Commemorating the past - No monopoly on virtue

In recent months, we have witnessed the start of an eight-year round of centenary commemorations of events extending from the Easter Rebellion of 1916 to the end of the Civil War in 1923.

President Michael D Higgins broke new ground on Sunday in becoming the first President to deliver the annual oration at Béal na Bláth. For over 90 years, the occasion was essentially too controversial and divisive for any President.

Mr Higgins was eloquent in his call for people to display honesty and courage in addressing the truth about the events, and in recognising that “no single side had the monopoly on either atrocity or virtue” during the War of Independence or the Civil War.

“The atrocities of the Civil War were ones we must recognise for what they were on both sides — cruel, vicious and uncontrolled,” he added.

When Seán Lemass was asked towards the end of his political career about the Civil War, he replied that both sides did terrible things, and thus he would rather not speak about them. That was understandable. But others were highly selective in their memories, and some were distinctly prejudicial in their accounts of that conflict. In the process, they distorted the true picture of what actually happened.

To learn from history, we must face the truth in a fair and impartial way and we should recognise President Higgins was right in suggesting no side had a monopoly on virtue.


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