There was no sex in Ireland before Synge
As promised yesterday, we want to note some of the surprisingly more nuanced columns on the IRA cessation. They were in what was clearly designated as the Irish issue of the Daily Telegraph, on Saturday, with the opinion page occupied by Kevin Myers and Mary Kenny. Which is already a story. We had gone to the Sunday Telegraph in expectation of seeing Myers' column there and it wasn't. So then we dropped by Mike Power's excellent paper round where he was quoting what sounded like a Sunday Myers column, except that when we followed the link it was (a) Saturday's Telegraph and (b) Myers was described as a "columnist for the Irish Times."
So what had happened to his regular pay cheque from Canary Wharf? On then to Free Stater who had the vital news that Myers got canned by Sunday Telegraph. This was not the outcome we expected when we noted Sarah Sands stated direction for the paper when she took over as editor a few months ago:
we are pro-history, pro-blockbuster art exhibitions, pro-Jane Austen, pro-Beethoven, pro-wild life, pro-sport and pro-Doctor Who. I haven’t yet firmly established our position on Cold Play
Surely Myers fits into at least two of those categories, although we don't know if he ended up coming down on the wrong side on Cold Play. (Freestater reports that he might have been associated with the wrong MI number, but now we're thoroughly meandering away from our original topic). Anyway, a perhaps chastened Myers managed to capture what much of the post-cessation punditry did not, namely the extent to which the IRA's self-identity is linked to the twin pillars of the 1916 Rising and the failure to protect Catholic areas of Northern Ireland in 1969:
Today's Provisional IRA leaders remain as armed successors to the republicans of 1916. Thus they cannot totally decommission their weaponry, nor can they leave nationalist areas in Northern Ireland "undefended", and if they tried to, the IRA would simply split, as it did in 1970.
Now, one reason for the relative optimism that this cessation might stick is that lessons have been learned from 1969 and the security forces are unlikely to be collusive partners in extremist sectarian attacks. In fact, as noted by the New York Times, the successors of the loyalist groups who caused such havoc in the 1960s are now preoccupied with attacking each other. Given a de facto police policy of preventing sectarian attacks but a hands-off approach to "internal" vigilante operations, we have bizarre situations such as noted on Slugger O'Toole last week, whereby one branch of the Loyalist Volunteer Force has Catholic members [the likely explanation being that local Catholic residents are concerned about drug crime but the local IRA members are unable or unwilling to take action, whereas the LVF have some baseball bats handy].
But Myers is merely the appetiser for a fascinating Mary Kenny column. It's not easy to explain the Mary phenomenon to readers not familiar with her [it's not a bad start to think, in terms of popular impact, of a 1960s version of Sinead O'Connor]. We spent a bit of time searching, unsuccessfully, for Google confirmation that Mary was on the famous "Condom Train" trip return trip from Dublin to Belfast -- the ingenious late 1960s PR stunt to dramatise the Republic's ludicrous contraception laws by announcing their intention to return from heathen Belfast with the Devil's work. Unfortunately that was a time when we were too young to pay attention to the news, but we're fairly sure that Mary was present as the contraband was seized.
She then embarked on the now somewhat familiar ark of young radical to older conservative leading to her present perch in the Telegraph. And it's the latter aspect of her character that wants to find something admirable in the Provos:
... there are other aspects of the Irish Republican culture which are decent, and which have been occluded by the gun's shadow. Cultures are resilient: what is embedded in them remains and can be revived, and there is much in the original Sinn Fein programme that is worthy of respect ... The movement attracted many women because, besides its aspiration for an "Irish Ireland", it also emphasised education, literature, equality, bicycling, health campaigns (notably against TB), and most significantly, sobriety. One of Sinn Féin's first slogans was "Ireland Sober is Ireland Free!" and one of its first forays into public life was to voice objections, in 1907, to Synge's drama, The Playboy of the Western World on the grounds that it was lowering to the national self-esteem to portray Irish peasants as drunks and patricides, when, with Sinn Féin's help, they were upwardly striving and temperate.
Now Mary is sufficiently sharp to see one problem with this analysis (besides the implication that she might agree on the Shinners on the merits of Synge): its obvious resemblance to the successful sales pitch of radical Islamists to disillusioned Western youth via a life of purity:
Patriotic ideals could develop into fanaticism and demented self-sacrifice (something mirrored in the Islamic world today) as when young men threw themselves into the doomed and deplorable - anti-Partition campaigns of the 1950s, bleeding to death in some lonely Fermanagh cottage after an abortive explosives attempt.
Our regular readers will know that we are dubious about attempts to slot the IRA into the GSAVE on geopolitical grounds, but on the psychology, she has a point. The IRA had an ability to confer a nobility on ignoble deaths, and hypotheses about the uniqueness of Islamist terrorism might want to take that on board before running too far with it.
Mary closes with what could be interpreted as a what hath she wrought indictment of the present-day Republic-in-name-only:
The Republican movement's long association with literature and education is an admirable value in a world where cultural tripe holds dominion, and literacy has been falling. And in a prosperous Ireland where dinner-table talk is so often about the fabulous prices paid for wine, art or designer frocks or whether to invest in real estate in France, Spain or Bulgaria, a cultural movement with something of the ascetic might even be refreshing. True, men of the gun don't easily put away guns, and we mustn't be naïve: but the IRA also draws on roots that can be positive, and can be turned, by men and women wise enough to rediscover them, towards the rebuilding of a nation.
Which sounds like the stump speech of a Sinn Fein candidate for Dublin South East in 2007. Stranger things have happened.