Don’t mention the war
Here’s the text of Brian Cowen’s speech entitled “A Decade of Commemorations — Commemorating Our Shared History” to the Institute for British Irish Studies at UCD today. There are various points to make. One is that these speeches — and this is not Cowen’s fault — have adopted a psychobabble language since they are written from a fear of giving offence or stirring up tortuous history. Hence references to “space”. However this wariness removes any scope for historical depth. For example, he begins by acknowledging the “historic” Tory-Lib Dem coalition government. But it’s too risky to note that a previous Tory-Liberal coalition was in power during the critical period which he is discussing — 1912-22 — and one could argue that that one didn’t work out so well for Ireland.
But leave that aside.
The theme of the speech was that we in Ireland now have the “space” to take a comprehensive view of the events of one hundred years ago and that this will make the commemorations a more worthy enterprise than they otherwise would have been –
In fact, there is so much to look forward to if we are prepared to seize the future. We can banish that “giant albatross” of history from around our necks and replace it with a garland of hope for our better future. I am greatly encouraged by the conversation that has already begun – across the entire island of Ireland. It is a conversation which can deepen the process of reconciliation and help us to write another proud chapter in our history.
One thing is missing. The Irish Civil War. You can read that speech 10 times and see perhaps one oblique reference to it. Yet to try and tell a history of Ireland for this period without discussing this war would be nonsensical. But the official position seems to be that our vaunted “space” and “conversation” about early 20th century Irish history still has its limits.