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Archive for the ‘ History ’ Category

Opinion: Abortion Debate Highlights Political Impotency of the Younger Generation

File:Abortion protest - Barcelona, Spain (8133579204).jpg

Abortion protest – Barcelona, Spain. Photo: David Berkowitz.

As I left my house to go to work yesterday I found, as I regularly do, junk mail crammed into my letter box. But, unlike the usual menu for takeaways or an estate agent trying to get me to sell my rented house, I found a leaflet for anti-abortion. It was well made with good eye-catching design; even the pictures of its featured politicians were Obama-ised like the famous ‘Change’ posters. I left it where it was and continued on my way. Two minutes down the street I met the man who was handing out the flyers. Now, I work in a place where daily I deal with large numbers of elderly and retired people, so take my word for it when I tell you; he was one of the oldest people I have ever seen. He was walking up driveways at the pace of a snail with a limp, and his liver spots were so numerous they could have been freckles on a ginger child. Never before have I seen the division of opinions between the old and the young so perfectly portrayed. And yet, despite this man’s obvious lack of vitality he was standing up and making an effort to involve himself in an issue he feels very strongly about. The same can definitely not be said of the majority of the young people in my generation.

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Last Chance To See: The Ros Tapestry, Farmleigh, Dublin

Technically, this is not actually the last chance to see the Ros Tapestry, but as the tapestry is only at Farmleigh until 1st April, if you live nearer to Dublin than New Ross (its usual home) then you would do well to visit Farmleigh this weekend. The exhibition at Farmleigh also happens to be free, a welcome bonus in these cash strapped times.

Alongside our recent giant Easter egg hunt, which took in Ashtown and Farmleigh, we took time to pop in to view the Ros Tapestry panels. The panels have been exhibited in Farmleigh Gallery since January, to mark Ireland’s Presidency of the EU. The monumental series of fifteen panels measuring four feet by six is still a work in progress. Twelve panels are finished and the remaining three (including a lively and detailed battle scene) are represented in this exhibition by full sized colour cartoons. Continue reading

Catholic Church Still Sits At The Crossroads

popeThe recent news concerning the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has drawn a wide range of reactions from surprise and dismay to sheer indifference. The main reason the outgoing pope has given is that he no longer has the state of body and mind required for the gruelling work hours as Supreme Pontiff in a world “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith.” Pope Benedict is to resign at the end of the month, leaving the throne of St. Peter vacant and paving the way for the first papal conclave since 2005. Continue reading

Israel Isn’t Perfect, But Palestine Certainly Won’t Be Either

flagsThere is a tendency here in Ireland, amongst some though not all, to instantly criticise Israel in favour of Palestine, an automatic reaction borne from what sometimes appears to be a genetic predisposition to display extreme hatred of anything which appears in the guise of imperialism and the coloniser – real or imaginary. Throughout the Islamic world, Israel is often criticised though this outspoken criticism shouldn’t be mistaken for a genuine concern for Palestine’s inhabitants in each and every case; rather it is worryingly often a manifestation of the hatred of the only free state in a veritable sea of totalitarianism, aside from the severe and sometimes under-estimated hatred the Arab world has for Jews simply because they are Jews. Many of us in the West also feel comfortable criticising Israel from behind our newspapers and computers.  But blindly criticising Israel as a heartless coloniser is a gross misunderstanding of the facts; both historically and in the present day.

Persecution of Palestinians is nothing new. Ten thousand were killed in 1970. 1991 saw a mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. The work of Israel undoubtedly. Yet for some reason media attention was not as completely focused on these events. Why? Because those 10,000 killed in 1970 met their deaths in Jordan while the ethnic cleansing took place in Kuwait. Israel wasn’t involved in either incident and so the coverage was nowhere near the media frenzies we’ve seen over the past few years. When, in 2002, the Israeli army invaded the Jenin refugee camp to root out terrorists the uproar across the world’s media was deafening as they rushed to document each and every perceived excess. Oddly when the Lebanon did the exact same thing in 2007, they received worldwide support while media outlets largely ignored the story following the usual run of first reports.

Why is this the case? Why in Western society is the first reaction always one which is in defence of the Palestinians, regardless of the true facts behind the story? For one thing, Palestinians have hit all of the right buttons in garnering support. The belief has spread that these are rebels fighting the evils of modern imperialism (evil in and of itself though unfortunately not as applicable in this case). People will always rally behind this cry, particularly in those smaller nations across the globe whose history has been dominated by imperialism in one form or another. For another thing, they are fighting against the Jews. The hatred for them that currently exists with such open vehemence in large swathes across the Arab world once existed in a similar state across Europe, which bubbled away for centuries culminating in the unforgettable events in the death camps across the Third Reich. Hitler may be dead and Nazi Germany may be gone but old prejudices die very hard.

Also of importance is the fact that Palestine is fighting a war against a democracy. The issue here lies with the press. In a democracy the press gains access to a far greater degree than in a non-democracy. Seeing as how they don’t live in fear of death (other than from incoming Hamas rockets), Israel is far more full of journalists than neighbouring Palestine. And a war against a democracy gains far more attention than one which is waged against a non-democracy. Essentially the world views it as a fight between the uncivilised or the unmodernised, and sees it as something such Luddites are bound to get up to. Thus the democracy begins to be criticised consistently harsher for its small crimes than its opponent will for their most egregious actions – such actions are expected of one yet must be punished in the other. This is obviously the case with Israel and Palestine and when Israel is consistently attacked in the media, the idea that they must be in the wrong, if there are so many stories condemning their actions, begins to imprint on people’s minds. And considering Israel is in fact a democracy they can’t simply act like a totalitarian state and completely dismiss the horror of the rest of the world as they ethnically cleanse themselves of the enemy (something Hamas would have no issue with, were the roles reversed). So the conflict drags on and the longer the coverage and the longer the conflict, the more they are criticised. This manifests itself in some very odd ways. Take, for example, the Labour Party LGBT group here in Ireland, who protested against Israel which is ironically the only country in the Middle East where LGBTs have rights. But not only did they protest but they did so beneath the flag of Hamas, the symbol of an organisation which tortures and executes gay people. A frightening definition of irony or perhaps simple sheer ignorance, and even more frightening when considering that the organisations involved, including some from the media, saw nothing amiss with this.

Now many might say that none of this matters, these arguments are invalid and pointless because Israel is simply in the wrong as a colonising force which is trying to take control of land to which they have no claim, and that is that. Palestine should be in the hands of the Palestinians because they were there first. These people point out that there was peace in the area before the Zionist colonisers came to establish a state, and are also of the view that the Muslims are the colonised while the Israelis are clearly the colonisers. Anyone who attempts to understand the history of this troubled land knows that this view isn’t a historically accurate one, and the history does make for some interesting reading. History tells us a different story, not as far back as 1850 or so, which is roughly the period of time Palestinian sympathisers often like to travel to, but over the course of a thousand years or more. Numerous peoples have populated this land – Canaanites, the Ancient Israelites, Persians and Assyrians, and first joined the Islamic Empire under Muslim colonisers in 636 AD, changing hands several times before being recaptured by the Islamic Muhammad Ali of Egypt from the Turks in the middle part of the 19th century before winding up in the hands of the British. And for those who say that the entire country was simply handed over to the Jews by the British, that simply isn’t the case. As a matter of fact, vast tracts of land were willingly sold to Zionists from the mid half of the 19th century, for which they paid prices which were vastly more than the land was actually worth. The area had been in decline for several decades; Palestine was poorly cultivated and widely neglected in many parts and many thought an influx of wealthy Jews would do wonders for reviving the dry and dusty land. Later complaints from Arabs were found to be exaggerated or false; some of the land in question was found to have been sandy and uncultivated land before it had been purchased, having only been put to use when taken over by its Jewish purchaser. So who has the definitive right to this land? The Jews who became a scattered and persecuted group centuries beforehand or the Muslim conquerors who moved in and took the land by force before selling it to their now hated neighbours while painting themselves as the innocent victims of colonisation today? The fairest solution is the two state one; one Palestinian and one Israeli, an offer which has been proposed several times and consistently reject by an Islamic group whose desire to see a Palestinian state is trumped by that of watching the state of Israel burn. True, the Israeli settlements and plans to build the same in the West Bank aren’t helping matters and can understandably be condemned. But returning to Hamas, are these really the people who garner such worldwide support?

Let’s imagine a different world for a moment – a world in which Israel simply gave in to these demands and sat back and allowed their destruction, the state that is desired in Palestine is established with terrorist group Hamas at the head. Would those who support Palestine’s efforts now really support such a state? Do they even realise what that would entail? Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority has maintained that any Palestinian state will be an Islamic one, which isn’t an issue. The real issue is that a) the state will be under a more than likely extreme form of Sharia law and b) Hamas will be at the head of this. Sharia law has its positives though restrictions on freedom of speech and the rights of women are just two things to take issue with. Women can’t ride motor scooters. Dancing women is a grave offence. 150 ‘witches’ were arrested by Hamas in 2010 while Christians have spoken out against forced conversion to Islam. And freedom of religion certainly won’t be an issue, because there will simply be no freedom. In 2002 the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was desecrated, two years following the destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem. Across the Arab world, synagogues, churches and even mosques are all targets for the fanatical, and Palestine is nothing if not well supplied with the fanatical. Even the Shia Muslims aren’t safe as they face persecution from Hamas in Gaza. And these are the people who essentially have so much support from the Irish people? Evidently the feeling of shame has long departed these shores. In one sense our support of Palestine is understandable, a support born of an ill understanding of many of the facts and an accidental or perhaps forcible misunderstanding of the consequences, fuelled by a history of oppression in our own country and the remnants of a nationalist narrative which railed against the evils of imperialism in any shape or form, which has taken so long to dissipate and which still somewhat resonates through time today.

And then there is the final part of this insane jigsaw puzzle – the fact that Palestinians – ordinary Palestinians and their supporters across the Middle East remain committed to the destruction of Israel. Such a Palestinian state would not be a model of peace and acceptance but hatred and aggression towards anyone outside of Islam but the Jews in particular. If it was truly peace that Palestine wanted then indoctrination of children in schools wouldn’t exist (something which speaks volumes against these people, for whom brainwashing children into believing their cause is right and just is a necessity). In the end it comes down to this – if Hamas ended their campaign of terror, Israel would have no part in Gaza, trade would be free, checkpoints dismantled etc. However if Israel gives up all violence, Hamas’ move would be extermination of all Israelis, with the support of the people behind them, not all by any means, though the number is frighteningly sizeable. And so the conflict will continue, because Israel cannot end the violence, and Hamas won’t.

David Finklestein of The Times wrote “There can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have. Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it…again and again…the Palestinians have been offered a nation-state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state…there cannot be peace until this changes.”

San Patricios – Mexico’s Fighting Irish

If there’s one thing that the Irish are known for, besides potatoes and heavy drinking, it’s spreading ourselves around the world. Since the days of empire, Irish emigrants have found homes in America, Canada, Australia and India, even as close to home as our English neighbours. But one particular country that doesn’t really spring to mind so often would be Mexico.

By the 1840s, much of the US army was made up of Catholic immigrants, mainly from Germany and Ireland. When the Mexican War (1846-1848) broke out, which had its roots in the annexation of Texas and the westward push of American settlers, they were sent as part of General Zachary Taylor’s invading force to invade the bordering country. The Mexican government, aware of the prejudices in America against such immigrants, began a campaign to win them to their cause. They were urged by Mexican propaganda to throw off the yoke of Protestant oppression while it was insinuated the America intended to destroy Catholicism in Mexico.

Dubious about why they were fighting a Catholic country in an army where their superiors mistreated them, the Mexican propaganda campaign was very effective in turning these men’s minds and loyalties, and hundreds deserted Taylor’s army. “The San Patricios were alienated both from American society as well as the US Army,” says Professor Kirby Miller from the University of Missouri, an expert on the history of Irish immigration. “They realised that the army was not fighting a war of liberty, but one of conquest against fellow Catholics such as themselves.” In November 1846 General Antonio López de Santa Anna organized American deserters with other foreigners in Mexico to form the San Patricio Battalion, or St. Patrick’s Company, a name it quite probably received from its Irish-American leader, John Riley who had been a member of the Fifth United States Infantry. The company saw action several times throughout the course of the war; at Monterrey, Saltillo and Buena Vista, each time receiving praise for their fighting.

Following the failed defence of Mexico City, the San Patricios found themselves back in the hands of the United States Army. John Riley was one of the lucky few and as he had technically deserted before the war between Mexico and the United States was actually declared, he escaped death. Instead he received fifty lashes while the letter “D” was branded on his cheek. Though some members of the San Patricios escaped death, many weren’t so lucky. The sentences imposed on the San Patricios outraged the Mexican public. In Toluca, for example, Mexican authorities prevented rioters from trying to retaliate against American prisoners of war.

The story of the fighting Irish in Mexico didn’t end there. By March of 1848 the Mexicans had found enough original San Patricios combined with fresh deserters to form two more companies while they continued bargaining for the release of those members in American custody, who weren’t released until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The San Patricios actively continued as a group, patrolling across Mexico and protecting the people from bandits and Indians. They later became involved in revolts within Mexico until a presidential order from General Herrera stopped them under which Riley was arrested under suspicion of his involvement in a plot to kidnap the President. The San Patricios were recalled to Mexico City so the government could monitor the group and their actions at a closer range. In the end, Herrera, in order to end the problems with the San Patricios as well as an effort to cut the post-war budget, dissolved the company in 1848. Most members remained in Mexico as they couldn’t return to the United States.

Some US historians still regard these men as traitors who deserted their army. Mexicans, however, see them as heroes, and so they honour them in a commemoration held each September. In 1993, the Irish began their own ceremony to honour the Irish soldiers, in Clifden, Co. Galway, Riley’s old hometown. While being held as a prisoner in Mexico City, Riley wrote a letter to a friend in Michigan in which he said “Be not deceived by a nation that is at war with Mexico, for a friendlier and more hospitable people than the Mexicans there exists not on the face of the earth.”

FC Barcelona’s Irish Saviour

The generation of football fans which has grown up with the instantly recognisable and world revered and feared brand of tika-taka football which Barcelona play are familiar with a certain section of Barcelona managers who have strode back and forth in front of the touchline – Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola and his successor Tito Vilanova. But rewind roughly 80 years and you would find a less continental name at the helm of a club struggling for their very lives in 1930s during the Spanish Civil war, because the Catalan club and area was associated so much with the Republican cause, and the immense pressure they came under almost caused them to fold.

Born and raised in working class Dublin, Patrick O’Connell used football as a method of escape. He joined Belfast Celtic in the early 1900s before transferring to Sheffield Wednesday, Hull City then Manchester United in May 1914, finishing his career with spells at Dumbarton and Ashlington while enjoying an international career with Ireland including captaining (with a broken arm) the side to a famous 3-0 victory at Ayrsome Park.

In 1922, for unknown reasons, Spain called to O’Connell and he left Irish shores and succeeded Englishman Fred Pentland as the manager of Racing Santander, guiding the side to five regional titles as they became founding members of La Liga in 1928. Between 1929 and 1935 as the world experience the Great Depression, O’Connell managed both Real Oviedo and Real Betis winning several titles with the latter. In the background right-wing tendencies were spreading across Spain and the Catalan region was becoming a focal point for resistance against these views. On the football pitch this manifested itself in the developing rivalry between Catalan Barcelona and the Franco-supported Real Madrid, a fierce and often bitter rivalry that still persists today. In the summer of 1935, O’Connell visited his native Ireland for a holiday and was appointed manager of Barcelona on his return after his successes with Betis hadn’t gone unnoticed. The club had gone into a decline during that decade, alongside the rising hostile political climate and success at the national level consistently evaded them. Things weren’t looking great.

What saved the club was the decision by O’Connell to take up an invitation to tour Mexico and America, for a guaranteed fee of around $15,000, a huge sum during the 1930s, throwing both the club a financial lifeline, and a period of respite and safety for the club’s players, some of whom had left to join forces in opposition to the military uprising, and who were feeling very unsafe. Thanks to O’Connell the tour was a PR success. The money was wired to a bank in Paris to ensure its safety from fascist hands, and the team eventually returned to Spain, consisting just of O’Connell and four other players from the original party which had travelled.  On his return to Spain, O’Connell left the club.

During the war years 1942-1945 O’Connell remained in Spain as the hand guiding Sevilla’s title ambitions, which never came to fruition before finishing his Spanish management career back where it all began at Racing Santander. What happened following his departure from Spain is unknown, all that is clear is that the man who ensured Barcelona’s survival through turbulent times died in obscurity in run-down lodgings in London in 1959. Today, the club still remembers the man who did so much for them; a bust of the man from Dublin sits in the Barca museum, part of their club’s history forever.

Adams Must Decide How History Will Remember Him

If the truth will have its way, another sad chapter of Northern Ireland’s violent history may finally be closed, should the testimony of an ex-IRA volunteer be joined to that of former IRA man, Brendan Hughes, and other former members who told their stories to the Boston college project whose aim it was and is to create and collect a repository of oral history concerning the Troubles.

Major pressure is to be heaped upon Gerry Adams in the Dáil following an interview given to the Sunday Telegraph by Dolours Price, a former member of the feared inner sanctum. Price, who was married to actor Stephen Rea, has remained disillusioned by the peace process and what she sees as Adams’ betrayal, and gave the Sunday Telegraph an interview concerning what she told the Boston project. The 61-year-old, who now lives in a quiet suburb in Dublin, has claimed that not only was Adams in the IRA but it was on his orders that victims were ferried across the border, a bombing campaign against a series of targets in mainland Britain, including the Old Bailey, as were the kidnappings of those viewed by the IRA as traitors, including one Jean McConville.

The allegations against Adams are nothing new. The family of Jean McConville in particular have always maintained the Sinn Féin leader’s role in her execution during the early 1970s on the basis of accusations concerning repeatedly relaying information to the British army through a radio in her home. Adams resolutely denies any involvement in the young woman’s death which has in some manner come to represent the atrocities committed by the IRA during the Troubles alongside the Omagh bombing. And until now no real hard evidence could be put forward to stick on Adams. Even when combined with the testimony of Brendan Hughes released by the Boston College after his death as per his agreement in the book ‘Voices from the Grave’ which offers a starkly different story to the one which Adams has always painted (namely his active involvement in the IRA), the proof is circumstantial and those who criticise him have a potential bias, being former IRA men and women who felt betrayed by a former leader. Unsurprising, really, when considering that the Troubles and the truth rarely go hand in hand.

The response from Adams hasn’t really been surprising. The solid, hard evidence mightn’t be there but public opinion will quite possibly mount against Adams, alongside political pressure from his colleagues in the Dáil who wouldn’t mind having a different scapegoat in the public eye (James Reilly, we’re looking at you). So really, at the heart of it, Adams will decide his own destiny. Despite the Good Friday Agreement which finally ended the Provo’s long armed campaign in the North, a page cannot be truly turned to a new side while the major players on both sides of the coin are not only publicly active in the present but shadily skirting their past. A new dawn is on the horizon with a new generation but the truth must out first. While he keeps his mouth shut, no one wins. The families of the disappeared want to know who and what caused their loved ones to die and is a constant and horrifying reminder of those thirty years of fear and violence.

Eventually, the truth will come out. Whether through legal wrangling or the passage of time and the deaths of those who told their stories, the contents of the Boston College project will be revealed, and new evidence will undoubtedly come to light. Two corroborating oral witnesses could be dismissed. Many more will surely not. And who knows what other dark secrets are yet to be revealed from within the depth of those archives. Adams and his image would do far better if he revealed any secrets he might be hiding about his past now, under no pressure and of his own accord. History, they say, will be the judge of us all. Adams must decide what it will say.

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