Wednesday 21 March 2018

Pearse found wanting in Bruton review

John Bruton's was right 
to say that Pearse's ideas have had a damaging effect on the Irish psyche, says John-Paul McCarthy

Patrick Pearse in characteristic side-on pose, pictured with his family
Patrick Pearse in characteristic side-on pose, pictured with his family

John-Paul McCarthy

Former Taoiseach John Bruton let Patrick Pearse and co have both barrels at an event at the Irish Embassy in London this week. In reminding his audience of Pearse's increasingly disordered and manic attitude towards violence, Mr. Bruton also emphasised Pearse's role in the Northern Ireland conflict.

No fair reader of Pearse's own writing in Irish and English could dispute the charge of mania. Those who see the malign hand of what used to be called politically inspired revisionism in the second charge, would do well to dig out Danny Morrison's fascinating pamphlet, The Good Old IRA (1985). Pearse's influence is obvious and pervasive as early as the opening lines of this effort: "The IRA, 16 years into this phase of the struggle, states confidently that it will conclude the national struggle." The grammar here was one of phases, continuity and completion, and it was sufficiently coherent in its own terms to wave away nearly two decades of lectures about the way the northerners had "misinterpreted" the foundational documents of the Republic itself. For all the evasions and cynicism of the Provisional propaganda operation, its interpretation of the revolutionary tradition was never so wildly implausible as to be vulnerable to mere academic admonishment.

Now, regardless of the potency of the Bruton critique, we have to recognise that it is becoming an antique one at this stage. Younger citizens who are struggling to understand all this yearn for a more profound analysis. In order to understand the scale of Pearse's irrelevance to them, it is useful to look ahead rather than backwards. With an eye on the two biggest problems that face us today, let us try to put Pearse through his paces.

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