing because I don’t believe that anybody has the right to say “I love peace and I love Christ and I’ve got the right to march by tradition” and I say this to both sides.” She referred to examples of “unthinkingness” both North and South – “and I would have to say that you are going to have to give a bit, and I’m a bit frightened because I haven’t seen much of it.” Then she asked -“where are the women?”
David: There is a large organisation for women in the Orange Order. “In the Orange Order we give them equal standing… we also have children involved as well… in the rural areas where I come from we have whole families involved in the Orange tradition and it brings people together.”
As for the religious question he said that he was a committed Christian… “I never had any religious hatred or division with people I worked with and I would like to see that applied across Northern Ireland”.
Q. 4. Cllr. Phil Cantwell (Trim UDC): “First of all, you’re very welcome, it’s good to see you coming down…please understand, I come from the Catholic tradition but I’m trying to understand the other side. …I’m very concerned about the Qualifications of an Orangeman.” Phil read the qualifications and referred to one of them which stated that an Orangeman “shall strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome, and scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act of ceremony of Popish worship”. “I find that offensive…but maybe I’m missing something here because I’ve got so much religion here from the gentleman with the Bible”.
David: He said that this was a very sensitive issue. Protestants believed that Jesus Christ was the only mediator between God and man. “Unfortunately, over time, the Roman Catholic Church has drifted away from that”. He pointed out that the Qualifications of an Orangeman also stated that an Orangeman should abstain “from “all uncharitable words, actions or sentiments, towards his Roman Catholic brethren”. “We have no axe to grind with individual Catholics”, he said, ” and it grieves us when sectarian attacks are made, that is no part of our faith… Our quarrel is with the doctrines of the Church …but we seek to disagree in love. ..We believe in speaking the truth, rather than dodging the issues – I think that’s more helpful in the long run.”
Roger stated that there are fundamental differences between Protestantism and Romanism …”they’re there, we’re not going to remove those… but what is written here is consistent with the Westminster Confesssion of Faith of the Presbyterian Church, and the Thirty Nine Articles of the Anglican Church, and that is something that is not going to be removed.”
Q.5. Henry Mount Charles (Slane Castle): Referred to Roger’s remarks about the fringe loyalist parties and Mr Hutchinson’s remarks today that he could see circumstances where people who come from a “new emerging tradition of Protestantism” would be prepared to talk to Sinn Fein, would Mr Bryan comment on what he sees as an evolving situation – “while reference may be made to the size of their democratic base, in changing circumstances might that democratic base expand?”
Dominic: He had two reservations about this. Firstly, these sort of political parties had been around before, in the ’70s, and had withered away. Secondly, “like all politicians, people like Billy Hutchinson, Gary McMichael and David Ervine have become quite polished at talking one language to one group of people and one language to another group of people… it’s very difficult to tie in a lot of the quite remarkable material that the UDA has produced in its time…and at the same time that organisation was taking part in a fairly blatant sectarian murder campaign…. they have had to take a political track … they had to speak a language which was significantly different from the Ulster Unionist Party and the Orange Order… I must say I find some of their speeches very heartening…but there’s nothing historically which suggests to me that they will increase their mandate…. On a side issue, if they can add to the pressure… to separate the Unionist Party from the Orange Order, I think that would be a beneficial movement for almost everybody involved… I think Unionism would begin to be able to look for a broader political base than it’s had so far.”
Henry Mountcharles: Referring to earlier discussion re Qualifications of an Orangeman – “I am a Protestant, a member of the Church of Ireland, and … I am absolutely amazed that in this day and age that this is the type of language that belongs to the general body of Christianity…. I’ve always held that we must extend hands to each other, not this kind of language.. I’m sorry but that is how I feel.”
Gordon: “I think, as members of the Church of Ireland, that we could just agree to differ.”
Q.6. [Presbyterian minister]: As a minister, a Protestant and a Presbyterian, he wished to touch on the Reformation. One of the fundamental things is that “the Church is always under reformation”. He explained that he is “an unashamed ecumenist and I see nothing inconsistent in that..”. On the Scripture issue, he said that you cannot make the distinction that the Protestant churches are churches of the Bible and the Catholic Church is not a church of the Bible. “You cannot say that the Protestant Church is not a church which has a tradition – the Westminster Confession and the Thirty Nine Articles are traditions in the Protestant church but they are not set in concrete, which means they can be changed.” He pointed out that the General Synod of the Presbyterian Church in 1988 clarified its understanding of the Westminster Confession that identifies the Pope as the Anti-Christ, saying that the historical interpretation is not manifestly evident from the Scriptures. “Even a tradition can be reinterpreted… and we, as Protestants, are not free from tradition.. that doesn’t mean that there aren’t differences, that doesn’t mean those differences aren’t worth discussing.” He was not an Irishman, “but it seems to me that many of my brothers and sisters in the North are caught in a time warp back in the 1600s and 1700s, and don’t realise that tradition does change, it is interpretive, it needs to move on.”
David Richardson: He was very glad to be a member of the Church of Ireland. “We say that the Church has erred over time … and it is possible for churches over time to err.” The church is always reforming itself, he said… and in addressing the Reformed Faith we’re not just directing against the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, we’re directing against these strands of Protestantism and evangelical Protestantism which have drifted away from the standards which we see in Scripture. ” Looking at traditions, he said that they must be placed against the Scriptures – “if they don’t measure up, we must discard them… the Orange Order believes in Scripture… I am a true ecumenist as well, I want to see everyone coming in unity round the Gospel, but unity without the Gospel is not true unity…”
Q.7. Walter Kirwan (Dept of An Taoiseach and Forum for Peace and Reconciliation): Re the diversity of the Order: “David emphasised the religious dimension, but obviously going back to Dan Winter’s cottage and so on, there was obviously a political element, the element of protecting… the Ulster British cultural heritage… Which of these strands would our visitors see as the strongest within the Order?” Also, there were references in the Northern papers last week to a lot of dissatisfaction within the Order with respect to the Grand Lodge …”one would guess that the reason these people aren’t happy is prehaps that Martin Smyth not going to Drumcree wasn’t political enough… on the other hand, there are other people… who are proposing that the link will be cut between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Orange Order. What would be the predominant view within the Order as between these two poles…?”
Roger: “I would say that the emphasis within the Orange Order…has to go back on to the evangelical standpoint. That should be the focus of Orangeism, and yes, politics does cloud that issue at times.” Re the link between the Order and the Ulster Unionist Party, “it is probably fair to say that if that link were severed it might be better for Orangeism as well as better for Unionism, so that is an ongoing debate…. One point I would say…there are many Roman Catholics in N.I. who would aspire to be Unionists but cannot actually vote for the Unionist party because it is allied to the Orange Order… I think that is a very powerful argument to weigh in the balance when we come to take a decision as to whether the two bodies should be linked.”
Q. 8. Noel Weatherhead (Tullamore resident): “Does the Orange Order feel they have a responsibility to steward the parades and to control the lunatic fringe that associates with all parades, or do they rely on the RUC to do that for them?”
Roger: “The Orange Order has been concerned about bands and the behaviour of bands… and the Order does take steps to try and control bands… if they step out of line then they are banned from taking part in future parades.” There are also marshals, he said, who work along with the police. “We are also subject to the law in that we have to give notice, we have to have approval… yes, I would agree with you that we do have a responsibility and we do try to carry that out.”
Q. 9. John Keaveney (Kilbride teacher): He would like to be able to bring a group of children from all traditions to march in an Orange parade. What would the obstacles be? There would be girls – could girls march in an Orange parade; there would be Catholics – could Catholics march? Re women, “my impression of Orange parades is that there is a very severe lack of gender balance”.
Roger: “There is the Women’s Orange Institution and there are women’s lodges… In the past they have not paraded along with the men – that is now changing and you do now have women’s lodges coming out with the men to church parades and so forth… that happens more in the country than it does in the city.” Re a group coming up to take part – he said that only Orangemen and women could march, but such a group “would be welcome to watch and partake in the day”.
Questioner: “You consider it as a carnival… yet by that kind of regulation you are excluding a good percentage of the population of your area from participating… I’m trying to get away from the polarisation… for the sake of peace, for the sake of bringing people together… there must be some kind of way of catering for that…”
Roger: “In a sense you’re right in that it is a Protestant society and therefore it is exclusive to that degree… in the same way you have Roman Catholic societies that are exclusive to their own beliefs.”
Questioner: “Could I ask if there is not some way of bringing the two together – it would break an awful lot of the symbol of separateness.”
Roger: Referred to the situation in the ’60s when the Orange Order had talks with the AOH. “I would see that type of trend as being useful and positive .. we need to get back to that situation where we can live with everybody and each respect each other’s viewpoints…”
Gordon: There is no antipathy at all between the Orange Order and the AOH, “but the sort of people who are problems with Orangemen these days are not Hibernians, they tend to be militant republicans, members of Sinn Fein/IRA and their followers.”
Dominic: Re the participation of women in the parades. “I have a sneaking suspicion that people have started to feel that if we had more women in the parades that in fact it would change the nature of the parades.” He pointed out that in the “blood and thunder bands” – generally seen as the most sectarian element, the standards are often carried by women…. women are involved in the parades, they may not always march, but they’re the spectators, they’re the ones doing the dancing, they’re the ones doing a lot of drinking, they’re the ones dancing up and down in Union Jacks, so to that extent they are very much involved.”
Q. 10. [Columban missionary]: “This is not a question, it’s a statement. I just want to say that I’ve been very encouraged listening to the members of the Orange Order tonight, speaking for myself. Because I grew up in Co. Cavan, and as a child the Orange Halls were always pointed out to us and they always aroused a certain amount of fear in me because I was given to understand that something secretive occurred in there, which was a kind of a plot against Catholics, and now I hear the Orangemen tonight coming out and wanting to redeem themselves and say what they’re all about and I find that a very great change and it will certainly take a lot of fear out of me.”
Calling the proceedings to a close, John Clancy thanked the audience for being so attentive. On behalf of the group he thanked the Columban Fathers for the use of the hall and for their consistent generosity and encouragement. Thanking the speakers, he said that, like many others, he had a profound ignorance of the Orange Order – ” all my knowledge was the confrontations during the marching season… But what I have learned this evening .. is that the Orange Order, in a sense, is… an umbrella that holds the diversity of the Protestant ethos and those people who want to celebrate their diversity under that… And I just want to turn it another way…there are the two diversities of the Orange and the Green in the North, and if they can within their ranks have many different kinds of emphases in terms of the Protestant ethos under their umbrella, I think that somewhere within their 200 years they have mechanisms to understand the Catholics and what their concerns are, and in the same way the Catholics have to learn this very important fact, as I see it, this celebration of diversity…”
“What is clear to me, having heard about what happened in the ’50s and what happened in the ’30s, is that the last 25 years of violence… has done untold violence to the trust that grew up at various times during the last 200 years between the Catholic and Protestant or Protestant/Orange ethos. And this is the time now for us to redouble our efforts to put behind us the violence of the last 25 years which has done so much damage, and to build a respect, because in respect of the other’s point of view comes enhancement of your own position in terms of your society and what you stand for.”
©Meath Peace Group. Report compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy. Taped by Anne Nolan
Meath Peace Group contact names 1995: Julitta Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane; Pauline Ryan, Navan; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Michael Kane, Ardbraccan, Navan; Felicity Cuthbert, Kilcloon