My bias against McGuinness will be well known to those who read this blog, but I do not think it is unfair to say that of all the candidates in the Presidential election, his supporters are the most vitriolic. Look up any news article on the man, and read the comment sections explode with the more fanatical “Shinners”, aggressively attacking anyone who expresses a negative opinion. It goes beyond “West Brits”, and more into “traitors”.
There is a big disconnect between north and south certainly, and this is just part of it. Northern Sinn Fein is obsessed with partition, and seems to think that everyone in the south should be too. I’ve seen SFers express a sentiment that we should all vote for McGuinness in order to wash away the “guilt” we must be feeling for the split between the six and 26.
Guilt. These people think we feel guilty about something that happened in 1922. Something that, it is hugely debatable, merits any kind of guilt whatsoever.
But, it is the historical stuff that I’ve noticed more, in comment sections, in Twitter, in “real life”. Some elements of the “Shinner” camp share, to be perfectly blunt, a deluded view of elements of Irish history, or they are perpetuating a very large amount of lies in order to further their agenda. I would like to focus on three of these misconceptions.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a holder of an MA degree in Military History and Strategic Study from NUIM, specialising in the Irish Civil War and the wider revolutionary period. That is, I am academically qualified to talk about these matters. That’s not boastfulness, I’m merely stating that I actually know this stuff. Further, so there are no illusions from readers, I have never voted Sinn Fein in my life, and have actively encouraged others not to for numerous reasons.
1. The IRA fought in the Easter Rising.
This is the most bizarre one for me, especially after seeing it all over the place, the belief that the Irish Republican Army fought in the Easter Rising rebellion in 1916.
Firstly, the IRA as we know it today did not come into existence until 1919, with conferences in 1917 retroactively being labelled as “IRA meetings”. That is, the IRA as a recognisable entity did not exist in 1916. This is not up for debate.
Now, the term, “Irish Republican Army” had been in use to describe a few different things for a while, but no organisation of that name took part in the Easter Rising. That rebellion was the work of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army.
Now, I am willing to accept that this view might come from the fact that many veterans of the Easter Rising went on to form part of the IRA. Certainly, this is true and I have seen this fact used as justification for the belief that the IRA fought in the Easter Rising.
But it is still nonsense. The Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army were regular fighting forces, uniformed, organised along traditional lines, that fought their rebellion using traditional military tactics (and were slaughtered for it). The Irish Republican Army was a guerilla force, that operated in tiny numbers, without uniforms, without anything resembling the cohesion of the Easter Risers. That IRA was set up as a different organisation in direct response to the failure of the IV and the ICA.
Continuity of personnel, yes. Continuity of tactics, organisation, appearance, no. The IRA is so different from the two armies that fought in Dublin in 1916, that is impossible to assert that they are the same thing.
2. Sinn Fein was involved in the Easter Rising.
They weren’t, and most people know this. Members of Sinn Fein took part in the Easter Rising, but the organisation itself had no active role. SF were able to take a lot of the credit for the Easter Rising, largely out of the fact that the British forces decided they must have been involved, and because they took full advantage of the nationalist streak that the country suddenly gained because of 1916.
Sinn Fein has appropriated the Easter Rising as something to use politically, when they simply had nothing to do with it. Fianna Fail and others have tried to do the same thing, but several wrongs don’t make a right.
3. The IRA was never defeated.
I’ve seen this one a lot, all over the place, that the Irish Republican Army has never lost to anyone. Its kind of an Irish “stab-in-the-back” myth ala Hitler and the Nazis. The IRA was never beaten, merely backstabbed by those who should have supported it.
My first response is, “Which IRA would that be?” Many forget, for some reason, that there is no single entity called the “IRA”. Which IRA was never defeated? The Original IRA? The Provisional IRA? The Real IRA? The Continuity IRA? Oghlaigh na hEireann?
Anyway, the IRA has been defeated. Leaving aside the more debatable outcome of “the Troubles” and the Irish War of Independence (one day, I may write about a former lecturers quite interesting analysis that the British were the real victors in that conflict), what about the Irish Civil War?
If proponents of the “IRA was never defeated” line are not simply ignoring that conflict, maybe they think that it shouldn’t be counted, as it was an internal struggle.
Well, I disagree with that. The Civil War did come about due to a split in the IRA, true, but it was not a fight between two separate branches of the IRA.
Much like my earlier comment on the differences between the Irish Volunteers/Irish Citizen Army and the IRA, the pro-Treaty IRA and what became the provisional government/Free State forces were vastly different. The latter contained members of the IRA certainly, but its ranks were swelled with people who never took part in the WoI at all or so called “Truceileers”, those who joined the IRA in the Truce period between the two wars. The pro-Treaty side operated as a regular army, uniformed, with an established organisation and hierarchy of a traditional army.
The anti-Treaty IRA, after a failed attempt to do the same, operated as the IRA had done in the WoI, as a un-uniformed guerilla force.
With that, I think that the term “IRA” can only honestly be applied to the anti-Treaty side, and not the pro-Treaty, who stopped referring to themselves by the IRA title around that time anyway.
And the anti-Treaty IRA lost that war. They were militarily beaten, and forced to abandon the cause of fighting in the south. From then on, they focused their efforts in the north. It was not a strategic reset, it was not a change of tactics, they were beaten in the field.
So, some “Shinners” have some serious misconceptions about Irish history. I doubt I’ve done much to really educate them (in my experience, these people simply retreat into their own circle-jerk echo chamber when presented with logic) but maybe I can reach others who legitimately just don’t know.
Feel free to comment. Nasty ones won’t last.