An Phoblacht

Irish establishment recruits for British Army

BY Mícheál MacDonnacha

EARLIER this month, a quite shameful ceremony took place in a cemetery in Westport, County Mayo, when the Fianna Fáil Minister for Defence, Michael Smith, and the British Ambassador, Stewart Eldon, presided over a commemoration for a Mayo-born British soldier who won a Victoria Cross during the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857.

The events of 1857 were, of course, much more than a mutiny by the Indian members of the British Army. It was essentially the first phase in the long struggle for Indian independence. It was suppressed with the utmost brutality. One of the favoured British methods of dealing with the 'mutineers' was to tie them to the mouths of cannons and blow them to pieces. All of this was glossed over by the Minister, the British ambassador, the 26-County military officers and the pathetic clowns known as 're-enactors' who donned red coats and paraded under the Union Jack.

Minister Smith equated Cornelius Coughlan VC with those who fought in the Black and Tan War, the Civil War and Lance Corporal Malone from Ballyfermot in Dublin, who was killed last year in Iraq as a member of the British Army of occupation. The British ambassador must have been amazed that a Fianna Fáil Minister could so degrade his country and its history. But, then again, maybe not.

Many in the Irish establishment have grasped the opportunity of the Peace Process not to open a new phase in Anglo-Irish relations based on mutual respect but to revert to the posture of West British toadying, to which the privileged classes in Ireland were always so prone. And if the glorification of Coughlan and Malone leads more working-class Irish youths to join the British Army, that does not worry the likes of Smith. That this same British Army still occupies part of Ireland worries them even less.

Writing in the Sunday Business Post on 15 August, Tom McGurk dealt comprehensively with the shame of the Mayo commemoration itself so I won't cover the same ground. Instead, I would like, in the pages of An Phoblacht, to commemorate others, not on the basis that they happened to be Irish and are therefore worthy of commemoration no matter what cause they served. I think it is time we commemorated some English and Scottish people because of the cause they served — that is, opposition to imperialist wars.

First, let's remember the Levellers. They were English soldiers in Cromwell's army. Sick of his tyranny, they refused to come to Ireland to fight in his savage war of conquest. In May 1649, three of them — Thompson, Perkins and Church — were shot dead in Burford Churchyard for refusing to obey orders. They were real friends of Ireland.

Throughout history, progressive people in England have linked their opposition to imperialism and war to their support for Irish liberty. In 1831, an anonymous scribe penned these lines in a satirical poem called The Tory Profession of Faith;

I believe that the poor should be slaves of the rich

I believe that the Irish should die in a ditch

I believe that the East should be ruled by the sword

I believe it was made but to profit the Board.

(India 1831 - Iraq 2004?)

Scottish socialist John Maclean suffered five terms of imprisonment because of his opposition to the Great War. He wrote a pamphlet in support of Ireland during the Tan war entitled The Irish Tragedy — Scotland's Disgrace, in which he said: "To any right-thinking person, Britain's retention of Ireland is the world's most startling instance of 'dictatorship by terrorists'." His health destroyed in prison, Maclean died aged 44 in 1923.

Finally, from the same period, we should recall the socialist writer and activist Richard Fox, better known as RM Fox. A Londoner, he was one of the many English opponents of imperialist war jailed during 1914-'18. He was also a great friend of Ireland and married a republican woman from Dublin, Patricia Lynch. He was a biographer of James Connolly and described his own life in his book, Smoky Crusade. Watching the release of the republican prisoners from Arbour Hill in 1932, Fox wrote:

"As I stood by the prison railings and watched these men come out, it seemed as if there emerged a ghostly procession of prisoners who through the ages had suffered not for any special privileges for themselves, but to extend the bounds of freedom for humanity. I thought of the Suffrage prisoners, of the anti-War prisoners, as well as of these prisoners for National freedom."

There are some in Ireland today who choose to cover up the crimes of the British government and pretend that British soldiers are worthy of commemoration equal to — or better — than Irish revolutionaries. They try to mask the reality that those who died — and still die — in the ranks of the imperialist British Army, whatever their nationality, were and are either dupes, economic conscripts or mercenaries. There have always been English people who recognised this. People like RM Fox, who wrote the following in Brixton Prison:

"It's the centre of the Empire where the sun can never set,

But the alleys where it never shines are with us even yet.

For it is England! England! England! That the purse-proud rulers cry,

While the luckless, landless labourers go marching off to die.

For the lying politicians and the profiteering knaves,

Still rule the lives of Britons though Britannia rules the waves.

And the England that they boast of is a kingdom full of slaves

Where they reap the golden harvest while the soldiers fill the graves."

- England by RM Fox, Brixton Prison, 1918.

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