This is a simplistic and historically disingenuous suggestion.
It is, to use Tom Cooper’s word, an “insidious” suggestion, as was his casting a shadow over the use of “great” when describing the war. The word was and is used to give a sense of the traumatic magnitude of the event experienced by contemporaries, including the 200,000-plus Irishmen and women who participated directly in the war. The references to the Black and Tans are an attempt to besmirch the reputation of the Irishmen, Catholic and Protestant, who followed a long tradition by joining the British army. And it is particularly unjust to the Irishmen who joined up during the Great War. Of those who joined then the majority (though a relatively small one) were Catholics and while their motives for enlisting were varied and not always idealistic, those Catholics who enlisted did so on the understanding they were fighting for small nations and for Home Rule.
This ‘Irish nation’ might not have been republican with an anti-imperialist and, by inference, anti-British world view as promoted by Sinn Féin at the time, but for many people then it held out the prospect of political autonomy that would eventually expand to dimensions similar to those of other dominions like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They were Irish nationalists fighting in foreign lands for an Irish nation.
For the first two years of the war these Irish soldiers had the support of the their own people, including Catholics. The eventual victory of Sinn Féin after the war ensured the usual victor’s prerogative — a rewriting of history and an adjustment that belittled the nationalist credentials of the Irish Party under John Redmond and those Irish Catholics who ‘took the shilling’ of the British army.
The upcoming commemorative events are part of a process of correcting the purposeful political amnesia of the Irish State and a recognition of the complexity and plurality of Irish political identity. Increasingly in a globalised, post-national world, with Ireland part of a single-currency Europe, you might find the spirit of the times more in sympathy with the Redmonite Irish Party than with de Valera’s Sinn Féin.
16 Delaney Park