Contributed by A Guest Poster
Union rallies are hardly a byword for entertainment. A pilgrimage from Parnell Square to the Dáil is normally followed by a too long array of boring speeches delivered by the usual suspects.
This time it was different.
Fintan O’Toole was MC. His opening speech (here, courtesy of the IMPACT website) invoked the memory of 1913 and 1916, setting it in a civic republican perspective. Is this, one thought, an attempt to out green Fianna Fail – always anxious to wrap themselves in the foundation myths of the state? But he gave a brief lecture on civic values, based largely on his current book.
O’Toole returned to the historical theme when he suggested that one of the cuts made should be the year 2016 – suggesting we should go direct from 2015 to 2017 in order to avoiding the embarrassment of having the shame of having to commemorate the 1916 centenary – a novel proposal and one aimed at causing particular embarrassment to Fianna Fáil.
The theme continued with the next speaker, actress Ruth McCabe (currently on Single Handed each Sunday night), who read extracts from the proclamation of 1916 and the democratic programme of 1919 to a crowd that listened in silence, occasionally applauding. I don’t know whether the tremor in her voice at one point was genuine emotion or artistic effect but you could have heard a pin drop.
In his wrap-up speech David Begg referred to the 1916 proclamation and to our gallant allies in Europe’. He suggested that they had turned up 95 years too late bearing not the promised rifles but weapons of economic destruction. This went down well among the crowd – although understanding the reference involves having a detailed knowledge of the history of 1916. In his comment on the projected 6.75% interest rate Begg said that it was reminiscent of the actions of a highwayman and that ‘at least Dick Turpin had the good grace to wear a mask when relieving victims of their money’.
What are we to make of this use of history as we head into what the late Breandán Ó hÉithir called a put-them-out election? Who would have thought that three decades after the publication of Conor Cruise O Brien’s States of Ireland, a supposedly post modern Dublin crowd would applaud the reading of the proclamation? It would seem that the ‘revisionist’ historical narrative has hardly taken root at all in the popular imagination.
One last thing that I nearly forgot – as the demonstration broke up I overheard two union officials talking of the likelihood the Fianna Fáil would suffer the fate of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1918 election.