It’s time to stop lying about history
Comment

It’s time to stop lying about history

I’M not sure under what circumstances we could condone violence against people.

For instance, after the long and gruesome years of the Troubles in the northern part of Ireland, it is hard to think of the idea of a glorious, united, 32 county Irish Republic, as something worth committing violence for.

How many dead bodies does it take before something is no longer worth it?

What lovely dream do those still longing for green guns and bombs in Ireland intend to tell their children and grandchildren?

In what part of their minds will they keep the dead?

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I can’t say, though, that I feel the same about statues.

Violence against people is a nightmare.

Violence against statues I can live with.

Does anyone, for instance, still think we’d be better with Nelson’s Pillar looming over O’Connell Street?

Or that Queen Victoria’s statue should still sit outside University College Cork?

That’s not about rewriting history but about living your own history instead of somebody else’s.

Likewise all of those streets named after Pearse and Connolly and Wolfe Tone.

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Should they still bear the names of Empire instead?

Strangely enough those outraged by the felling of stone and plaster don’t ever seem quite so energised by the rights of actual flesh and blood people.

Instead of talking about the long, complex, bloody, murderous history of the British Empire they want a one-sided version of the past.

Churchill and the Royal family and men who made their money buying and selling other people into slavery are once again the stellar lights of our collective past.

How quickly those who always got to tell the story are outraged when others say their story is different. How quickly those who always had it their way bleat when someone else wants it a different way.

If the descendants of slaves pull down monuments honouring those who kept slaves where does the outrage lie?

Do some people think they own history? Do they own the past?

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Throughout my school education in England, at a Catholic school with overwhelmingly Irish pupils, Ireland was never more than a footnote.

There was little talk of Ireland being the first testing board for Empire, nothing about Irish life, nothing about injustice or the Famine, nothing to question anything but a rote version of British achievement.

I’m guessing it’s not like that much anymore but that is not because the actual past has changed, just the telling of it.

Just as we here in Ireland have grown up enough to recognise that Ireland always good, England always bad, is a childish version of the past, can the British not grow up too?

Boris Johnson, who in the recent past, as a grown, adult man, has written clearly racist things, claims that the destruction of statues amounts to ‘lying about our history’.

Now, I’m going to avoid the cheap jibe against a man who has actually lost jobs through lying, and stick to the fact that Eton boy Boris’s interpretation of history might be a little bit different from mine.

Because, quite clearly, to anybody engaged in honesty and maturity, erecting statues that glorify slave traders is lying about history.

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Having monuments to men who chained other men, women and children in the holds of ships is lying about history.

Glorifying men who who made enormous wealth from the whipped backs of other human beings is lying about history.

Republicans in Ireland have had to and are going to have continue coming to terms with their past.

The IRA did some terrible, unjustifiable things.

They don’t always acknowledge that. But they do sometimes. They do more and more.

Britain, by contrast, Brexit Britain, appears to have retreated to a war movie version of the past where Churchill saved the world, The Empire never set, and the natives from Ireland to India were grateful for it.

We doffed our caps and our betters smiled benignly at us as they rode by. It is a history only Johnson and Rees Mogg and Farage could really believe.

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A history told by Nanny to little boys after supper.

But the little boys have had to grow up and Nanny has been let go.

The little boys have to wear long pants now and have to behave like adults when their toys and statues and monuments get pushed out of the way by those who’ve long had enough of listening to lying stories in the scullery.