Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Crown and the Oath

The Queen arrives today on her historic trip to the Irish Republic. Most people assume the historic baggage between the two countries stem from the famine, the Rising, the War of Independence, or the troubles. Perhaps, but I believe the most striking indication of the sensitivity that comes with this trip can be seen by exploring the Irish Civil War, a conflict that was essentially fought over what role the crown would play in an independent Ireland. The 11 months war fought between the new Irish Free State and the forces of the underground Irish Republic (which claimed to still be in existence) is still a sensitive issue today. Historians say that it was a war between two factions of the IRA, one of whom accepted the Anglo Irish Treaty ending Ireland's war with Britain, the other which did not. The standard mantra is that partition, British retention of some southern ports and a settlement that was less than a Republic was what cause the Civil War. But in truth, all sides, even the hard liners had accepted these concessions. What they could not accept was that members of the southern parliament would have to take an oath of allegiance to the crown. It was this issue that caused the split. They tried to amend the wording to make it more acceptable to men and women who had been fighting crown forces. It nearly worked. To get a sense of how vital this terminology was, watch the clips below from the brilliant 1991 movie The Treaty which also illustrates the knife edge that the negotiations were on. Look out for Brendan Gleeson as Michael Collins, the late Ian Bannen as Loyd George and Tony Doyle (also deceased) as Arthur Griffith.

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