Coldplay and Other Myths

Posted in : Stevenson's Education Updates on 3 March 2016
John Stevenson
Education Consultant
Issues covered:

John Stevenson has decided to end his series of articles for Legal-Island at the end of this academic year and after some four years of articles. He’s decided to shake things up a bit as he nears the end of his tenure and his latest article is even more political than usual. 

You can’t do education without politics very easily but neither John nor Legal-Island wish to offend anyone whose views differ from those below. Nonetheless, now is as good a time as any to remind readers that any opinions expressed by the author are personal and do not reflect the views of Legal-Island! But we also don’t want to edit writers and like a bit of cultured debate and honestly held opinion – feel free to respond. All correspondence can go to the bold John, whose contact details are below. Here’s what he’s thinking about this month...

There is no doubt but that 2016 is to be a year of considerable significance. Whether it is the EU referendum vote in June with the potential of a protracted and uncertain Brexit or the disaster that is Syria or the nightmare across the pond that is Donald Trump, we are most certainly in for some interesting times.

I have been watching, indeed have watched, all three episodes of ‘1916’, the RTE documentary series on those historic ‘interesting times’ in Dublin before, during and after Easter one hundred years ago. Even the comfortingly familiar voice of Liam Neeson fails to disguise the unsettling nature of the experience as issues of nationalism; unionism, colonialism, terrorism and many other isms are identified and dissected to make sense of those important historical events.

The relevance for our Ireland (North and South) and the Europe of today is everywhere. As always in Ireland, the mythology and legends of the past have been much more important in shaping events than any rational appreciation of history. The programme was clear that the poets and artists of the Easter rising were not seen as heroes and liberators by the majority of Irish people at the time. After three hundred years of British rule most people had accepted the status quo and few wanted to rock the boat. The mythologizing of a glorious Irish past, linked to a heroic Celtic culture served to motivate a few to rise and attempt to throw off the shackles of British colonialism.

However, it was the British reaction to the rebels and the drawn-out nature of a savage and bloody retribution that served to spread the rebellion out from the ruined streets of Dublin and recruited the majority of peaceful Irish people to the nationalist cause. This military response by the British was of course itself understandable in terms of the historical context of the time. Not only was Britain fighting to retain the remnants of Empire but there was also the carnage of the Great War to contend with. Troops ear-marked for France were hastily diverted to Ireland and this ‘stab in the back’ by the Irish was to be quickly extinguished before it got in the way of more important European matters.

The Easter Rising seen from London was a treasonable and disloyal act of cowardly opportunism while Britain was engaged in a World War. From the other side, it was a national uprising to throw off the shackles of an oppressive, illegal and occupying foreign force. We are all aware of the poignancy of the blood sacrifice in Dublin that year coming months before the Battle of the Somme and the great loss of life of Irish men of both the 36th Ulster division and later the 16th Irish Division. The programme makes clear that in the one year the Nationalist and Unionist camps had accrued their own powerful stories, martyrs, heroes, myths and histories to fuel enmity for years to come.

The irony of Irishmen dying in great numbers virtually simultaneously both for and against the Union is not lost on any of us. The website of the Department of the Taoiseach has extensive coverage of the 1916 Commemorations including an excellent article entitled ‘Irish Soldiers in the Battle of the Somme’. It has been pointed out before that it has often seemed easier to die for Ireland than to live for it. One of the contributors to the programme, an eminent professor of history I believe, looks at the camera and says sadly at one point that history teaches us the uncomfortable truth that sometimes violence works.

And so to the Ireland, Britain and Europe of today. The Irish Republic is much more European than either Britain or the North. There will be no referendum on Irexit in the foreseeable future, as Ireland has taken its strong economic medicine from the EU, is wedded to the Euro and seems to be building towards a prosperous future once again. Even the election result which punishes Enda Kenny and Fine Gael for their recent austerity measures has not completely thrown the baby out with the bath water.

In the North we seem to be losing jobs in plane making in Belfast but Ballymena Wright buses are taking over the world. I am sure Liam is proud of that. Meanwhile we look forward (?) to Stormont elections and the EU referendum later this year. Sinn Fein is against Brexit. The DUP is for it. Sinn Fein is Irish and Celtic and celebrates the heroes of the Easter Rising. The DUP is British, remembers the Somme and presumably would welcome the return of customs sheds along the border. If the English vote to leave the EU, that will also pull out the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish as well as those in the less prosperous English regions. Could the North-South split in Britain or the London/South East domination effect be the issue that eventually prompts the disintegration of the UK?

Anyway, enough of the old myths; I want to start a few of my own. According to the Independent and indeed the Huffington Post, the choice of the 23 June for the EU referendum could itself be highly significant. This is the Thursday before the Friday which is the first official day of the Glastonbury Festival. So somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 young music lovers (or at least mud loving revellers) will be leapin’ around a field in Somerset looking for the Holy Grail or something instead of voting for or against Brexit. If they forget to apply for postal votes, if most of them are young left-wing, dope-smoking hippies who would have voted to stay in, and if the result is close but we opt to leave then the ‘get Britain out little-Englanders’ and the DUP will have them to thank for it. Now there’s a potential myth to put beside King Arthur.

Oh yes...Coldplay is the headline act at Glastonbury this year! Or so it is rumoured.

This article is correct at 03/03/2016

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John Stevenson
Education Consultant

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