So, this past week a hundred years ago saw what we call the “Curragh Incident” or “Mutiny” if you want to be just a little bit more inflammatory (and I do).
I’m not sure how you really do some proper remembrance for such a thing, in this country anyway. Nobody died. Such a negative incident is hardly going to justify a big memorial, not to mention its uniquely British characteristics – the nationalist community and their leaders were barely involved after all. It was a dispute between the British government at its highest levels and select military officers serving in Ireland, with the Unionist movement peeking in from the side.
So, I suppose you do your conferences, you include it in documentaries, you write about its effect on how nationalists perceived both the government and the army just before World War One. But beyond all that, you can’t get away from the feeling of detachment towards the entire thing, reflected in the limited efforts by the Irish state to mark its centenary. On its own merits, it’s a spectacular scandal, high ranking members of the military orchestrating a refusal to follow government orders, something that may not fit the exact legal definition of “mutiny” at the time but which common sense can only judge as such. It’s very interesting in that regard. I can easily imagine a scenario where, so ordered, the British Army followed its orders and moved to a fuller mobilisation in Ulster, but a very small amount of people in uniform manipulated events and meetings so this would not be the case. That’s worthy of discussion.
But in this country, today? The Curragh Mutiny is a brief and bizarre pitstop on the road to gun running’s and World War One. I don’t really envision it becoming anything more than that. If we want the real connection, we have to look on how those people wavering on the edge of potentially supporting an armed uprising in the future would have seen it – little less than a hammer blow to the idea that the British authorities were interested in really protecting them. And if they weren’t going to do it…
I’m not saying that the Mutiny was a direct precursor of the Easter Rising of course, but just another element in the cause of the effect. What nationalist in late March of 1914 could honestly say that he/she was certain there would never be need for a fight over Home Rule? And such thinking can lead very easily to other aspirations, once you have the gun in your hands. As with so many things from that time period, the British authorities were so concerned with what the Unionists would think and how they would react, that they didn’t have enough care for the rest of Ireland, the true beginning of a blindspot that would remain a hidden weakness to their position all the way up to the taking of the GPO.
But then you’re already moving on to other things I suppose. I don’t live too far from the military camp at the Curragh, and actually worked there (as a civilian) for a time. It has a small but very wonderfully put together museum, which is well worth the time it would take to get there and see it. But it reduces the Mutiny that took place there to a minor role, as it is destined to be placed everywhere in Irish remembrance. It is for the British perhaps, to do the greater legwork in fostering greater knowledge of this crisis in civil-military relations, since it was their crisis. A nationalist crisis (dare I say, “our” crisis?) in their military forces – the Volunteers – would come soon enough.