The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism

The Green Flag : A History of Irish Nationalism
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Register Lost password? Every once in a while, one comes across a book of history, or other non-fiction, that makes for as gripping a read as any novel. Sometimes this comes at a price in the shape of diminished depth, or detail, or a polemic tone that, while not necessarily a bad thing in itself, threatens the objectivity and reliability of the work. But sometimes, quite rarely, you get historians who manage to write such a gripping work, while still adhering rigidly to the highest standards of accuracy and objectivity.

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Like many people on this site and elsewhere and, might I add, many fantasy authors , I have long had a kind of fascination for Ireland and its culture, what with its notoriously counter-intuitively pronounced language, its music, its leprechauns, and so on. I had some notions of its history - not very detailed, perhaps, but more extensive than those I have of most countries of a comparatively limited population or indeed many countries with a much bigger population.

by Catherine Bailey

The Green Flag: A history of Irish nationalism [Robert Kee] on *​FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Covering Irish history from the beginnings of​. Editorial Reviews. Review. Industry, insight, and massive research enjoyably written. The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by [Kee, Robert].

As this book proved with considerable eloquence, though, the history of Ireland and Irish nationalism is far too complicated to get any remotely accurate view of it by such haphazardly collected knowledge as I had. To give just one example, my post here , and its implied gross overestimation of the size of the Easter Rising.

The Green Flag

The book is about pages long, but even so it has hardly any room for Irish history prior to the beginnings of Irish "nationalism", or after the establishment of the Irish Free State. The book rapidly deals with the early centuries of British control over Ireland, but the vast majority of it is concerned with the roughly years between and , in which there was a real Irish nationalist movement with aspirations of various kinds, which eventually culminated in what is now the Republic of Ireland.

Those hoping to read about Brian Boru or other big names of early Irish history who were subsequently claimed by the nationalist movement, will be sorely disappointed, and even the notorious Battle of the Boyne is treated in surprisingly cursory fashion. The reason is simple and entirely defendable: Kee's focus lies on rigorously and mercilessly separating fact from legend, and debunking all attempts at projecting views and attitudes backwards in time on historical figures who had nothing of the sort. He consistently and constantly makes clear what the concerned persons or groups were thinking and writing at the time the events actually were happening, and how it's misleading to judge either the events or the people based on one's knowledge of subsequent events.

Which is indeed sorely needed at various points, most especially in the period between the Easter Rising of and the escalation of the "War of Independence" in and Kee's remarkable objectivity in the book have been praised in both the Irish and British media well, according to the blurbs in my copy, anyway , though his views on how he would've preferred things to end are actually made quite clear. For example, the Commander-in-Chief of the Irish forces in the heroic Dublin Rebellion of was not strictly an Irishman at all, but the son of a Birmingham man.

The rebellion itself was unpopular with the great majority of the Irish people at the time, and, after the rebels' surrender, some of the prisoners being marched away through the streets of Dublin by the British were jeered at by the local population. By contrast, one of the British officers who guarded those prisoners was, just over five years later, to be a member of the very Irish delegation which signed the Anglo-Irish treaty on behalf of Ireland [the Old Rugbeian, Robert Barton].

The first problem, in fact, is to define an Irishman at all.

An English civil servant, Erskine Childers, was one of the most steadfast of all supporters of the Irish republican cause between and and was reviled as an Englishman by both English and Irish alike for his pains. He even met his death before a firing squad in the end — and an Irish firing squad at that. One of the bravest of all the many other brave men who died during these years, Cathal Brugha, at first sight an authentic enough Gaelic hero, is on closer examination just plain Charles Burgess, also shot to death by uniformed Irish soldiers for his loyalty to an Irish Republic.

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And Sir Edward Carson, an equally implacable enemy of Irish independence, was proud to be able to refer to Ireland as 'my country'. Many thought then and have thought since that he went unarmed, but, complimenting himself in a peculiarly English sort of way that he knew the Irish too well for that, he put a revolver in the right-hand pocket of his tunic where it can be discerned to this day in the photograph of him taken as he made his way through applauding Dublin crowds to that historic meeting.

The confusing contradictions multiply indefinitely. For, between and , the British Government shot in cold blood or hanged twenty-four Irishmen who had taken up arms for an independent sovereign Irish Republic. Part of the explanation of all this is that the whole struggle was really something of a civil war from the start.

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But how it came about, and how it was possible for some people to regard it sincerely, however self-consciously or even half-heartedly, as a national struggle, can only be understood if it is seen in the wider context of the Irish history to which it provided such an unexpected climax. For on both sides of this struggle men were sometimes self-consciously, sometimes unconsciously, in the grip of forces other than those of the time in which they lived.