The Somme 1916-2016

I dont like military ceremony. More so…I dont like “Remembrance”, the way Officialdom takes over and uses “Memory”.

“Remembrance” is always a means of using suffering to create an agenda.

So I dont like my TV set being taken over by people….the great and the good….solemnly proclaiming about the “going down of the Sun”. Yet today, one of the centre-pieces of the Decade of Centenaries takes place…the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

It would be churlish of me not to recognise it, even if it means stepping outside my nationalist and republican comfort zone for the length of time it takes to compose this. I was actually impressed by the way football supporters from Ireland and Norn Iron “got along” over the past three weeks. The way it should be rather than some faux organised “letsgetalongerism”.

We DO have to face our History. It is right and proper that First Minister, Arlene Foster attend the ceremonies. The Somme has always been a big thing for unionists. As a nationalist and republican, it has never meant much to me. Traditionally nationalists are excluded from AND exclude ourselves from ceremonials that mean more to unionists.

It is right and proper that an tUachtarán na hÉireann should be at the Somme today. A lot of Irish nationalists died there too. Right and proper that they should be written back into the Irish story. But we must make the distinction that their bravery, their sacrifice and their service to a British cause has nothing to do with the “ethos” of the Irish Nation. Let us accept the History without re-writing it.

There should be recognition without an agenda. I reserve the right to be skeptical of the northern nationalists who had angst about commemorating the Easter Rising because of the militarism and civilian casualties but will place themselves …today….in the first row of any ceremonial that will advance their career. And press the “send” button on the tweets they composed last night.

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5 Responses to The Somme 1916-2016

  1. zig70 says:

    I’m not a pacifist but I think I would have been shot for not going over. Irish folk celebrating being cannon fodder is a strange thing.

    • in the 1960s there was a very long BBC series on “The Great War”, commemorating the 50th Anniversary.
      I honestly dont think I have read any books on WW1.
      To some extent as a teenager and young man, the footage from WW1 seemed jerky, grainy and the men looked so much older than their actual years. It was a silent world.
      In contrast WW2 looked so much more modern. The people in newsreels and movies “talked”. The transport, planes etc. So many more movies.
      Anything I learned from WW1 seems to come from that one BBC documentary series, a few poems we had to learn for O level in 1968.
      And I think a younger generation learned via Blackadder Goes Forth.
      There is a narrative….these men were “lions led by donkeys” and the Remembrance today (and every year) is about those men being honoured by …even more donkeys.

  2. Ellen Tillman says:

    I am just as skeptical. I think the most difficult part of reading and writing about WWI for me is, always has been, always will be the Irish aspect. This is a major issue for me as I read about memorialization, as well.

    • Official Remembrance has always bothered me. In a sense Norn Iron built its entire identity on this one battle or this one war.
      A blood sacrifice to match the blood sacrifice of nationalist at Easter 1916. While I would concede that the nationalist regiments in WW1 were airbrushed out of Irish history as part of the nation building after 1922, a lot of this is down to the fact that even by 1916, many of those men who had volunteered to serve in the British Army had already reached the conclusion that they had been lied to.
      The unionists and nationalists went off to Turkey or France in the hope that Britain would honour promises made….but always more likely that Britain would side with unionists.
      The unionist devotion to the Somme has never been matched by any kinda pride in 1939-1945. Unionists who had suffered so much in 1916 were never going to join up in the same numbers in 1939.
      Norn Iron did not have conscription in WW2 and Id argue that their position was actually underscored by the neutrality of Ireland which was a guarantee that Belfast would not be atacked after just a few nights.
      You will remember me warming to this theme on MySpace.
      When I first became politically active again after University, the “decade of centenaries” was the hot topic with conflict resolutionists and “letsgetalongerists”.
      So 2016 is the key year in this…the manipulation of Official Remembrance for political purposes.
      I think that the Easter Rising commemoration went reasonably well but I do wonder about the names of British soldiers incscribed as co-equal victims. A step too far.
      The nationalists at the Somme and WW1 have been written back into History but thru the prism of 2016.
      I think I am more relaxed about it than I should be. I am an old man of 64, not a youth of 57. I have lost any influence with the Future. It no longer belongs to me.
      But I think at this crucial time, Ireland has had a massive stroke of luck.
      Our Head of State …President Michael D Higgins is serving us well with his energy, dignity and sensitivity.
      Thats been the key.

  3. What relevant history the Somme and the Great War should have for nationalists is that the British used the Irish as cannon fodder and lied to them and the lesson should be that to protect themselves and their interests the Irish should never allow any outside potentate to have power over them, hence the British may well have done us a favour this time by leaving Europe, hence stalling ever greater union, ie German rule.

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