So, this video did the rounds a bit a while ago.
It depicts Tom D’Arcy, a “spokesman” for Direct Democracy Ireland and People for Economic Justice, speaking after a protest at an auction house in Dublin. In the course of roughly 20 seconds of trying to invoke the spirit of one of the most well-known revolutionaries of the Easter Rising, Mr D’Arcy:
-Mispronounces her name (It’s Mark-ee—eh—vitch, not Mark-a-vitch)
-Mistakes her gender
-Mistakes her date of death (1927, from TB)
-Mistakes some of her motivations for fighting in the Rising (which did not really include a desire to completely end taxation in all its forms).
Now, I know that some people aren’t that great at public speaking. They can freeze up or say the wrong thing, especially in the heat of the moment. I can only imagine how mortified Tom D’Arcy was when/if he watched back some of things he was recorded saying for broadcast on national television. And I know RTE were only too happy to give it that broadcast time.
But this little incident demonstrates some of the pitfalls of name-dropping historical personalities when trying to make some kind of political point in the contemporary world, and that ties into revolutionary remembrance.
I don’t like it when any politician, or group, uses the past in such a manner. Constance Markievicz was a very remarkable figure in her day and age, but we haven’t the slightest idea how someone like her would be seen if they were around today, or how they would have got on in a government facing the challenges like those that face the 31st Dail.
But more than just being a mistake for those reasons, using the names of people like Markievicz in this manner is simply disrespectful, to their memories and to the causes they fought for. It is simply too presumptuous. We would do well to separate our modern world and modern political problems from those of a century ago.
And the last point of course, is that using names and personalities like this, as Tom D’Arcy found out, carries with it a rather dangerous risk of humiliation. Knowledge of our past, especially the revolutionary period, is often simplified to an unsatisfactory extent, with not enough done in our schools and in or media to really portray those years as the complex and multi-layered thing that they really were.
As a result, you get a political spokesman claiming Constance Markievicz was a man, and that she died in 1916. The first is simple stupidity, but the second stupidly simple: a comforting piece of fantasy, that turns actual people into mythical heroes who all die for their beliefs, and who probably wouldn’t mind being misappropriated by the DDI or People for Economic Justice.
I mean, we could talk about Markievicz’ actual role in the Easter Rising fighting, her part in the organisation of Cumann na Mban, her contributions to the Treaty Debates, her service during the Battle of Dublin, her post-war life and her view of the state that came from the period. Those would be good things to talk about, and I hope I get the chance to do so.
But that effort can only be damaged by the stuff men like Tom D’Arcy spout.