Ruth Dudley Edwards: Adams and Sinn Fein are revising the Rising in their own way
Sinn Fein had nothing to do with 1916, but the party's trying to take ownership of it, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30
The signatories of the proclamation would be surprised that they are running in the 2016 General Election, not least because their revolution was an assault on constitutional politics, which some of them - like Tom Clarke - loathed and others - like Patrick Pearse - had come to despise.
With the exception of James Connolly, none of them ever stood for office, and Connolly's unsuccessful attempts to join Dublin City Council were on behalf of the Labour Party. Mandate-schmandate was their motto: they comprised the Military Council of the IRB, but didn't even tell its Supreme Council, to which they reported, that they were planning an insurrection.
Still, they would be thrilled to learn from an inventive Gerry Adams' blog that the Rising and the Proclamation not only "rocked British imperialism to its core," but "inspired liberation movements across the globe and over subsequent decades it successfully rolled back colonialism leading to the freedom of many nations and hundreds of millions of people." They'd be baffled though they were being represented as Sinn Fein supporters, for Sinn Fein had nothing to do with the Rising. And they would be really bewildered to find that in the Sinn Fein version of the Rebellion, gun-toting women are to the fore.
Today's Shinners are big on gender-consciousness so although the seven signatories were all men, armed women in uniform liberally decorate their propaganda. Constance Markievicz, whose main contribution to the Rising was to shoot an unarmed policeman, is pictured in one of their posters beside Patrick Pearse. In fairness, there's an authentic note in that they are looking in opposite directions, for Pearse was notoriously shy with women, but trying to annex Markievicz is rather dodgy, since she died a Fianna Fail TD.
It would have been more appropriate to show her with Connolly (whom she called "my Hero-love"), who gave women equal status in the Irish Citizen Army, but Pearse is their main poster boy. Hence their fury that RTE's Rebellion has a scene in the GPO in which Pearse tells a bellicose woman to go to the kitchen. Well, unfortunately, that's accurate, for there, women were confined to cooking, nursing and message-running duties. Oh, and helping Pearse to pin miraculous medals on the men.
"Whoever wrote Rebellion shudda read Pearse's writings," tweeted Gerry Adams. Actually, I suspect Colm Teevan did, and noted that though in principle he was in favour of them participating in public life, those he praised eloquently were always supporting and suffering. Not, of course, that Sinn Fein is ignoring Connolly. He featured in Adams's speech to the recent 1916 commemorative event in the Mansion House (at which Connolly's great-grandson made a speech in which he demanded the preservation of Moore Street). "What would [Connolly] say about a Labour Party in government which is responsible for children and elderly people being left on hospital trolleys for days with no dignity or respect, including some who were born before the 1916 Rising. My guess is that he would say it's time to put Labour and their cronies in Fine Gael out of office."
I'm sure he would, since he was a revolutionary Marxist who had instructed his men that "In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty". We'll never know which of the seven would have been shot first had the Rising succeeded.
Martin Ferris TD, one-time arms importer, was banging the Connolly drum on Banna Strand a few days later, commemorating the doomed attempt to land weapons provided by what the Proclamation calls our "gallant allies": it's presumably because Germany is less popular with militant republicans now than during the two world wars that he didn't mention it.
Ferris wants us to fight for Connolly's socialist Republic and "rededicate ourselves to the goals of Wolfe Tone and James Connolly, Austin Stack and Roger Casement, and Constance Markievicz, Bobby Sands and Mairead Farrell." We're still to be bossed about by "the dead generations" in the Proclamation, now augmented by Sinn Fein nominees.
What concerns me more is that Adams condemns his electoral rivals as partitionist, and is quoting Patrick Pearse telling the court that condemned him that "If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed." That's a great gift to the dissidents, who despise constitutional politics just as much as did the seven.
Ruth Dudley Edwards's The Seven: the Lives and Legacies of the Founding Fathers of the Irish Republic will be published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.