The Kilmichael Fiasco: Commemorating Imperialism

Today we carry a piece written by Kerron Ó Luain from Dublin.

kilmichaelDuring the course of the summer a controversial proposal to commemorate British forces in the form of the Auxiliaries at the site of the famous IRA ambush at Kilmichael during the Tan War came into the public domain. The Auxiliaries were infamous for their extreme violence, especially reprisals, and were more feared even than the more widely known ‘Black and Tans’. The application for Planning Permission which had been made several times in both April and May stated that its aim was “preserving and enhancing the area around Kilmichael Ambush Site to include alterations to the existing monument, provision of walkways, information signs, amenity areas and provision of a lay-by for parking, upgrading of existing access track and associated landscaping works”.

The application was made by a joint committee of the Kilmichael/Crossbarry Commemoration Committee and the relatively recently formed Kilmichael Historical Society. And at first glance all seems quite innocent. But the file, which is available for viewing either via the Cork County Council website or at the Planning Department, Norton House, Skibbereen reveals the sinister intentions of the applicants.

crossley tenderThe devil is in the detail as always. When the plans and drawings for the application are accessed the addition of a Crossley Tender as well as the listing of the names of the deceased Auxiliary forces can clearly be seen. The Crossley Tender was a motorcar used by the Auxiliaries in their campaign of violence during that period, essentially making them more mobile and effective in their mission to terrorise the native population into submission. Years later civilians who survived the wrath of the Auxiliaries in places like Cork recounted how the sound of the engines of these vehicles would strike fear into them as they heard them approaching down country lanes and roads.

Bizarrely the spokesperson for the joint committee denies the proposals which mention the Auxiliary forces names and a model of the Crossley Tender ever existed. This is despite the clear evidence being available upon request to the public in the original application for planning permission made in April and May of 2013. A Grant of Permission was issued by the Council on August 15 and the Final Grant issued on August 20. At the time of writing the Planning Permission has been granted. The period for objections (5 weeks after the initial lodgement of the application) has long passed. The only legal recourse appears to be to appeal the decision to An Bord Pleanála.

In what context has this situation emerged? Why are there people in Ireland who view the forces of British colonialism and terror with anything but disdain? In this case the Auxiliaries are not only being looked on less disdainfully than they ought to be, but they are being promoted to being on a level par with the IRA volunteers who fought for the fundamental right of a nation to be sovereign and its people free from oppression. Apologists for British imperialism have always existed in Ireland. Such slavish thinkers continued to exist following the political and military withdrawal of the British state from twenty-six of Ireland’s thirty-two counties. But for years they were in the minority and their opinions were muted by a nationalist narrative that, for better or worse, had popular traction.

In reaction to the Provisional IRA campaign from the 1970s onwards moves to do away with what revisionist historians called the ‘nationalist myth’ were made. But these were not borne out of a genuine concern to reach what might be termed a ‘true’ history. They were not borne out of desire for objectivity. These historians were not ideologically neutral, far from it. What motivated them was a reaction, in this case to conflict. Naturally their ideologies were reactionary. They were anti-nationalist, unionist and even in the odd case loyalist. Conor Cruise O’Brien was perhaps the most familiar name from amongst this cabal. More recent revisionists such as Peter Hart have been motivated by careerism and a desire to create controversy and make a name for themselves. Harte attempted to have lies over the ‘false surrender’ involving Tom Barry at Kilmichael portrayed as truth. He claimed Barry and his men had shot the Auxiliaries after their surrender, but it later emerged that the sources (former IRA volunteers) Harte had ‘interviewed’ in Ireland had died years before he even came to the country for the first time.

For decades these historians did not gain a popular audience, although some of what they published became the orthodoxy within academia. It is only since the so-called ‘bedding down’ of the Good Friday Agreement began in earnest that the ideas put forward by a minute clique in the 70s and 80s have now gained currency amongst the wider public as the state and its broadcaster RTÉ pushes the agenda of ‘parity of esteem’ more than ever.

This is not to say that the Dublin Government and the state broadcaster had not been doing this all along, but now with partition copper-fastened (see the visit of Mrs Windsor in 2011 and last month’s invitation by Eamon Gilmore to British royals to attend the 2016 Easter commemoration) and an ever increasing partitionist mentality evident amongst the population of the Twenty-Six Counties there exists no real counter narrative to placing British forces on a level par with IRA Volunteers. The policy of ‘normalisation’ has well and truly set in. When the Six Counties was in turmoil the nationalist narrative presented itself naturally, as the national question was clearly unresolved. Peace must no doubt be welcomed. However in place of a true peace what Terence Mac Swinney the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Tan War called an unprincipled peace has emerged. Our revolutionary history is the first for the chopping block. Indeed plans by the political class to do away with compulsory history for Junior Cert level display clearly the lack of importance they attach to learning about our past.

A people aware of their history, especially their revolutionary history pose a great threat to the prevailing order of the day which continues to force the inhumane and immoral policy of austerity on a population that has already been battered. The rabble should not be roused or get any ideas about opposing such inhumanity. See the sanitised state commemoration of the 1913 Lockout in September for evidence of a government terrified to draw the obvious comparisons. Although living conditions have clearly improved since 1913, the balance of democratic power and wealth inequality is still as bad in 2013 as it was a hundred years previous. The William Martin Murphys of the world still call the shots, as they did during the 2008 bank guarantee.

On August 31, the RIC were commemorated at an ecumenical service in Mount Argus in Dublin with the PSNI present. And a week prior to that in an Irish Times piece dated August 24, Blueshirt lackey Stephen Collins tried to make the argument that now that the Irish who died during the First World War are being commemorated and the UVF have received due recognition, the “final hurdle” to cross is to acknowledge the policemen of the RIC whom he says “guarded the people of this island for almost a century”. It would be amusing if it weren’t so tragic, the tragic part being that Collins probably commands a willing audience for such drivel.

The RIC’s first duty was to suppress rebellion and nationalist sentiment, and its vast network of spies and informers are a testament to that. Indeed the very reason the Irish Constabulary became the Royal Irish Constabulary was due to their work in suppressing the Fenian rising of 1867. The RIC also acted as the enforcers of British land law. The 19th century is littered with examples of the Irish Constabulary and RIC viciously repressing peasants revolts. Time and again the country people who had the cheek to say no more to being ground down with insurmountable rent payments or evicted off their plots by unsympathetic landlords were met with the bayonets and muskets of the RIC. Regardless of its Catholic and Irish membership, who some apologists will say made it a native and therefore friendly force, the RIC was a British colonial militia which acted in the political interests of Westminster and in the social interests of the landlord class. The RIC’s role during the Tan War was no different. The IRA acting in the interests of conservatives such as DeValera assisted them in suppressing some revolutionary activity deemed as Bolshevik, but that’s a story for another day. The RIC clearly stand in stark opposition to anything progressive and should not be commemorated. While the Kilmichael débacle may only appear as an aberration, it is the natural outworking of a wider state policy within the Twenty-Six Counties and one can be certain that elements within other local historical societies harbour similar ideological leanings.

The narrative of being ‘mature’ and ‘grown-up’ closes its grip tighter on Irish society on a yearly basis. But in reality the mentality that commemorates the Auxiliaries displays the exact opposite. It shows that some elements within Irish society still cringe at the fact of an existing historic Irish nation and cringe at the efforts made by many to realise sovereignty for that nation. What could be more immature than grovelling for a former colonial master in rejection of your own separatist history?
The denial of that sovereignty and efforts to brush the demand for it under the carpet are inherently tied up in the maintenance of the economic status quo. As Connolly noted during the visit of King George to Dublin in 1911 “Let the capitalist and landlord class flock to exalt him; he is theirs; in him they see embodied the idea of caste and class”. And so it is today that the Irish ruling-class see embodied in the reality of partition their continued survival. In the political status quo lies their social standing and security. For they know if that reality were ever to change they might be swept away. Within this context their anti-republican stance becomes entirely logical. And it is within this context that the state propaganda machines project the pseudo-philosophy of ‘parity of esteem’ which spurs simple minded delinquents in little history societies to conjure up ideas to commemorate imperialism.

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