Sunday 26 January 2020

Confederate flags transform Rebel Cork into Rabble Cork

By Jim Cogan
By Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Michael Twomey, famous as an actor from Cha and Miah, was more than the sum of his parts but rather a "man of parts". That was Dr Johnson's admiring phrase for a man of many talents but also of moral substance.

Michael and I knew each other through television for more than 50 years but had our first real conversation only a few years ago.

This was my loss because Michael's conversation ranged widely, replete with shrewd observations on literature and life.

The highest praise I can give him is to say he was cut from the same decent Cork cloth as Jack Lynch.

Like Lynch, if he were alive, Michael would have been disgusted to see the Confederate flag waved by Cork supporters.

This prompts me to reflect on Cork's contradictory political traditions. In doing so, I will not be inflating the ego of my native city.

Instead I will be inspired by Miah's Cork bus driver who tells Cha that when he spots a puddle by a bus stop: "I likes to give them a good splash." So do I.

My reflections began as I watched Waterford beat Cork in the crowded drawing room of Myross Woods house during the annual garden fete.

Waterford is many people's second team. But for me, it's more than that.

Born in Cork, but brought straight to Tallow in Waterford, I am always torn when they clash.

But not last Sunday. In a room of roaring Cork supporters I realised I wanted Waterford to win.

My reasons were complex but chief among them my respect for Waterford coach Derek McGrath, who sees the bigger social picture.

McGrath rightly says Waterford needs a massive lift in morale after a decade of dire recession.

But while Waterford is my default home, Cork is my political home.

Thanks to Jack Lynch it is also my touchstone of political decency, by which I mean the courage to take stands against tribalism.

This does not mean giving out about Trump from afar or dumping on the DUP's position on Brexit, the current refuges of columnists who want to curry favour on the cheap.

Political decency calls for the courage shown by my brother, Councillor Joe Harris, the first politician to condemn the Cork louts waving Confederate flags.

Clearly Joe likes to live dangerously. A few weeks ago he called for an end to anti-British bluster.

But in doing so he is rising to a challenge in political ethics. Every country faces its politicians with similar challenges.

In the USA the challenge is where you stand on racism and its symbols - Confederate flag and statues. In Ireland it's where you stand in the struggle between political pluralism and political violence.

The constitutional Cork tradition offers a choice between the pluralism of Jack Lynch and the Hibernian nationalism of Peter Barry - which in the crunch retreats on to Michael Collins.

The rival tradition calls itself Rebel Cork. But I call it Rabble Cork and trace its loutish political lineage back to the Trucileers.

These were the motley crew of opportunists who only joined the IRA after the Truce of July 1921 and targeted Protestants.

Rabble Cork is currently waving the slavers' flag of the Confederacy, a break from singing the Boys of Kilmichael at British tourists in pubs.

Councillor Joe Harris, from the only family in Cork to have three brothers arrested after Easter 1916, has nothing but contempt for Rabble Cork and its Confederate flag.

Where did Rebel Cork pick up its rosy view of the Confederates as fellow romantic rebels? Most likely from Gone With The Wind.

That film is the fount of all the guff about gallantry, mint juleps and magnolia - with never a flogged slave in sight - starting with the opening credits:

"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow."

General Robert E Lee is held up as the epitome of that empty gallantry. But when three of his slaves escaped, he had them stripped, tied to posts and whipped. The men got 50 lashes, 20 for the woman. To add to their agony, Lee had their bloody backs washed with brine.

Like most Confederate monuments, Lee's statue is relatively recent. They were erected from 1900 onwards to reverse the result of the Civil War and put the blacks back in their box.

How can anyone in Ireland reach adult age without hearing the heroic story of the famous Irish regiment, the Fighting 69th, who spilled their blood from Appomattox to Gettysburg to pull down that Confederate flag?

Did they never hear of the Confederate general who watched the 69th renew its relentless assault: "Here comes that damned green flag again"?

Given that level of ignorance, isn't it time to put the teaching of history back in the centre of the curriculum before we turn into a country of clueless political morons?

Luckily, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Tony Fitzgerald, a fine politician in the Jack Lynch tradition, knows his American history. He also took a firm stand against the Confederate flag.

Rightly so. Jack Lynch would have been appalled to see the flag of slavery flying in any GAA ground.

Lord Mayor Fitzgerald also knows his modern Irish history. Last week he laid a wreath at Jack Lynch's grave and said what needs saying at this time.

"When this entire fabric of the State was tested, and noble goals were distorted by recourse to violence, Jack Lynch, leader and statesman, ploughed the furrow of peace."

Lord Mayor Fitzgerald's reminder of Jack Lynch's emphasis on real rather than verbal republicanism could not be more timely.

Right now every kind of nationalist hobby-horse is being groomed on Leinster Lawn.

Fine Gael is failing to challenge wild talk of a united Ireland, while a faction I call Foolish Fianna Fail is stupidly thinking of a coalition with Sinn Fein.

Coalition with Sinn Fein would betray the Lynch tradition and offer a second retrospective victory to the hapless Haughey tradition which ended the electoral hegemony of Fianna Fail.

The Lynch line was a hard line. In 1972, Lynch was bombarded with calls to invade the Bogside and release IRA leader Sean Mac Stiofain under threat of hunger strike.

But Lynch held firm on both counts. Ambassador John Peck, having asked Lynch about a united Ireland, reported back to the Foreign Office that Lynch's reply "amounted to saying he couldn't care less. As far as he [Lynch] was concerned, he wanted peace and justice in the North and close friendship and cooperation with us".

Lynch also laid it on the line in Leinster House in 1972 to the sneaking FF regarders who wanted him to soften on Sean Mac Stiofain.

"The challenge to the institutions of the State is direct, deliberate and unmistakable. The Government have no choice but to meet it."

Lynch had a gentle manner. But on the hurling field or facing down the IRA, he was made of steel.

Fianna Fail better not betray him a second time.

Sunday Independent

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