Will independence be forever marred by the drama of civil war?
It has been 100 years since the founding of the state and 100 years since the Civil War. Isn’t it so sad that these two events are often found in the same sentence and named in the same breath?
uttering them together is a constant reminder that what should have been our proudest moment has become our most bitter memory. And it lingers.
It is as if a great family celebration is forever marred by unspeakable tragedy. After almost eight centuries of waiting for the Spaniards, Stuarts and French to free us, we finally did it ourselves. What a feat it was. But the joy was sucked in from the moment and the void filled with hate, death, destruction and long memories.
Have we overcome this already? I don’t know if we have it. The first years of the state, those times when the young country should have been enthusiastic about itself, a period which should have been characterized by energy, creativity and initiative, were years of numbness and sort of suspended animation.
Ours was the first country to be colonized by Great Britain and, apart from America, one of the first to break free. The 1920s were an exciting and eventful time across Europe. As a result of the Great War, a plethora of new countries emerged or came into being, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Baltic States.
It was the perfect time to be a young country – the old empires were in decline and Ireland could have been a leader in the emerging new dispensation. Instead, we fought each other to a stop. The upheaval, violence, division and hatred that permeated communities and families for years after the civil war left the country collectively traumatized.
Partition is seen as a crucial issue when analyzing the causes of the Civil War, however, the nature of the state envisioned in the Treaty has been at the center of debate and division.
Dominion status with the British monarch as head of state was anathema to those determined to establish a republic. Those who supported the Treaty, who saw themselves as attached to the Republic as well, were ready to accept the terms of the Treaty as a temporary arrangement on the road to full freedom. Words led to war.
In the end, many participants from both sides never got to talk about what had happened to them or what they had done to others.
The war never ended – it stopped and in its wake a life form emerged, laden with silent recriminations, little reconciliation and no peace.
Once the arms were laid, both camps took refuge in the rigid certainty of the Church and took refuge behind the bourgeois conservative concerns of the new government.
These homes left us in a state of cultural and economic stasis for most of the next 50 years.
Economically, the first Free State government was concerned with balancing the books. He did everything possible to avoid the fulfillment of catastrophic prophecies predicting that the new state would be economically dire straits once it separated from Britain.
Aside from the Shannon hydroelectric project in the late 1920s, few risks were taken and little creativity was evident during this first decade of independence.
Indeed, it must be said that the aforementioned project was a courageous and visionary enterprise. With the smooth transfer of power after the 1932 election, which solidified the democratic nature of the state, these stand out as massive achievements on the part of the Cumann na nGaedheal government.
Nonetheless, we all live with the unfinished business around the birth of the nation. Partition, while not a decisive factor during the Treaty era, has become the scourge that reminds us that all is not well on this divided island we call home. It occurred to me recently while watching a long and fascinating interview with controversial football specialist Joe Brolly.
His life story as a boy who grew up in a staunchly nationalist militant family in Dungiven reflects the country’s history. People may remember Brolly donated one of his kidneys several years ago to a club mate in need of a kidney transplant.
During the interview, in a deeply moving moment, he described his decision to do so as an attempt on his part to atone for the deaths of people close to him.
Joe Brolly’s story is personal and political and is the story of our unfinished country. A rude instrument like a border survey will not bring it to completion – even the complex and comprehensive accommodation of the Good Friday Agreement has not succeeded.
After the Civil War we ended up with one island divided, two political entities divided within and a sense of unease about it all.
The unease persists and we need to talk about it.