Sunday 25 August 2019

Prince Charles not the only one who needs history lessons

Charles and Camilla
Charles and Camilla
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Charles and Camilla's visit was another small blow against the Anglophobia that continually lurks at the lumpen level of Irish society.

Later, I hope to show why loutish Brit-bashing does no harm to the Brits but does a lot of harm to us.

Like many Irish people, I have a soft spot for the royal couple, backed in my case by three specific reasons.

First, I like the fact that after a rocky start the couple have finally found happiness - a feeling shared by many mature Irish couples.

Second, I agree with Prince Charles's campaign against brutalist modern architecture - like the new modern public library that disfigures Dun Laoghaire.

Yes I know that inside it's a fine library with the finest librarians, but to go in you have to pass the horror of what's outside.

What's outside is a structure similar to the German blockhouses with slits for machine guns that greeted Allied soldiers on the Normandy beaches.

So far I have not used the library as a small protest against this blocky Stalinist blot on Dun Laoghaire's delicate skyline of spires, ships and seascape.

Some day, when we are wealthy enough to do so, I hope it will be demolished and Dun Laoghaire given a lissom library that reflects the sea which it faces.

Lastly, I like Charles because he clearly has a heart and one which he wears on the royal sleeve.

Nicola Anderson noted in the Irish Independent that he spent a long time in the Famine bothan in UCC and came out looking sorrowful.

Good to see a British royal show genuine personal regret for the past.

But not good to wallow in a historical self-pity that blames the Brits for bothans while we still haven't housed our own people.

This cringing is fed by far too many academic historians who specialise in filing crude historical compensation claims that only feed Anglophobia.

Anglophobia does not affect the British because they don't hear it or read it. But it does affect us because it feeds IRA nationalism.

Real history takes things in the round. So if academics rightly remind us that, say, 40pc of Irish people lived in bothans, they should also add that 60pc did not.

The comfortable Catholic bourgeoisie included merchant princes like the Murphys of Cork who were famously excoriated by Fr Mathew for exporting grain during the Famine.

It also includes Paul Cullen, son of a wealthy farmer, sent to Rome to be a priest but who returned in a red hat after the Famine.

Cardinal Cullen carried out a "devotional revolution" which included driving out the remnants of Irish pagan folk culture.

Hence The Irish Times should be ashamed of the Anglophobic headline last week: "Britain made us ashamed of our 'peasant' and 'uncivilised' beliefs."

The headline was on a piece by author Evie Gaughan puffing her novel based on folk tales which I won't be rushing to read.

Gaughan blames Hollywood a bit for us being ashamed of fairy-tales before climbing up on the Brit-bashing bandwagon.

"While America's mistakes may have been benign, Britain's dismissal of Irish culture was unmistakably malignant."

According to Gaughan, "Under British rule, we were made to feel ashamed of our 'peasant' beliefs and 'uncivilised' traditions".

But it was Cardinal Cullen and the English- speaking Catholic clergy who finished off pagan folk ways, not the British.

This kind of Brit-blaming is fed by green Irish academics who use Brian Friel's Translations to peddle a simplistic colonial view of 19th-century Irish history.

As a play, Translations may satisfy critics, but as history it distorts the work of the Ordnance Survey as JH Andrews showed in his essay for the 1992 Irish Review.

Contrary to its portrayal in the Friel play, the Ordnance Survey of early 19th-century Ireland was not a campaign of cultural oppression carried out by colonial soldiers.

It was a complex cultural enterprise of enduring value carried out by a remarkable group of Irish scholars, recruited by an equally remarkable Englishman, Captain Thomas Larcom.

Larcom, assisted by George Petrie, employed a top-class team of eminent Irish-speaking scholars such as John O'Donovan and Eugene O'Curry.

Their task was to create accurate six-inch maps in English and in doing so they made every effort to let the original Irish language placename suffuse the English translation.

This was brought home to me in reading Liam O Muirthile list of placenames in the Bandon Valley which included Both Doire Min.

The Ordnance Survey rendered it as Buddrimeen, not pretty, but an exact phonetic approximation of the three-syllabled sound of the spoken Irish logainm.

Accordingly, anyone who thinks the Brits rather than the bishops beat the little people out of Ireland is away with the fairies.


Last week, I modestly did not make a meal of my speech at Feile an Phobail in 2007. More fool me.

As a result, at least one letter accuses me of hypocrisy for criticising Leo Varadkar going to the Feile, given that I had spoken at it myself in 2007.

But last week I made two things clear. First, I said Leo Varadkar should not have been there at all.

Second, I made it clear that if he had to be there he should have seized the chance to attack the IRA campaign - which I did.

Here is what former republican activist Anthony McIntyre wrote: "(Harris) said his task as a writer was to tell the audience what they did not want to hear. He was true to his word."

McIntyre went on to say: "As much as his opinions prickle me Harris was the reason I went along. I had never attended this particular event before but his presence, and the sheer inability of anyone to defang him, augured well for a clash of perspectives."

Referring to my clash with legendary Provisional IRA gunman Martin Meehan, he goes on: "The former republican prisoner was struck schtum by Harris's rejoinder that he was venting his spleen precisely because he had fought a futile war for 30 years and ultimately had nothing to show for it."

In my view, the only good reason for a Taoiseach to turn up at Feile an Phobail is to act with good authority and challenge the IRA campaign.

That is what I did and what Leo Varadkar should have done. His failure to do so, like his dog whistling at Sinn Fein, is a fatal flaw.


Last week we lost Betty Murphy, wife of John Murphy of the legendary West Cork Hotel on the Ilen Bridge in Skibbereen.

My own memories of Betty go back 40 years when I would glimpse her directing operations in the hot kitchen, cool as a breeze in her beautiful sleeveless floral frocks, which I am told she had specially made.

In recent years, as she grew more frail, I would meet her at Lough Ine, squired by John. She would listen patiently as he took me, in memory, down the main street of Skibbereen nearly a century ago, shop after shop, Catholic and Protestant, so that I can still see them in my mind's eye.

Betty was an O'Driscoll from Union Hall, and like most O'Driscoll women you would stand up to look at her, elegant to the last. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

Sunday Independent

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