Friday 15 December 2017

How true patriots kept free speech alive in Ireland

Revisionists are patriots who care about truth and have learned to stand tall and proud

Conor Cruise O’Brien. Photo: Tony Gavin
Conor Cruise O’Brien. Photo: Tony Gavin
Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ruth Dudley Edwards

Since the recent symposium in Trinity in honour of Conor Cruise O'Brien, I've been thinking about his role as what nowadays is called a "public intellectual". He was - as Frank Callanan described him in this newspaper after his death in 2008 - "this most brilliant" of the sons of modern Ireland, to which he had "rendered signal service".

Conor lived for Ireland and tried to dissuade people from killing and dying for a stupid vision of it. Perhaps his greatest contribution in a life of pugnacious intellectual debate at home and abroad was to help liberate generations from the rigid Irish nationalist corset.

I've been classed as a revisionist since before I understood what the word meant. In pre-Google days, seeing myself so described by a critic of my 1977 honest biography of Patrick Pearse, I asked my historian father what this meant. He explained that it was someone who challenged received opinion and was a term of abuse used by people with closed minds and not to worry about it. Professor of modern Irish history in University College Dublin, Robert Dudley Edwards was the product of a union between an open-minded gentle English socialist and Methodist-turned-ethicist (that's how his father described himself in the 1911 census) and a ferociously dogmatic Co Clare suffragist-turned-republican (who would later embrace fascism).

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