Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Famine, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War... some figures on mythology and nation building

Recently, there has been some soul-searching taking place on the subject of Ireland's "neutrality" during the Second World War, Alan Shatter's statement that  "‘we should no longer be in denial that, in the context of the Holocaust, Irish neutrality was a principle of moral bankruptcy"  being but one example.

Following on from that, an article by Diarmuid Ferriter appeared in the Irish Times, which prompted some debate in the comments section.  The following is from "Kate", who makes some very interesting points which go beyond the subject of neutrality.  In effect, she questions the solidity of  of Dev's and the nation-builders' very foundation stones.

Well worth a read.  Thanks to Anna for bringing our attention to this one:

From Kate:

"It seems that De Valera's stance was not so much to keep Ireland neutral, but rather to keep her isolated. .... Maybe De Valera was just too much anti-Brit ..."

Well said: keep them poor, ignorant, swamped in myth and imbued with fear of outsiders. The 'history' of Ireland as instilled by Church and State was insular, self-aggrandising and devoid of context. In De Valera's Ireland the ‘outside’ existed as a threat to Irish Catholicism and/or 'independence'.

As for the magnificent ‘sacrifice’ in the war of independence: a total of 1,400 were killed: 363 RIC personnel, the majority of whom were Irish Catholic and killed by the IRA; 261 British Army soldiers; 550 IRA volunteers, and 200 civilians. (Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence, pp. 201-202).

Any objective student of history might note Ireland suffered little loss in "defeating” a “British Empire" weakened by 6 million soldiers dead or lost in WWI - 662,000 of the dead were British plus a further 140,000 British recorded missing; 5,104 of those, men of the 36th Ulster Division on 1st July 1916 at the Somme; just short of 10 times the 550 who died for Irish "freedom". The total number of Irish deaths in WWI as opposed to the 550 who died in the war of Independence was 27,405.

In such context, details of Irish nationalists then murdering each other in a Civil War leaves no space for the usual mythologizing; in rejecting the Treaty De Valera rejected the democratic will of the majority of the Irish people and turned “brother on brother” (James Stephens). Interestingly, the total number of Civil War dead and wounded has never been counted; records show 500-800 Free State Army soldiers killed and “over 12,000 Republicans imprisoned”.

Researchers have estimated 4,000 died – murdered by their 'own' kith and kin, nearly eight times the number of 'volunteers' killed by the British in the war of independence!
And then ‘The Famine' 1845; no acknowledgement EVER in Ireland that, mid-1840s, a 'potato blight' swept Northern Europe, not just Ireland. At that time, there was NO "social contract" anywhere - just charity. Indeed prior to the mirage 'Tiger', it would appear only the self-designated 'elite' survived comfortably in Ireland? I take my information from Mr Ferriter’s excellent series. Pre-1990 it was ‘normal’ for the Irish 'poor' to emigrate in their hundreds of thousands, as it is again today. 

Some facts:

In the mid-1840s: 40,000–50,000 died from famine in Belgium; in Portuguese Cape Verde famine killed 42% of the population; in the Highlands of Scotland 1.7 million either died or emigrated; in Ireland "it is estimated 1 million died; 1.5 million emigrated"; famine resulted "in hundreds of thousands of deaths in north Portugal”; in Finland “15% of the entire population died”; in northern Sweden “more than150,000 died”. People educated elsewhere know these facts and more. 

Something needs to change in the Irish Education system.

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anna said...

I never saw such savage hatred of the Brits In NI- yes I grew up in a country region which was mostly catholic and so not a flash point- but my Belfast friends said their families lived in fear and received death threats so I could understand their scepticism re British government and security forces.
Also NI Catholics realised they did well out of British in Education, Health and social services ( Despite also realising that British in early year s of troubles had supported a sectarian Stormont Government AND colluded with loyalist terrorists in murder of innocent Catholics.) Yet I Still didn’t see the same hatred Even in NI Catholics who had relatives killed by security forces – as I did here – why? I wonder did Irish government want people to carry on hating the Brits and believing – 100 yrs after independence! - That the brits caused everything that was wrong with the country- rather than their own government?
I met Dublin students in Guernsey in the 80’ws who thought it just awful that a picturesque Dept Store (often on postcards) was swathed outside with colourful channel island flags-and Union Jacks!!! What DID they expect- tricolours??
Another ROI student, Noel I met in England in the 90s’ was going on work placement in NI, and sgot into conversation on subject of IRA. He looked at me in unblinking Incredulity when I suggested they were not Good Guys. ‘You’re protestant then!,’ he said. NO I’m not- but I could not understand such unthinking stupidity and insensitivity- I just wonder how many horribly bereaved people he insulted in his 1 yr stay in Belfast- as John Hume said , the IRA killed more Catholics than loyalists And security forces.
And Very recently I met a former Irish Army officer. He told me army barracks in the Curragh were named after Collins etc. He was surprised when current conflict ended that the barracks Weren’t renamed after recent NI ‘heroes’- YEP- just too bad about the victims. How do you decide who goes on the ‘Heroes list’?? NI catholic men who killed not only fellow protestant citizens – But also far more NI Catholics than loyalist or security forces put together? - Or those still grieving in NI for their dead - and those with painful injuries?
I find this knee jerk reaction’ Irish = good, Brits = evil’ nonsense. AND despite what many Irish have been educated to think the rest of the world ISN’T interested in it either.
I admire this blog for often pointing out we have far more fusion with the UK than education here would have us believe: biggest minority group in ROI= brits: Biggest minority group in UK= Irish. Even as a NI catholic I wouldn’t deny that part of my makeup is British- how could it be otherwise as this is where my Government, part of my culture and education also came from? And Scots and Welsh would think the same.

anna said...

An Irish Times article by Garrett Fitzgerald @ late 1990s-ealrry noighties said ‘we got out at just the right time, as Brits was about to bring in the welfare state. If we had stayed things would have been too good to want to leave. In fact overall would have been about 25% better off.’
Ireland WAS a pitifully poor place for many in late C19- early –C20. Many people across Europe were very poor- and the UK did not treat even its own English people much better at the time- as the writings of Dickens and Orwell will attest.Does Irish education tell the whole story: When the Free primary school scheme was initially started by the British in 1830’s initially this left the Irish as one of the better educated populations in Europe. It also looks as if it would have been better to have been left non denominational than becoming mostly catholic. And any advances in this system were rowed back for many after creation of this state- with too much time being given to Irish and religion. Moreover a recent Fintan O Toole book said that an early Workplace free health insurance scheme (@ 1911-a precursor of NHS) which was introduced in mainland Britain was not extended to Ireland- stopped by the Catholic Church.
I think it’s time to drop the Brit hating and concentre on cementing links with the UK and celebrating the real progressive advances this country DID make: for I thing ( as I am now studying law again) I find the Succession act quite impressive., brought in the 60’s by no less a worthy citizen by CJH. Successions Act will ensure that even if a spouse leaves wife& children out of will that the law compels them to receive a certain % at least of the estate. Seems Charles J had huge opposition from that worthy body the Catholic Church, who had been receiving a large no of gifts of money and land by wills. The UK has nothing like this. So I think it is time to stop the Brit hating – and celebrate any real progression this country has made.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing how ill-informed statements like Alan Shatter's still rattle around and pop up again and again.

Anyone who cares to look at the record will see that British Intelligence (who were the best informed of the Western Intelligences at the time - due to cracking Enigma) were of the view that the Holocaust as we now know it did not exist. This is why the camps were not targeted for bombing.

Tragically this assessment was far from correct but during the war this was the prevailing view and was only proved wrong when the camps were liberated.

We are all now very familiar with film footage of the camps being liberated and all too easily make judgements about people's views at the time as if these images appeared on their local cinemas days after being shot. This is a false impression.

The Winston Churchill museum in London makes it clear that these images were top secret and were not released to the public until after Germany surrendered.

So that idea that Ireland was neutral while knowing of the holocaust is a false one.

Anonymous said...

Is Kate poo pooing the War of Independence because it didn't kill as many as WW1 or the Civil War?

A rather odd position, don't you think?

Dakota said...

@Anon 11:17 The concentration camps or internment camps where known and understood from 1933 onwards, in many quarters. The Nazis made there feelings clear and fully inshrined in law, with regards to Judaism - and all marginalised groups - from the outset. That in itself, would have been sufficient to see Nazism for what it was, and many did. It would not have taken a genius, even one of the Irish variety, to go figure.

The Gombeen Man said...

Anon 11:17 said:

"The Winston Churchill museum in London makes it clear that these images were top secret and were not released to the public until after Germany surrendered."

Pathe newsreel footage 26th April. Germany High Command surrendered 7th May. Just a point.

Pathe footage

The Nuremberg laws came into effect in 1935. Kristalnacht happened in 1938. While I realise that anti-semitism was not confined to Nazi Germany, it was the only State that institutionalised it and blatently robbed non "Aryans" of their property. Jews fleeing Germany - to countries that would give them refuge - reported on random arrests, incarcerations, beatings and disappearances of friends and loved ones. The Nazi state's ongoing campaign of genocide was no secret, though not officially trumpeted. Concentration camps could not be "bombed" for obvious reasons. Likewise targeting supply routes and communications (as the Allies did in their tranportation attacks prior to D-Day) were not possible either, given any camps were full of "inmates".

Shatter might well have been retrospective in his comments, but the malice of Nazi Germany was plain to see long before the advancing Allies came across the extermination camps or Pathe broadcast any of its newsreels.

Anonymous said...


You need to make a distinction between when footage was shot and when it was released for public viewing.

The footage was shot prior to the surrender, but not released until afterwards.

It is easy now in hindsight to assume that people knew more than they did but if you look objectively at the evidence it is clear that the holocust was very well hidden by the Nazis.

To give a modern parallel, consider how little we know about what goes on in camp x-ray, despite our 24/7 news chanels, twitter and the rest.

Anonymous said...


You say "..the concentration camps or internment camps where known and understood from 1933 onwards".

This is true, but people in Ireland were not new to concentration camps.


There was no information to suggest that what was going on in Germany was any worse than this.

We now know that it was, but at the time it seemed like more of the same.

John said...

And the many millions in India that died as a result of famine, the last major one under British rule in 1943, about 4 million died. The majority of Irish did not want independence(John Redmond, Irish Parliamentary Party persuaded 210000 Irishmen serve in the British forces during World War One.) .but dominion status and it fact such a bill, The Government of Ireland Act 1914 ), also known as the (Irish) Third Home Rule Bill, was an Act passed by the parliament of the United Kingdom intended to provide self-government ("Home Rule") for Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

This bill was to be enacted after WW1. But events like 1916 put an end to this. They say that history repeats itself and it does. The British over reaction to the 1916 rebellion, was a example of why not to use military men to police a country, the orders for General Maxwell to do as he saw fit, meant the eventual end of British rule in Ireland. If anyone is interested, a very good documentary on Maxwell in on youtube.

Hidden History-1916- The Man Who Lost Ireland (1/6).

As we see in Iraq and other places the consequences of using an army to enforce "Law" and "Order" is a disaster in concept and practice.

The Gombeen Man said...

Will check that one, John.

On the subject Anon raised in relation to the dates of release, this newsreel sounds contemporaneous to me. And why miss a golden propaganda opportunity (to look at it cynically) to drive the final nail into the enemy? Why wait for the war to end? This is all I can find on it - tangent and all as it is. The sources would need checking (

"The first camp to be liberated was Majdanek — a forced labor-turned-concentration camp in Lublin, Poland, where 79,000 people perished — which was captured from the Germans by the Soviet Red Army on July 24, 1944. Embedded with Red Army troops “were two teams of filmmakers charged with documenting the conditions they found,” according to historian Stuart Liebman: “the Central Studio for Documentary Film in Moscow… headed by Roman Karmen, a leading Russian Jewish journalist and documentarian… and the Film Studio of the Polish Army… headed by the well-known Polish Jewish director Aleksander Ford.” The teams recorded what they encountered at the camp, culled their footage down into a 25-minute film called “Majdanek Death Camp — The Cemetery of Europe” during the fall of 1944, and then screened it in Poland in late November 1944. (Here is some of that footage.) “We still know relatively little about how widely distributed [the film] was, either in Eastern or Western Europe or in the United States,” Liebman writes, but “several studies have recently suggested that some form of the film was distributed in both the United States and France” — apparently inter-cut with “Swastika and Gallows,” another film shot by the same two teams that chronicles the November-December 1944 trial and execution of former Majdanek guards — in April 1945, alongside the rest of the first footage of Nazi atrocities to screen in Allied countries.

anna said...

Yes thanks to John for reminder- British did some horrendous things in India- and ( though I know little of colonial history ) i am not surprised there was famine there as recently as 1940's - just 20 yrs before i was born and within living memory.Even more recently massacres in Kenya in 1960's. ALL empires are amoral at heart- colonisers don't go out there for the good of the natives(!) far from it. I can only surmise Kenyan massacres were last gasps of a dying Empire. Moreover re European empires ( and this is no excuse) - their worst atrocities seem to have been Far away from the home country- well away from outrage at home..BUT do you hear Kenyans and Indians moaning Endlessly about the evil Brits? AFTER ALL this is the 21st century- so WHY would Irish people waste their energy Now on hating the British descendants of those vicious stalwarts of a long defunct Empire? ( often policed with great vigor by Irishmen , don't forget). Moreover the British class system was then ( and at times even now) hard on its own working class. I'm all on for a future where UK/Ireland think of nothing but the things we share- the bloody past is gone.

Dakota said...

@Anon 10:03, "This is true, but people in Ireland were not new to concentration camps."

Indeed, and unfortunately was it not British imperialism which created the first concentration camp during the Boer War campaign, with camps appearing during the 2nd Boer War? Ah yes, and I'm sure if you sifted through enough war records you would find that such a concept had a genesis long before this. No imperial culture is ever squeaky clean. Yet the problem with your argument is one of contextual distinction.

While you could attribute a direct line between all ruling elites in western culture, through the ages, I would contest the 3rd Reich was the very personification of evil. As I said, there was many who understood what they saw.

"There was no information to suggest that what was going on in Germany was any worse than this."

Eh, don't think so.....

The Gombeen Man said...

Was the Holocaust "just a mere detail in history" for our Anon friend and the mindset he represents, I wonder?

Anonymous said...

@Dakota @GM
The Holocaust is a seminal moment in world history. Nothing like it happened before or since, but the point here is ‘When did people realise it had happened?’

Atrocities had taken place throughout the war, and when these came to light people were rightly shocked, but everyone knew that war and atrocities went hand in hand and the outcry against Germany during WWII was no greater than the outcry against it during WWI. All that changed once the holocaust was revealed to the public after VE day.

Ireland is in the sorry position of having a Minister for Justice who likes to bend the facts to fit his argument.

The Gombeen Man said...

And I think we have already covered this in previous comments on thread...

Dakota said...

"The Holocaust is a seminal moment in world history. Nothing like it happened before or since" BEFORE OR SINCE?? My friend you have a very blinkerd view of World histroy.

There's even a bit about Ireland......

As for the POINT? You seem to be mixing up the POINT, with the EXAMLE.......If you care to read GM’s original Post.....GM mentioning of the Pathe News Reel maybe your motivation for this but you are missing the MAIN POINT..........The post this time is about the solidity of the State and not specifically about the holocaust and Mr Shatters views on it. I percieve your point is solely with Mr Shatters views.

As for when individuals knew of the attrocities? (Part of YOUR POINT) Again, if you would care to read this:

You will note the condemnation by the allies of Nazi attrocities against the Jewish peoples on the 17/12/1942? (Obviously not much help to them at the time but does set a marker as to when there was a clear perception of “what was really going on.”)
Now the question to mind is, why was there not a furore about it in Emergency Ireland, or for that matter, among the Allied nations? Why were the good citizens of these nations not given the full picture? Oh, hold on, why was DeValera allowed to percist with his obvious anglophobic hostility, by the Irish people? Why did Ireland accept so few Jewish Refugees? Why did DeValera and President Hyde pay their condolences on the death of Hitler?

I shall reiterate again; the hard done by Irish soldiers who saw the Nazis for what they were, in a time when as you say the majority of the population thought WWII was a continuation of WWI, should have got a separtate medal and letters of recommendation, just for that.

The Gombeen Man said...

Good links, Dakota.

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