Dia dhuit from Erin,
Lionel Murphy – bearing a good Irish name and a streak of independence – heard a particular case in the High Court of Australia about an Australian Aboriginal bloke called Neal. Neal had rebelled against authority on his mission in Queensland.
Murphy was often the dissenting voice in that conservative bastion and so he was on this occasion, too. He was in a minority of one for not the first time. One line from his decision stands out: “Mr. Neal is entitled to be an agitator”.
Indeed, where would we be without agitators? The Irish know this better than most. They are presently enjoying a period of their history in which they are beyond oppression, free to govern themselves. There are reminders of past struggles everywhere you look. Agitators are Ireland’s heroes.
O’Donovan Rossa died in 1915, so there’s a centenary commemoration next week. Pity to miss that but we’ll be on our way, back in Wales climbing mountains. Rossa is known as a martyr of the nationalist cause. When Padraig Pearse delivered a eulogy at his funeral, he said, “Fools, fools, fools . . .” of the careless English who had converted Rossa to martyrdom by their actions. Padraig Pearse himself joined those ranks after the Easter uprising of the following year.
The history of Ireland is littered with incidents like these. The rebellion of ‘Silken’ Thomas Fitzgerald (what an enviable nickname) was put down in 1534. Daniel O’Connell became the elected mayor of Dublin in the 19th century and used religion to promote a nationalist cause. He was a Catholic who wanted to show his countrymen how English rule continued to be an anachronism. He openly depicted his time as mayor as a trial for self-government.
the free and the non-free
Gaelic Irishmen have been disadvantaged for centuries. In medieval days, they were not considered to be free people within the city. At that time, there was a delineation between free and non-free. These rules were about rights of movement, ability to trade and penalties for wrongdoing. Citizens were required to pay debts to foreigners within “3 ebbs and 3 flows of the tide”. The penalty for a non-free servant lighting a fire in a street was to be cast into the fire. Having an Irish moustache was also a punishable offence: goods and person would be seized. Each offender was labelled an “Irish enemy”.
Being considered an enemy in your own country must be a source of anger. In 1798, this anger boiled over in the famous rebellion of that year. The British had failed to learn from history and displayed the bodies of the rebels who had been captured and killed. Witness Jonah Barrington wrote “the carcasses were stretched out in the castle yard . . . as trophies of the first skirmish”. In fact, the rebels had their first martyrs and the cause was suddenly a permanent and unquenchable desire. Irish independence became inevitable.
The people of contemporary Ireland are proud of their martyrs and apparently determined not to forget them. They understand the importance of agitation and laud the fallen as immortal heroes. When the republic was finally declared in 1949, O’Connell Street (the main thoroughfare named after you know who) was a mass of humanity, honouring the moment as well as their heroes from the struggle.
SláinteBeire bua agus beannacht