Tuesday 27 September 2016

Dynastic politics proves folly of rebellion

* Prime Time on 1916, RTE One
* The Late Late, RTE One

Published 26/03/2016 | 02:30

Family Ties: Michael McDowell, whose grandfather Eoin MacNeill was a prominent figure in the Rising, took part in a ‘Prime Time on 1916’ special on RTE
Family Ties: Michael McDowell, whose grandfather Eoin MacNeill was a prominent figure in the Rising, took part in a ‘Prime Time on 1916’ special on RTE
Eamon O Cuiv, whose grandfather Eamon de Valera was also prominent in the Easter Rising.

I don't know if you've noticed, but this is the week that was. As it were. Yes, it's the anniversary of the 1916 insurgency and it has been entirely understandable that the national broadcaster should go all 1916 all the time in their efforts to celebrate/commemorate/mourn/denounce (delete according to your own political prejudices) the events of the time.

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If 1921 saw the birth of a nation, 1916 was its conception and like many unexpected and unplanned hook-ups over a long weekend, it was a messy and rancorous affair which led to recriminations and regret that have carried on to this day. As RTE went into overdrive, the offerings have been mixed, to say the least.

Half the programmes - or, to be more precise, the contributors to half the programmes - would feel right at home in the North Korean People's Propaganda Department as they bellowed loud and clear about how the values and goals of the patriots/terrorists/troublemakers (again, delete according to your political prejudice) have been betrayed and let down by the people who followed them.

In fact, and forgive me if I digress for a moment, my favourite bit of 1916 divination came last week by a person who plaintively asked: "Did James Connolly really die so the children of Ireland would be poisoned by flouride?"

Well, I don't know, but I'd like to think he did. While we're at it, did they die for the Luas, for Irish Water, or the fact that my bins are only picked up every fortnight?

We're an excitable bunch, the Irish and never more so than when it comes to exploring our shared history of a country which still, a hundred years later, hasn't a clue about how to mark our blood-drenched genesis.

Wednesday night's Prime Time was one of the finer offerings on show this week, not least because it featured both Kevin Myers and Ruth Dudley Edwards, two writers who have been ploughing a lonely, and often physically dangerous, furrow for years.

A debate between Eamon O'Cuiv, Michael McDowell, Ronan Fanning on one side, and Myers and Dudley Edwards and Patsy McGarry on the other, promised to be a bit like the intellectual equivalent of UFC, although nobody was able to land a knock-out blow.

The reason for that was both simple and depressing - nobody is going to change their mind, no matter how many times someone like Myers points out awkward, uncomfortable facts.

What was noteworthy, however, was the dynastic element to the panel. Both O'Cuiv (grandson of Dev) and Michael McDowell (grandson of Eoin MacNeill) are proof that the same families keep cropping up in our political life.

It has often been remarked that Ireland is the only country in the world to have had a rebellion to become more conservative and while that isn't entirely correct - Iran springs immediately to mind, for instance - there's something faintly emetic about watching the descendants of the Rising's leadership claiming primacy of opinion on the basis that their grandda was a leading troublemaker.

Dynastic inheritance of power and influence (often unearned, lest we forget) is a scourge of Irish life, and as the panellists took turns staking their claim, the whole thing ultimately descended into a Liveline-esque shoutathon, with a more eloquent turn of phrase.

The debate started well; so well, in fact, that the first 15 minutes were arguably the most instructive we have seen on RTE this year. But passions that run deep soon erupt and by the time David McCullough drew an exhausted breath and brought everything to a conclusion, the only things we had learned was that these people really, really don't like each other.

It was also interesting to note that as the tempers flared and the voices raised, Dudley Edwards employed a different tactic - by lowering the volume of her voice, she seemed to speak the loudest and her contempt was utterly, compellingly withering.

Myers, similarly, is someone who should be a regular intellectual contributor to our TV screens, but it's hard to escape the feeling that RTE look on him as a bit of a penance - something to be reached for only as a last resort and not to be indulged unless absolutely necessary.

Not for the first time, the estimable historian Diarmaid Ferriter hit the nail on the head when he pointed out the folly of "imposing a modern sensibility on the events of a century ago."

That's something to remind the next person who boasts about what they would have done if they were around back then - nobody knows, nobody was born back then and it's for this reason that RTE finds itself in the unusual position of being exactly in step with the people who pay its license fee - we don't know what we would have done and it's spurious trying to impose our very different world view on the events back then.

John Connors is an angry young man. Angry young men are important but the fact that the subject of his ire is the avowedly inoffensive Ryan Tubridy makes it all the more amusing.

Connors has become the newest spokesman for Irish Travellers and that is good for Travellers - they have relied on the same tired faces to present their case for so long that people just tune out whenever they appear.

I didn't get a screener for last night's I Am Traveller (it's almost as if they didn't want me to see it in time to review it, or something), but John is pissed with Ryan for the interview on last week's Late Late.

However, I can't help but feel if Connors was that worried about the way Travellers are represented in the media, he might have thought twice about playing a bomb maker in Love/Hate.

Irish Independent

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