An Island Divided by the Weight of the Past

An Island Divided by the Weight of the Past

ON one side of Dublin’s College Green stands the old Irish Parliament, now the headquarters office of the Bank of Ireland; on the other, is Trinity College, for so long the visible symbol of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy. On Sunday, the street was lined with troops, on ceremonial duty. Between them passed 11 hearses bearing the coffins of Irish nationalist heroes executed by us 80 years ago. Their bodies had been exhumed from the grounds of Mountjoy Prison, and now, after the parade crossed O’Connell Bridge, paused at the General Post Office, still pitted with bullets fired during the 1916 Easter Rising, they were to be given a state funeral in Glasnevin cemetery.

There was some criticism of the timing of this ceremony, not so much because the honouring of young men convicted for terrorist activities might strike an uncomfortable note in the wake of what happened in New York on 11 September, as because it coincided with the Fianna Fail party conference, and was seen by some as an attempt by Fianna Fail to appropriate to itself alone the tradition of Irish republicanism. But even this criticism was muted, because even Fianna Fail’s opponents could not be unhappy to see Sinn Fein’s claim to the exclusive right to that inheritance so evidently contradicted.

Although Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders were prominent, the day belonged to the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and passed off in peace and dignity. It was reckoned a success.

The division is less clear-cut than it was, and this is principally because the Republic has changed so remarkably in the 30 or so years since the Troubles flared up again in the north.

Before 1914, the Protestant view echoed by Dr Ian Paisley, was "home rule means Rome rule", and indeed De Val-era’s clerical republic seemed to justify the fears therein express-ed. For the first half century of its independent existence, first as the Free State and then as the Republic, southern Ireland was indeed dominated by the...

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