Tuesday 25 June 2019

Kevin Myers: The nihilists can only propel us back to the worst bits of the past, never the best things

Kevin Myers

It is utterly ludicrous that the first state visit by a British monarch to independent Ireland should only be taking place next month. The two polities each have a land border with just a single foreign state -- one another.

Yet instead of the natural exchange of pleasantries over a garden fence, over the decades we have behaved like Hatfields and McCoys, with suspicion, rancour, hatred and often a studied and deliberate misunderstanding.

This malicious incomprehension has been made easier by a British habit of remembering absolutely nothing, and an Irish memory that revels in the lore of injustice. Instead of balm and suasion, blood and steel did the talking.

But this is mad. Our kitchen shelves stock the same foods, our radios play pretty much the same music, our TVs show the same soaps, our young people follow the same Premier League soccer teams and our high streets are virtually identical. So too are our city centres at midnight: drunken louts and their molls urinating in public, and felling any strangers who look askance at them.

Islandbridge, which is on the queen's itinerary, has a central role in all this. For one decisive difference between the two islands is that Ireland has created a historical narrative based on victimhood, expressed in a unique ceremonial and monument terrorism. In the 1950s, two IRA men blew themselves up instead of their target, the Great War Memorial in Cork. At Edentubber, more IRA men were killed by their bomb on their way to attack a Remembrance Sunday service. In 1963, raiders attacked the British Legion offices in Dublin, savagely beat Detective Garda Sean O'Connell on guard duty, and stole all the wreaths intended for Islandbridge the next day: a most telling blow for Ireland.

In 1966, Nelson's Pillar was destroyed in Dublin, permanently changing the city for the worse. In 1968, the Government even invited the Belgian king to lay a wreath for Irish Volunteers who had been executed after siding with Imperial Germany ("our gallant allies") during its occupation of his country, but not to lay a wreath at the war memorial at Islandbridge for the tens of thousands of Irishmen who had died defending Belgium.

The official Office of Public Works (OPW) history of the Islandbridge War Memorial Gardens records that they had drifted into neglect throughout the 1960s. This is totally untrue. The OPW maintained the gardens throughout this time, and each Remem-brance Sunday up to 1970, there was a British Legion parade to the gardens. In 1971, following the start of the IRA campaign, and the introduction of internment without trial, the legion suspended the parade.

As the IRA bombing campaign in the North intensified, the OPW withdrew its gardeners, almost in an act of passive solidarity. Travellers were allowed to move their caravans and horses on to the parkland, and Dublin Corporation actually turned half of the gardens into an official tiphead. When I first visited the gardens in 1979, I was quite astounded; this was the only memorial to all those Irishmen who had died following the bidding of their political leaders. And yet Ireland remembered them with a rubbish dump.

Over the coming decade, the gardens were restored, and I cannot entirely acquit myself of any responsibility for that achievement, though naturally, the OPW -- the culprit in the first place -- praises only its own role in this. However, the Fianna Fail Government of Charles Haughey declined to be represented at the formal opening of the gardens in 1988, less than a year after the IRA's Enniskillen Remembrance Sunday massacre.

We all know now that good can be more easily undone than repaired. Any brat with a hammer can smash a Ming vase: therefore, why do we ever allow children anywhere near the chinaware? So whatever unpleasant things might happen during the royal visit here -- and, obviously, I hope there are none -- the lunatics with their hammers cannot ever again be seen to triumph.

The nihilists can only propel us back to the worst bits of the past, never the best things, which almost no one remembers. But believe me, we have achieved "permanent and lasting peace" before -- in 1911, when Home Rule was certain and King Edward visited, or in 1966, when Casement's remains were returned to Ireland, the two Irish prime ministers met for the first time, and a free trade agreement was signed with Britain. All was well for ever! To be followed by war.

The Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 should have put relationships between the two islands on a permanently benign footing -- and would have, had nationalist Ireland had the courage to close down the IRA. But it didn't: instead, the terrorist tail was allowed to wag the dog, yet again. It really is time that we, as a people, decided upon the pace and the nature of the developing relationships between Britain and Ireland. It is simple. We must resolve that no matter how often the vase is broken, WE WILL MEND IT, AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN, as long as necessary. And as for that unruly child with the hammer, well, if he persists, he and his hammer really will know their place: in the cellar.

Irish Independent

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