Archive for January 26th, 2003
I came in to work to upload last night’s writing, to find the Internet in the throes of a major “worm” attack. This one affects systems running Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000 software, which can be hijacked through a known security hole. The hole was fixed six months ago, but the patch has clearly not been applied worldwide. It’s possible that the people behind the worm didn’t see the opportunity until the problem was publicized – there’s a lesson in there somewhere, though I have no idea what it is. Things have calmed down somewhat, since I can get through to post this, but I still see some odd browsing failures.
The RTÉ is again showing the film Bloody Sunday, about the shooting of unarmed protestors in Derry / Londonderry* in January 1972. This award-winning film claims to show the true events of the day, and was positively reviewed here in Ireland, but it’s hardly been noticed elsewhere. The RTÉ also showed it on its release a few months ago, but clearly couldn’t wait to do it again. It shows the British authorities in a poor light, naturally; this version of events claims to show the commanding officer ordering his troops to retaliate severely if attacked in any way. Is this correct, and if so, so what?
I don’t claim to know what really happened; my point is that I probably never will know, now. This government-funded movie version will become the official history, here in Ireland, much as Shakespeare’s plays have to the general public. Outside Ireland, few people care anyway. The truth is almost irrelevant now, after over thirty years “Bloody Sunday” has become a cliché and a U2 hit.
Is it safe for me to criticize Irish popular culture in this way? Though Ireland doesn’t have an official “free speech” policy, there seems to be one in practice, and only bigots have a problem with that. Looking at the history, though…
* The way you refer to Derry / Londonderry marks you down as either Catholic Republican or Protestant Unionist respectively, and there was a time when using the wrong version in the wrong company could get you killed. Some half-seriously refer to it as “Stroke City”, playing on the physical reaction you may experience if asked your opinion. Here in Ireland, the RTÉ likes to give weather forecasts etc. as if there was no border, so you can guess which version they use. The dual naming reflects the city’s status as a pawn in religious battles dating back to the 6th century, when the Catholic monastery was repeatedly wrecked by Vikings. A millennium later, Derry was captured by the Protestant King James I and given to the citizens of London, prompting the change of name and a large settlement of Protestants. It’s not surprising that it’s been a focal point of terrorist activity in the last century. People have long memories, don’t they?
Since I moved to Ireland just over three years ago, I’ve had to learn some Irish history. OK, perhaps I didn’t have to, but this appears to be part of the way I do things – the background information helps when conversation takes an unexpected turn. I did the same, about Islam, when I became friends with a Muslim family in England a few years ago.
Last week saw the completion of the Dublin Spire, which is becoming known locally as the “Stump in the Dump” or the “Stiletto in the Ghetto”, thus joining other Dublin statues such as the “Hags with the Bags” (The Shoppers), the “Tart with the Cart” (Molly Malone), and the “Prick with the Stick” (James Joyce). The “Floozy in the Jacuzzi” is no more, having been removed as part of the O’Connell St. renovation, of which the “Stiletto” is part.
Anyway, the “Spire” is outside the Dublin General Post Office (GPO), which was the main rebel outpost during the 1916 “Easter Rising”, after which the defeated rebel leaders were executed by the evil English overlords. I had to look this up, out of curiosity, after an evening listening to Irish folk songs in a pub, with half the songs referring to those brave martyrs of the GPO.
I wrote a little about this last week in response to a question on a bulletin board, read by mostly American and English people. Their reaction? Didn’t want to know, and I can’t blame them – compared to England and Scotland, Ireland has not much history to speak of, and far too much is made here of the little it has. Even American or South African history can be more interesting to read, and more educational too; despite the relative youth of those countries, they at least had a frontier spirit and big ideas, and didn’t spend centuries mired in smouldering religious prejudice.
The way I see it, the main reason to study history at all is to learn from the mistakes made in the past; a look at Irish history, especially the last century, shows the same mistakes made over and over again. It seems to me that this can be attributed to the insular attitude I see here every day; so much of Irish history could be different, had people heeded the lessons of history learned elsewhere.
During the Victorian and Colonial eras (c. 1830 – 1940), we see the same basic pattern repeated again and again: if a country was part of the British Empire, you would find some (never all) of its native people trying to throw off the “colonial yoke” with varying degrees of success. This would usually involve some form of half-baked armed uprising, sometimes so poorly-planned that London hardly noticed. If it did, however, the British Army would come down on the rebels like a ton of bricks, crushing the rebellion by any means necessary. London would only negotiate from a position of strength, but could be surprisingly accommodating when that was the case.
This is what happened in Ireland (1916-1924), and they clearly hadn’t taken note of what happened in South Africa (1899-1910); the 1899-1902 Boer War saw the first large-scale use of concentration camps, and while Winston Churchill was making a nuisance of himself, he also took home some useful ideas, such as guerrilla warfare and the Commandos. South Africa then gained self-governing dominion status in 1910, as Canada has now, less than a decade later. Did Ireland need to go through all that? After eight years of civil strife, it got its independence in 1924, but at the cost of losing the Ulster provinces to Britain, because of their Protestant population.
Other examples are Burma (1885-1890), but an exception to the pattern was India; because there was no significant armed uprising, the non-violent protests by Gandhi were more effective in getting the British to the negotiating table, leading to improvements in conditions long before the tumultuous formation of India and Pakistan in 1947. Then the trouble really started, with internal migrations leading to the deaths of a million people within weeks, and sporadic internal uprisings and skirmishes between the new countries ever since.