Friday, 29 January 2016

The unwritten rule

The unwritten rule

It is a matter of record that a largely compliant media went along with the dreams and schemes of the David Murray years at Ibrox with barely an alarm raised about the huge bubble of unsustainable debt which was funding the whole charade. Of course as we can all see clearly now the financial crash of 2008 led to banks refusing to lend to high risk companies and the cracks began to appear in the edifice.  Journalist Graham Spiers warned at the time that…

‘Murray’s stewardship the club racked up domestic trophies while, even better, Celtic were on the ropes. At one point in 2003, Rangers’ net debt reached £82m, but the figure appeared in small print in the club’s accounts and few lost any sleep over it. Rangers in this period made successive annual losses of £19m, £32m and £29m – staggering in the context of Scottish football.’

Despite this, Tore Andre Flo was bought for £12m in 2000 and the balloon of debt was inflated to bursting point. On top of this many of the highly paid players and staff were enlisted onto the morally repugnant tax avoidance scheme known to one as all as ‘EBTs,’ as if they didn’t earn enough. We mere mortals paid our dues to support public services and those with the broadest shoulders shirked responsibility and dodged their taxes. Spiers warnings about the debt bubble at Ibrox were dismissed as the ravings of a man who had some sort of agenda against Rangers.

 If the debt issue was an area where Spiers was a stone in the shoe of the complacent and arrogant men running Rangers in the pre liquidation years, his bravery in calling out sections of the Ibrox support for repeated singing of sectarian songs irked many among the Ibrox support to a far greater degree. He said in 2004 after sustained abuse of Neil Lennon and Martin O’Neil at Ibrox…

‘From too many mouths to count, people like O'Neill and Neil Lennon, the Celtic midfielder, both Catholics from Northern Ireland, were subjected to sustained sectarian abuse throughout the match. It is worth actually citing these slogans. They ranged from ''Fenian c***'' to ''Fenian scumbag'' to - in the case of Lennon - ''away and f*** yersel, Lennon, ya Fenian bawbag''.

A Rangers supporter sitting close to me, and representing that great strand of decent Ibrox supporters who must be routinely embarrassed by all this, said to me jocularly at half-time: ''You'll note that we are among the discerning Rangers supporters up here.'' He was joking, but his sarcasm made the point. It was a rotten, ignorant, venom-filled atmosphere, which Martin O'Neill, three days later would quite rightly describe as bigoted.’

Instead of looking carefully at what occurred that day at Ibrox many Rangers supporters accused Speirs of bias. A fairly hard claim to sustain given the fact he was a Rangers supporter as a boy. Too few in the Scottish media backed Martin O’Neil or Graham Spiers at the time. Any objective Journalist worthy of the name would merely have to look around Ibrox and listen on such occasions to confirm the poisonous atmosphere. For the most part they just looked the other way.

Graham Spiers was vocal again about the ‘White underclass’ who brought more disgrace to Rangers at the 2008 UEFA Cup Final in Manchester. I actually read on one Rangers site his opinion on this being rubbished on the grounds that there were only a handful of arrests at the stadium. The writer was clearly being disingenuous as serious rioting and the worst of the bigoted singing happened away from the ground. This denial is a constant theme. It’s always, ‘a small minority’ or ‘Groups not normally associated with Rangers.’ There seems to be no will to say, ‘yeh, we do have a serious problem here, let’s see how we can improve things.’

30 years earlier, Ian Archer had said of Rangers, ‘They are a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace. This country would be a better place if Rangers did not exist." Few of his colleagues in the Scottish Sporting media had the guts to speak up about the issue and it was left to a Church of Scotland Minister writing the Church paper ‘The Bush’ to  ask what Rangers were going to do about the sectarianism rife at the club. A generation later Spiers was the lone voice in the wilderness asking why a modern nation allows this poison to fester. Some who follow the Ibrox club attack the messenger anytime the subject is raised and those who write about it are lampooned as ‘Rangers haters’ or in some way plotting against the club. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hating bigotry and hating Rangers are not always synonymous and many Rangers supporters themselves detest the damage these songs do to the club and its reputation. This is about driving out bigotry and hatred and the decent fans of all football clubs would support that. The less intelligent groups like to portray the debate on bigotry in Celtic v Rangers terms, it should instead be portrayed as the decent fans of all clubs standing up against the morons who refuse to join the modern world.

In 2011 Spiers again raised his head above the parapet after the League Cup Final of that year was the setting for yet another bigoted song fest. He said following that game…

"The incessant bigoted chanting by Rangers fans at Hampden was shocking. Unarguably they are the most socially-backward fans in British football. The really damaging thing for RFC is, it’s not the mythical ‘small minority’. There appear to be 1000s upon 1000s singing these songs."

This stinging rebuke had some frothing at the mouth and all manner of criticism came Spiers’ way but anyone who attended the game couldn’t fail to hear among other odious ditties, the ‘Billy Boys,’ ‘No Pope of Rome’ and the ‘Famine song’ being sung by thousands of people. The truth it seems was too much for some to swallow.

This last week Mr Spiers again raised the singing of bigoted songs at the recent Rangers v Hibs game. It is undeniable that it took place but what changed was his newspaper, the Herald, printing an apology after Speirs wrote that one Director of the club said the ‘Billy Boys’ was a great song and questioned the mettle of the Rangers Board to tackle offensive chanting. It has been suggested on social media that one Rangers Director threatened to remove lucrative advertising from the newspaper if no apology was forthcoming. Whatever the truth of that, Spiers was clear that his original column had been accurate. He released a statement which stood by his version of events and basically destroyed any hope he had of staying with the Herald, it said…

‘I feel I need to explain the context of The Herald clarification/apology published today regarding my column about Rangers FC and the fight against bigoted chanting. Rangers took exception to a column I wrote in which I questioned “the mettle” of the current club board in tackling offensive chanting. This opinion was based on the fact that, at a meeting I attended at Ibrox Stadium on August 31st 2015, a Rangers director told me that he thought The Billy Boys was “a great song”.

I subsequently expressed my dismay at the director’s comment in an email exchange with Rangers. There was, and is, no question of me calling any Rangers director a bigot. Rangers duly complained to The Herald about my column. As the weeks passed a dispute arose, and the pressure brought upon the newspaper became severe. The Herald told me repeatedly that they now had to find a way to a public resolution with Rangers. Having searched many avenues to reach an agreement with the club, the newspaper ultimately denied my request to withhold any clarification/apology until my own position was clearer. The Herald has never told me that they disbelieved my version of events.  I also retain the highest regard for Magnus Llewellin, the paper’s editor who has tried to resolve this problem. My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director.’

Such a statement made his tenure at the Herald untenable and he left their employment as did Angela Haggarty who supported him. The fact that Rangers IFC threatened to sue over Spiers’ comments about a Director saying the Billy Boys was ‘a great song’ no doubt influenced the Herald’s decision. Their denial that major advertising revenue coming from another Rangers Director was not an issue sounds a little hollow. It remains astonishing that Angela Haggarty was told her services were no longer required given the fuss is about an article she didn’t even write. One can only conclude that the Herald caved in to pressure from Rangers despite statements to the contrary. It takes guts to back your Reporters and it seems the Herald had no stomach for the fight and all that entails when you tangle with that club and ‘the people’ who follow it.

Of course the deniers among the Rangers support were portraying Spiers as a liar who had been ‘caught out’ printing untruths about Rangers supporters. They simply cannot or will not grasp that the bigoted chanting at Ibrox is the problem they should be discussing rather than ‘shooting the messenger.’ They should take a look in the mirror and actually ask themselves if the issues Graham Spiers has been raising all these years are real or not. Their inability to react to criticism with anything other than anger and counter accusation speak of an immature and insecure mindset.

Graham Spiers is not perfect and admits to enjoying ‘noising people up’ from time to time but his motivation with regards to outing the bigots in Scottish football is based on his belief that it might, in the end, get through to some of the thickos who pollute the air with their poison. He gave a clue as to why he meets so much hostility from sections of the Rangers support when, in a revealing interview with Cardiff University in 2010 he said…

‘I’ve probably gone further in my accusations with regards Rangers rather than Celtic and that is because I decided to break an age old rule in Scottish football which said, if you’re writing about football and you’re writing about bigotry always make one side as bad as the other. That always struck me as odd. It was obvious to me that Rangers had a far greater problem, the result of which I was accused of being biased. That was the unwritten rule. I must have heard it from the age of ten and being football crazy, in actual fact being a Rangers supporter rather ironically, this always struck me as odd.’

Despite the way this article will undoubtedly be perceived by some, it is not an anti- Rangers rant. It is rather a plea that those who engage in sophistry to try and score petty points against those they perceive as enemies of Rangers look with honesty at the club’s historical and current problem with bigotry. Those who ran the club in the past bear great responsibility for what it became but that was then and this is now. The late and I would say great Sandy Jardine said at the time of Maurice Johnston’s signing for Rangers…

"When I came here in 1964, we had no Catholics. Not just the playing staff, anywhere. There was no bit of paper, it was an unwritten rule. David Murray changed that and it moved on significantly in 1989 when Maurice Johnston signed. You cannot clear up 80 years of sectarianism in eight months, but we are a huge way down the road."

Jardine was right to say that there have been great strides made by Rangers in terms of ending the dumb apartheid of the past. The journey the Rangers support must go on has a way to go yet and I hope the majority of them have the honesty and integrity to accept that there are still issues to address. If they want a club that is modern and outward looking it’s time to leave the bigoted songs and attitudes in the dustbin of history. Forget about the ‘whataboutery’ and ‘list of enemies’ the people doing most damage to this club sport it colours and attend its games. It will take more  guts than the Herald displayed for the decent fans at Ibrox to stand up and grab the bull of bigotry by the horns.

I wonder if any of them are ready to do that?


Friday, 22 January 2016

Agreeing to disagree

Agreeing to disagree
As children, we were all occasionally guilty of blaming others for things we have done ourselves. It is a very human trait and something some people carry into adulthood. I recall hearing a boy swear in class one day and quietly suggested that such language was not acceptable and that he tone it down. He refused to admit he had sworn until a classmate pointed out that he was filming him with an iPad at the time. Despite video evidence the SFA compliance officer would be delighted with he still denied he had sworn. That is to say the stage of his moral development was such that even when faced with irrefutable and conclusive evidence he still claimed innocence and refused to take responsibility for his actions.

There are certainly some in Scottish football who refuse to look in the mirror and take responsibility for what has occurred over the past few years. It is natural when an event such as the liquidation of a long standing football club leads to some who followed the said club to try to deny the very stark reality of what occurred. I can understand the ordinary Rangers supporter looking around for a plausible narrative which somehow allows them to convince themselves the club didn’t die. I respect that opinion even if I wholeheartedly disagree with it. I wonder if the events which occurred in 2012 had happened to Celtic what they’d be saying today? Still, in a relatively free society we can agree to disagree and move on.

What isn’t acceptable though is a virulent and hateful minority who not only deny that Rangers liquidation doomed the club but attempt to demonise and even intimidate those in the media who argue that it did. We have seen worrying on-line abuse and harassment of journalists who are caricatured as ‘Rangers haters’ for having the temerity to hold firm to opinions they disagree with. Whether you agree or disagree with Journalists like Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, Alex Thompson or BBC man Chris McLaughlin, there is no excuse for threatening behaviour just because you disagree with what they say. The latest rash in this epidemic of stupidity was the recent statement from the individual or group who chose the name ‘Bears Fightback’ to issue a poorly drafted communique which began…

‘For as long as I can remember, the sporting institution that is Rangers Football Club has been a major part of my life. The club has always believed in ‘dignified silence’ which although very admirable, is an Achilles heel our haters have exploited.’

I think we can all agree that the ‘dignified silence’ part is something of a joke as they currently release ‘statements’ on various subjects with mind numbing regularity. I even seem to recall Mr McCoist offering less than ‘dignified silence’ when he demanded to know the names of the 3 man SFA judicial committee which ruled on issues affecting the club in 2012. His infamous ‘who are these people’ statement caused members of the panel consternation as the less cerebral element among the club’s support got on their case. There are many other examples which demonstrate that this ‘dignified silence’ myth is full of holes.  However what most people found worrying about the statement wasn’t the usual ‘no one likes us we don’t care’ mentality but the last paragraph which could be construed as threatening by some. It read…

‘We will look into the history of each and every individual embroiled in this hate fest and we will look to hurt you in any way legally possible. If you lose your business, your money, your home, your husband or wife, your children or your freedom, don’t say you weren’t warned.’

Such sentiments led Journalist Graham Spiers to contact the Police and the ‘Bears Fightback’ presence online vanished like a thief in the night. The idea that much of which befell Rangers FC in 2012 was the work of those who hate the club is still current among some who follow the Ibrox outfit. Demands that the phoenix Rangers be treated like any other new club following the liquidation of 2012 were portrayed by some as a ‘hate fest’ or ‘kicking us when we’re down’ when the reality was that all the responsibility for what occurred at Ibrox in that time lies at the door of the people who ran the club into the ground. Despite some Rangers commentators collating lists of ‘enemies’ from out-with the club to distract and obfuscate, the truth is that the rogues in this story were all wearing red, white and blue club ties and brown brogues.

That is not to say that some didn’t take a great deal of satisfaction at the trials and tribulations which befell the one time establishment club in those days for they surely did, but ask yourself what Rangers supporters would have said and done had the shoe been on the other foot and Celtic had been liquidated in similar disgrace?

The blame game needs to stop and some who follow the new club need to look in the mirror and accept that others are free to disagree with them without becoming the target of their ire and anger. However we perceive the club currently playing at Ibrox, the vast majority of decent people would never resort to intimidation of those who see things differently. Sadly, I think there exists a small group of myopic people who see the world in very stark terms. They are, like the boy who refused to admit swearing despite the evidence, unlikely to change their views. That is why we have the rule of law and those who go too far had best consider the consequences.

The future will undoubtedly see the Ibrox club in the top division of Scottish football at some point. They simply have too many resources to languish in the lower leagues indefinitely. It’s tempting to speculate how relations in Scottish football will develop in the future. I for one think the ‘You’re not Rangers anymore’ type of jibes will continue and this will in turn feed the rivalries. For a few of the more misguided folk, it will feed their hatred and a somewhat ironic persecution complex. But then such folk have always lingered in the dark corners of our society and although fewer people have a tolerance for them these days, they probably always will.

Scottish football is in many ways a microcosm of Scottish society. Despite all its petty rivalries and clannish loyalties, the vast majority who follow the clubs in this windy corner of Europe remain decent folk who love their team. Yes they get carried away from time to time but that’s the nature of the game we follow. Football is a passionate, combative sport in which clubs represent their various communities. It thrives on rivalry and dispute and most can argue their points without rancour or becoming abusive. A minority can’t but then their vitriol and bile says more about them than their intended targets.


Sunday, 17 January 2016

Renaissance Man

Renaissance man

As the Dundee United defender slipped, Leigh Griffiths latched onto the ball like a predator on its prey. He was focussed, single minded of purpose and supremely confident. One touch steadied the ball before he thrashed a low shot under the goalkeeper and into the Dundee United net. It was goal number 50 in a Celtic shirt for Griffiths in just 87 games and later he was to add number 51. The referee booked him for displaying a t shirt with the number 50 on it but we can forgive Leigh that cheap yellow card as he reached a milestone in the Hoops. Yet when Neil Lennon signed Griffiths in January 2014 there were many among the Celtic support who worried that his off field antics might well make him a liability or even an embarrassment to the club. Neil Lennon was aware of Griffiths’ baggage and said at the time…

‘I spoke to Leigh about his responsibilities as a Celtic player and to be wary of things away from the park,’ he said. ‘We’ll look after him here all we can and I don’t think he’ll have a problem adapting to the way we play. Now he’s at a big club and he’s got to get used to the intensity of playing for Celtic and the public perception of him. He just needs to change people’s views and he can do that through his football first and foremost. I don’t think people should judge him on his past. Just judge him on his football ability. It’s up to me then to manage all the other stuff that comes with it. Sometimes you prefer them with a wee bit of personality about them. I like the gallus players anyway. He’s certainly got a gallus nature on the pitch although I don’t think he’s ill-disciplined or anything like that when he plays. He knows the responsibilities involved in coming here. He’s just got to mind himself away from the park and we’ll do all we can to help him.’

Griffiths in those early months at Celtic Park made some errors which I’m sure he now regrets. His much publicised spat on Twitter during which a chap with an Asian sounding name, who was undoubtedly baiting him, was told… ‘F**k off back to your own country, ya clown,’ did not go down well with the majority of Celtic supporters. Most understood and accepted as banter his next indiscretion when he was filmed singing ‘The Hearts are going bust’ in a pub full of Hibs fans. Celtic fans have had much fun out of similar jibes towards their traditional rivals in Govan as they stumbled out of existence in 2012.  However there was consternation when he was later filmed in a pub full of Hibs supporters who were singing ‘Rudi Skacel is a f***ing refugee.’  Griffiths’ role in the singing is still disputed but Celtic supporters, many of whom are the progeny of refugees who fled Ireland in the post famine years, were not happy. Some called for his dismissal while others suggested he should be dropped from the team. I reasoned at the time that he needed to realise the responsibilities which come when you are a Celtic player. The fans let Griffiths know their feelings during a match with Inverness in the wake of the ‘refugee’ chants when they unfurled banners reading ‘A man must be a Celt on and off the field otherwise he is of no use to this club.’  Those words by Willie Maley were apt and echoed down the decades. It is also worth noting that before that Inverness game tens of thousands of Celtic supporters loudly applauded the memory of the late Sandy Jardine. The former Rangers player was a fine footballer who conducted himself with class and dignity on and off the field. He was a fierce rival but a sporting and decent man and the Celtic support could respect that. For young men like Griffiths, such men are good role models.

Since then Leigh Griffiths seems to have had an epiphany of sorts and realised that if he was to make a career of note at Celtic Park then he must not only develop as a player, but also as a man. We have all been guilty of the odd indescretion in our lives but we are marked out by our ability to learn from them and move on. Neil Lennon, no stranger to controversy himself, said at the time, ‘We’ve all made mistakes but I think the kid will come good. I think he’ll learn from it and have a good career here.’ Griffiths seems to have learned from his errors and realised at last that he is a Celtic player and with that comes responsibility. He is maturing as a player and is now seen as the main goal threat in the Celtic side. Like all strikers he has the odd game where it doesn’t run for him but he is a more consistent, stronger and fitter player these days. To rack up 51 goals in 87 games is a very decent strike rate, indeed the last player to hit 50 in fewer games was Charlie Nicholas in the early 1980s. The Celtic support is now warming to the man from Leith after a problematic period in his early Celtic career.

We are all due a second chance in life and Leigh Griffiths seems to realise that to make the most of his undoubted talents he needs to be a professional both on and off the field. He needs to turn the other cheek when the predictable abuse from other fans comes and answer them in the best way possible by sticking the ball in the net.  His renaissance at Celtic is only just beginning and the 25 year old has worked hard to move forward in his life and career. He now has a real chance to become a Celtic player of real distinction and join the long list of great Celtic strikers. It’s up to him to grasp this chance with both hands. I hope he does because he is that rare creature; a natural goal scorer. Over to you Leigh.


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The child of ignorance

The child of ignorance

Actor Paul Newman once said, ‘A man with no enemies is a man with no character.’ In a sense he is right for anyone worth their salt will stand firm to their principles and tell some hard truths when required. Sometimes on life’s road those hard truths need to be told to friends and if they are real friends they’ll value your opinion and the fact you didn’t coat it with sugar.

Firstly with regard to events at the Cup tie with Stranraer, let’s be quite clear: Celtic’s fairly comfortable win was overshadowed by the antics of a small section of the travelling support who seem not to give a damn what the club they purport to support says. Of course the Scottish media has been laying it on thick but what’s even thicker is the behaviour of those who hand them a big stick to beat the Celtic support with.  Just as the denizens of Ibrox are squirming after yet another embarrassing airing of the sixteenth century’s greatest hits the headlines are all about the selfish minority who drag Celtic’s name through the mud. Let’s be honest here, these chaps are engaging in behaviour which is infantile and dangerous. They seem not to give a damn about the club’s opinions on Pyro, the legal position nor the comfort or safety of other Celtic fans. The sort of Marine Flares we see at football are available on the internet for under £10 and are dangerous. They burn at 1600 degrees and are on occasion in the hands of people the worse for drink. It’s an accident waiting to happen. Imagine for a moment if that huge plastic banner at the front of the away end caught fire?

Of course telling ‘hard truths’ is a two way street. If, like myself, you offer a strong opinion like the one above, you must be prepared to have others offer you the benefits of their wisdom. My recent article on sectarian singing at Ibrox didn’t go down well with everyone. One of the marks of good debate is to try and figure out exactly what your protagonist is saying and respond to his points in ordered fashion. My article was greeted by a ‘Mr Black’ with the following words…

‘How easy is it to say that a workmate of yours called Balde a sectarian racist name. But I can point you in the direction of the Mark Walters incident and several Celtic supporters being prosecuted for racist abuse of black Rangers players, but that won't fit with you warped agenda.
What songs were sung in the first few minutes that you found offensive?  Go on now, tell us. The swearing from the Main Stand or the enclosure below was apologised for long after you switched off in the first few minutes. so more falsehoods from yourself.  How ironic that you add in Jews and Muslims when the anti-Semitism at Parkhead is rife, but there seems an affection for all types of indiscriminate terrorism, But that is obviously not part of your selective moral compass. You do not consider songs about the IRA and INLA to be sectarian but you conveniently disregard the numerous racial and sectarian atrocities committed by these sectarian murder gangs.

The rest of your badly written agenda is utter nonsense and cannot be backed up by any factual information. You are best to look inward at your vile racist and sectarian club before you cast your eyes elsewhere. Your hatred of Rangers Football Club is clear for all to see. I could not care less about Celtic. A Club founded on bigotry. How else would you describe a hate filled sectarian racist? Because that is exactly what the author of this blog is. If you have such a hatred of Scotland then I suggest you go and live elsewhere, There is a foreign country on our west coast that favoured the Nazi's, favoured anti -Semitism and incarcerated abused and raped children in institutions supported by their Government and their church.’

The word ‘prejudice’ is based on the old Latin word ‘praej┼źdiciumwhich means to pre-judge. Just about every point he makes is easy to disprove but he isn’t listening and as I shall demonstrate he wilfully or ignorantly fails to actually read what I’ve written. He starts by doubting my anecdote about a workmate being a ’90 minute bigot.’ It is true and I still work with the chap. He then asks what songs I heard in the first few minutes of the Hibs v Rangers game which were offensive. I didn’t actually say I watched the ‘first’ few minutes,’ I said I ‘caught a few minutes’ of the game, late in the second half as a matter of fact. Next it was the ‘Mark Walters incident not fitting my warped agenda.’ I linked him a blog I wrote about that very game in which I ripped into the few idiots who let Celtic down so badly 28 years ago. I was then castigated for saying Irish nationalist songs aren’t sectarian, a statement I stand by although I have often called for Celtic supporters not to corrupt them. He then moved onto ‘anti-Semitism being rife at Celtic Park’ despite the fact that all he bases this on is a few online idiots abusing Director Ian Livingston. I have never in all my years supporting Celtic heard a fellow supporter make an anti-Semitic remark. I also wrote scathingly about the abuse of Mr Livingston and my article was even quoted in the Herald. As for my article having ‘no factual basis,’ it actually quotes the foremost historian in the land. I could go on but by now you’ll see the rather clueless ‘Mr Black’ is telling us more about himself in his words than he is saying about me. His prejudice is actually quite sad. It speaks of a failure in the education system somewhere along the line and too long spent in the company of people who taught him to hate.

People who hate ‘the other’ in a given society need to develop what some sociologists call ‘Legitimising myths’ and such myths offer spurious moral and intellectual justification for prejudice against other groups in society. Social Dominance theory outlines the basic framework such prejudice is built upon. For instance in Hitler’s Germany, Jews were absurdly portrayed as both money grabbing capitalists and revolutionary Bolsheviks. They were stereotyped as work shy, corrupting and plotting to destroy the nation. In the end Nazi propaganda portrayed them as vermin fit only for expulsion or extermination. Jews in Nazi Germany made up less than 1% of the population but offered a convenient ‘enemy within’ to unite some sections of German society behind Hitler.

In ‘Mr Black’s’ case the legitimising myths which prop up his absurd belief system are centred on those he sees as enemies within. When a person he has never met criticises an element of his group for engaging in bigoted chanting, rather than engaging with the verifiable facts, he chooses to ignore them and attack the messenger. Thus he throws child abuse, fascism, sectarianism, hatred of Rangers, disloyalty to the country and anti-Semitism at the author of an article he disagrees with. It is said that the bigot will always see the worst in his enemies and the best in his friends and I think we see that in Mr Black’s ludicrous utterances. We should be charitable towards such people as it is clearly difficult to escape an upbringing which inculcated such attitudes into him.

He may well read these words and try to justify his earlier nonsense but I would hope a glimmer of light breaks through the darkness of his prejudice. Prejudice really is the child of ignorance.

Life is too short to waste it hating. Far better we pass through this world and try to do a little good when we can.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Who fears to speak of Easter week?

Who fears to speak of Easter week?

English Poet Edmund Spenser was a product of his time. His attitude to the native Irish he encountered during his stay in the country in the late 16th century was typical of Elizabethan England. He stated that

 ‘The evils of the Irish people fall into three prominent categories: laws, customs, and religion. These three elements work together in creating this disruptive and degraded people.’

Today his views would be considered racist in the extreme but his comments would have passed as normal in the time and society he moved in. Spenser was also clear on how the Irish were to be cured of their ‘evils’ when he wrote…

‘England will bring the Irish so low that he shall have no heart, nor ability to endure his wretchedness. So pluck him on his knees that he will never be able to stand up again.’ 

Of course history taught us that the Irish were not the sort of people to stay on their knees for long. There have been around 20 major or minor armed insurrections in Ireland since Spenser’s time, with other related activities in Britain, USA, Canada and Australia.  In the 400 years since Spenser wrote the words above, the Irish have fought on through penal laws, man-made famine, military occupation and the colonial exploitation of their country to eventually claim the right to self-determination for most of their island. To do this in the face of the might of imperial Britain was an astonishing feat. For much of Irish history Britain was one of the most powerful countries in the world and had built an Empire which spanned the globe. Despite this she had never totally subdued the small nation on her doorstep which despite, or maybe because of, repression and the horrors of an Gorta Mor still harboured those who dreamt of being free from English domination.

This year marks the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and the event will be marked with ceremonies in Ireland and elsewhere. There will be television dramas and documentaries as well as a host of books on the significance of the events of Easter week 1916. The Proclamation read by Padraig Pearse outside the General Post Office in Dublin in April 1916 remains a very interesting document. The seven men who signed it were of course all shot in the aftermath of the Rebellion and it’s interesting to speculate who had the most influence in drafting it. Connolly’s socialism may perhaps be discerned in the clause which states that there will be "religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens" in the new Republic. Universal suffrage at a time when women were denied the vote was a progressive step for any nation. It has been suggested that Tom Clark’s long involvement in the nationalist cause gave him a natural authority as did Padraig Pearse’s role as ‘Commanding Chief of the forces of the Irish Republic.’ However the document, like the rising itself was a joint venture which called on the men and women of the Socialist leaning Citizen Army, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. It invoked the generations of the past who struggled for freedom and spoke of "cherishing all the children of the nation equally".

Britain’s reaction to the rising was hardly surprising given they were in the midst of a life and death struggle with imperial Germany in the trenches of Flanders. As the Rebels occupied strongpoints in Dublin many of their compatriots were preparing for that summer’s big offensive on the Somme. Three Irish Divisions (36th Ulster, 16th Irish & 10th Irish) were to fight in the bloodbath which raged from July to November 1916 and suffered appalling casualties. Many other Irishmen were enlisted in other Divisions and fought with distinction. The British saw the rising as something of a stab in the back and set up military tribunals to deal with the rebels. As the executions started and details of them emerged, initial anger at the rebels actions felt by many Irish people turned to sympathy. Connolly was shot in a chair as he was badly wounded and couldn’t stand. Plunkett was shot a couple of hours after marrying his sweetheart Grace Gifford. Sean McDermott was recorded as saying before his execution, "I feel happiness the like of which I have never experienced. I die that the Irish nation might live!”  Even in apparent defeat, the men and women of 1916 felt that they had kept faith with the past and had perhaps inspired others to continue their struggle.

Joseph Sweeney 1916 Revolutionary and former Major General in the Irish army recalls the order to lay down their arms after a week of intense fighting in Dublin. He recalled Sean McDermott addressing the men and saying ‘This is only the beginning of the fight, all our leaders will be executed but it’s up to you men to carry it on.’ As the captured Rebels laid down their arms a British officer walked along the line of prisoners noting each man’s name in a book. He stopped at a man near Sweeney and said nothing as he wrote his name in the book. When he had moved on Sweeney asked how the officer knew his name without needing to ask him. The volunteer replied, ‘because he’s my brother.’ In that incident the tangled nature of Anglo-Irish relations is exposed.

The British pretence of being democratic was exposed in the 1918 General Election which saw 75% of the Irish people vote for independence parties. They were of course ignored and the War of Independence continued and led to the eventual partition of the country, an act which hard line Republicans could never accept. The brutal and tragic civil war which followed in the new ‘Free State’ saw more Irishmen killed by other Irishmen than the British killed in the Independence struggle 1916-22. In the north a third of the citizens in the new ‘Northern Ireland’ province were left to an uncertain fate. There is much evidence of the prejudice the minority nationalist population in the north suffered after partition as the sectarian attitudes James Connolly had warned against reasserted themselves and sowed the seeds of future conflict.

My own Grandfather was a product of those days and at the time of the Easter Rising was fighting in the trenches of Flanders. His return to Ireland in 1918 found a country in turmoil. As the British used terror tactics to cow the people, the nationalists fought fire with fire and a bitter conflict ensued. His military experience was put to use training volunteers to fight the very army he had just left. For him there was no conflict of interest; Ireland came first and always would. As a child I recall him reciting an old poem which he knew off by heart:

‘Who fears to speak of Easter Week?
Who dares its fate deplore?
The red gold flame of Eire's name
Confronts the world once more!
Oh! Irishmen, remember then,
And raise your heads with pride,
For great men and straight men
Have fought for you and died.’

So it is now 100 years since the events which so shaped Irish history in the century since. Ireland has come through some difficult times as it struggles to reconcile the past with the present and the future. I like to hope that whatever the future holds for this proud and spirited people that it will be decided without any more bloodshed. Violence drives a wedge between people and creates division which can last for decades or even longer. The words carved on the memorial at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Flanders put it better than I can when it states…

‘As Protestants and Catholics, we apologise for the terrible deeds we have done to each other and ask forgiveness. From this sacred shrine of remembrance, where soldiers of all nationalities, creeds and political allegiances were united in death, we appeal to all people in Ireland to help build a peaceful and tolerant society. Let us remember the solidarity and trust that developed between Protestant and Catholic Soldiers when they served together in these trenches.’

The men and women of 1916 should be remembered as people who did what they thought was right for their country. They fought courageously against impossible odds to keep faith with the past and perhaps give hope for a better future for all the ‘children of the nation.’

Who fears to speak of Easter week? None of us should but in celebrating the past we should also remember our duty to the future.