On February 8, I wrote to the history educational officer and the NCCA history curriculum development unit, regarding Strand 2 Learning Outcome 2.3 of the new Junior Certificate history course, which states: “Explore how the physical force tradition impacted on Irish politics, with particular reference to a pre-twentieth century example of a rebellion”.
My letter/email is as follows: “I am very concerned about the contrast in language used, concerning the American revolutionaries of 1776 and the French revolutionaries of 1789, who were engaged in ‘revolution’, whereas the Irish revolutionaries are stated to be a ‘physical force tradition’ engaged in ‘rebellion’. Many of the American founding fathers of 1776 were slave owners and continued to be so after independence was won. George Washington did not free his own slaves, until his will was enacted after his death, in 1799. The French revolutionaries of 1789 carried out a bloodthirsty reign of terror, which claimed the lives of thousands, yet they are still celebrated.
“In history, language is everything. It can reveal a great deal about the past, but even more of the present and the intentions contained therein. The terms used in the new Junior Certificate history course, concerning the Irish revolutionaries of 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867, as part of a ‘physical force tradition’, are revisionist and flawed. The revolutionary men and women referred to in the new Junior Certificate presented, for the first time, future generations of Irish people with a realistic political alternative to being subjects of a colonial power. Their future destiny, as citizens of an Irish republic, began at a time when the majority in Ireland were denied political representation and equality, through the force of armed militia, armed coastguard, armed police assisted by a standing army, and navy presence on the island.
“In June, 1963, US president, John F. Kennedy, just six months before his death in Dallas, Texas, addressed the joint houses of the Oireachtas. Kennedy referred, in particular, to the many occasions when the Irish sought to free themselves from oppression through armed uprisings. Kennedy mentioned Thomas Francis Meagher, who fought in the uprising of 1848 and was afterwards sentenced to a life of penal servitude in Tasmania. Meagher escaped and made his way to America, where he fought in the civil war, helping to raise the 69th New York Regiment of the Union Army, formed mainly from Irishmen who had emigrated.
“The flag of the 69th Regiment was presented to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It remains a potent symbol of the sacrifice that is sometimes necessary to win freedom. Yet, Kennedy called on the experience Ireland endured in the past to be used to shape her role on the international stage, as a nation supportive of freedom and human rights.
The approach of the new Junior Certificate undermines and degrades the memory and sacrifice of Tone, Emmet, the Young Irelanders and the Fenians. Their legacy is far greater than being considered ‘a physical force tradition’ engaged in ‘rebellion’. It is easy today, in an atmosphere where Ireland and Britain have strong ties based on a hard-won, mutual respect, to dismiss the sacrifices of Irish people who struggled for centuries to win independence or to cover such sacrifices with a heavy veneer of political correctness. Such Irish men and women deserve the title ‘revolutionaries’. They certainly earned it”.