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The publication of the latest Harry Potter book put me in mind of the late Dr Seamus Geraghty, a psychiatrist known for his wit and wisdom, who opined that the formation of modern Ireland was driven by a sense of inferiority, and a feeling shared by many of the main protagonists, that deep in their hearts and souls they were not Irish at all.
Parnell was American. Casement and Ernest Blythe were from unionist stock. Padraig Pearse was the son of a wandering and freethinking English stonemason. De Valera was the offspring of some mysterious Latino. They all embraced Irish culture to a fanatical degree. Dev did revert to being American when it saved him getting shot, but unfortunately he went back to being Irish later on.
In the wizarding world of JK Rowling there is a fanatical movement of dark wizards driven by racial purity. Those wizards and witches who were not from old wizarding families were dismissed as mud-bloods and half-bloods. It transpired that many of the most fanatical were secretly not racially pure.
To Pearse and his fellow fanatics anything Irish was defined by not being English. But Gaelic, the stone walls, the women in the meadows making hay, curraghs, báinín jumpers, poverty, TB, and thatched roofs were sacred. Pearse suggested that the Irish theatre movement should be strangled at birth. He viewed Yeats and Lady Gregory as dilettantes playing at being Irish. I wonder if in the depths of his soul Pearse felt like a little English boy who had blundered into a strange place and was afraid of being found out and so he had to wave his flag and shout louder than anyone else. More Irish than the Irish themselves, in fact.
Two Englishmen of note were so taken by Ireland that they completely reinvented themselves. Seán MacStíofáin, or John Stephens, was a Londoner who moved to Ireland from the RAF and ended up as head of the IRA. He did not exactly die for Ireland, but it is a fair bet that if his teenage enthusiasm had been channelled into football, many an unsuspecting person would have been spared that patriotic death.
Micheál MacLiammóir was so taken with Yeats and the Celtic twilight that he changed his name, learned Irish and brought his immense talents to Dublin. He did a far more useful thing than dying for Ireland; he lived for Ireland.
MacLiammóir moved like an exotic butterfly through the grey dreary world of Dev and those who defined Irishness in their own warped way. I remember this myself from my secondary school. Everything English was wrong without question, history was a battle of Ireland against England and we were always right and they were always wrong. We had comics at home in which the English army were the good guys and the ‘Japs’ and the ‘Gerrys’ were the baddies and we had posters of English soccer players and pop stars on our walls. Most of us ended up in England and found that some English were good, some bad, and most okay. We had been taught fascist nonsense; fanatical racist tripe. While Ireland postured against a dying empire, the slippery smiling Roman Catholic church took over without a fight, farmed our children for profit and mentally and physically abused our vulnerable citizens. Home rule was indeed Rome rule and a celibate clergy with their own unresolved issues ruled as they pleased.
It was a terrible pity that de Valera did not learn Spanish, buy a Sombrero and head off for Puerto Rico or to wherever his daddy came from to find himself. And if Pearse had decided to embrace his artistic nature and sculpt, grow a beard and drink absinthe with the Bohemians we might have been spared decades of stultifying poverty and destruction of our heritage, environment, infrastructure, and architecture in the name of an Ireland that only existed in the heads of children who didn’t fit in. Indeed, if Pearse and Archbishop McQuaid had moved in together à la MacLiammóir and his partner Hilton Edwards, Ireland would have been spared much suffering.