Readers' Blog: Rewriting the narratives of Irish history in RTÉ series

Congratulations to RTÉ on its documentary series, The Irish Revolution (February 4).

In the first episode the narrator informed us that Britain “rejected the democratic mandate of the Irish people”, as clearly expressed in the 1918 election. It is rare to hear this simple fact of history so boldly stated.

For too long, the dominant narrative in Irish historiography has succeeded in downplaying the reality of this seminal event in Irish revolutionary history, to the extent that it became known as “the forgotten election”.

Roy Foster, former professor of Irish history at Oxford, for example, devoted less than half a page (p265) in his almost 400-page opus, Vivid Faces, to the December 1918 election, and failed to accord it any real significance.

Back in 1965, by contrast, the eminent JC Beckett from the unionist community, acknowledged the seismic result as follows: “Sinn Féin could now claim, with justice, to represent majority opinion in Ireland” [The making of modern Ireland, p 445].

Democracy would have dictated that Britain withdrew its troops, thereafter, and disbanded its armed police. But, then, that is hardly what empires are about!

The first episode was not without its faults, however, such as the assigning of the Famine to the failure of the potato crop — without reference to the bulging granaries and the well-fed animals in our fields throughout the period in question.

Billy Fitzpatrick



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