Friday, August 10, 2012

A Thirty-Two County Republic

Look at the phrase I used to head this post. The chances are, if you're Irish, you will have imagined a Northern Irish accent pronouncing those words as soon as you read them. Because nobody South of the Irish border ever seems to talk about a united Ireland. Ever. And yet it is supposedly a national aspiration.

We hear lots of complaints that the Irish only pay lip service to the revival of the Irish language. But we do at least pay it lip service. Ordinary people talk about it in the course of ordinary life. Sometimes, at least.

But, when it comes to the reunification of Ireland, this is simply not the case.

I'm no different. I never think about the North. I think a lot about the preservation of Ireland's nationhood and distinctive culture. I might think about that twenty times a day-- whether it's because I hear someone use a distinctively Irish turn of phrase, or because I notice a a Bed and Breakfast has a name like Iona or Errigal, or because I hear an Irish folk song being played in a newsagent's, or because I find myself looking at a Dublin street sign and comparing the anglicised name to the Gaelic name written underneath, or through a hundred other prompts.

But as for regaining the "national territory" (and even that phrase sounds antiquated)-- never.

Not only do I not feel a burning zeal for a united Ireland, but I sometimes wonder about the thought processes of those who do. If they live south of the border, they are nearly always either liberal-left (Sinn Féin) or even radical left (apparently the Communist Party of Ireland is intensely nationalistic-- and I once worked with a woman who was an ardent republican, an ardent communist, and a strident atheist).

These are the kind of people who take a withering view of sentimental nationalism, who would be first to laugh at the "plastic Paddy" conceptions of Ireland often attributed to romantic Americans rediscovering their roots. Apart from their socialistic castles in the air, which nobody really takes seriously, they seem to have no special vision for Ireland other than "Brits Out", the revival of the language, and perhaps a support for the Gaelic Athletic Association. They are usually hostile to religion and especially the Catholic Church. They want to make Ireland a modern, progressive country-- and (to me) the most obvious thing about a modern, progressive country is that it is barely distinguishable from every other modern, progressive country-- and the things that do distinguish it are historical legacies. Has modernity contributed anything to national uniqueness anywhere? Perhaps in America, with NASCAR and drive-in movies and baseball and hot dogs and Mormonism. But what about elsewhere?

So, if the tricolour flew over all thirty-two counties of Ireland-- what would these purely political separatists feel had been achieved? Do they really consider themselves the heirs of Pearse and Davis and O'Connell?

Sometimes I feel guilty for my lack of interest in a united Ireland. Nietzsche said that blood was the worst of all arguments, and he had a point, but the fact is that many of my forefathers shed blood for the goal of "old Ireland free". And my own family tree is full of men and women who held this as the closest aspiration to their hearts, who even devoted their lives to it. It seems brutal and heartless to simply discard such an ideal.

All I can plead is that the Ireland to which today's Sinn Féin aspires is so utterly different from "the Ireland that we dreamed of", that I am truer to the ancestral cause than they are.


  1. I believe that the recent Yes vote on Same Sex Marriage disproves the old Loyalist war cry that a United Ireland would be ran by Rome.

    Even After The Irish Catholic Bishops came out and asked the faithful for a NO vote. The Catholic Majority said all Irish people are equal and it is not up to the state or the church to say who can or can not be married.

    The recent Yes in the Referendum is a step for Nationalism.

    Don Maloney

  2. A fair point, Don, but that's only one sort of nationalism. It's not the nationalism I subscribe to.

    Incidentally, the Bishops were not at all vocal about a 'No' vote-- not as vocal as they should have been, in my view.