Keith Cameron Lecture 2014

Brennan - KCL 2014

Fr Frank Brennan SJ gave the 2014 Keith Cameron
Lecture at University College Dublin on 22 September in the presence of the President of UCD Professor Andrew Deeks and the Australian Ambassador to Ireland Dr Ruth Adler. The annual lecture is the most significant event in the calendar of the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History at UCD. As the current holder of the chair I was delighted when Fr Brennan accepted my invitation to give the lecture. I have known Fr Brennan for more than 30 years and he has always impressed me as one of Australia’s finest activist intellectuals and a brilliant speaker on topical subjects with an uncanny ability to explain complex issues of public policy to a general audience without sacrificing the subtleties and nuances of the debate. On this occasion he spoke about Australia’s controversial asylum seeker policy explaining its history and background and arguing the need for a moral foundation to the policy rather than one justified by narrow legalism based on a strict reading of international conventions. The large audience who squeezed into the lecture room in the John Henry Newman Building did not leave UCD disappointed. And the high quality of the questions from those who came to hear the lecture gave the speaker an opportunity to expand on the subject and to put the Australian experience into the broader context of the problems facing all First World countries, including Ireland, in dealing justly with persons fleeing persecution while maintaining border security. The moral force of Fr Brennan’s argument is compelling and you can read the full text of the lecture here. 

Anzac Day in Dublin 2014

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Jeff Kildea giving Anzac address at Grangegorman Military Cemetery (Courtesy Michael Lee)

When I arrived at Dublin’s Grangegorman Military Cemetery this morning at 6 o’clock for the Anzac Day dawn service to commemorate all those who died in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, a crescent moon was rising in the east. Very appropriate, I thought. After all, the victors in that campaign were the Turks, whose national flag includes a crescent moon. Just as Australians and New Zealanders regard that campaign as of the utmost significance in the emergence of their nationhood, so too do the people of modern Turkey, whose first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the great military hero of the campaign, had defended his country from the invaders.

I am well familiar with Grangegorman Military Cemetery. I had visited it many times while researching Anzacs and Ireland. Buried there are seven Australian soldiers of the First World War and three New Zealanders. Of those, four Australians and two New Zealanders died when the RMS Leinster, the mailboat from Dublin to Holyhead, was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast, just one month before the end of the war, with the loss of more than 500 lives. I had written about those soldiers in the book.

For Australians and New Zealanders, the 25th of April, the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli is the main focus of their national commemorations of their countrymen who died in that campaign and in other military conflicts. Thousands of Irishmen also died at Gallipoli, but they have largely been forgotten in Ireland.

While the antipodean nations along with the Turks see the Gallipoli campaign as the crucible of their nations, for the Irish it is the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence (1919-1921). After the Irish had won their independence and established their state in 1922, their nation-building understandably focussed on the struggle for independence, not the part that Irish soldiers had played in what many regarded as “England’s war”. In recent years attitudes have changed. Ireland is now a mature, confident nation state and its people are increasingly looking back to that war and giving recognition to the sacrifice made by the more than 35 000 Irishmen who died fighting for what they believed was a righteous cause.

That recognition was evidenced today by the presence at the ceremony of more than 200 people, mostly Irish, including the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan and representatives of the Defence Forces of Ireland.

To me, today’s service in Dublin was extra special as I had been given the honour of delivering the Anzac Day address. It gave me, as an Australian of Irish descent, the opportunity to pay regard to the part played by the Irish in the war, particularly the more than 6000 Irish men and women who served in the Australian forces and the more than 900 who were killed or died of wounds or illness related to their war service. Among them were thirteen Irishmen who, wearing the Australian uniform, were killed on the day of the landing at Gallipoli 99 years ago today. And to underline the personal tragedy which is the nature of war, I recited the name, age, occupation and birthplace of each of them. I was delighted afterwards by the number of Irish people who took the trouble to speak with me and to commend me for having done so and for having spoken about the part played by the Irish in the war.

As the rising sun broke through the trees overlooking the graves at Grangegorman and cast its light and warmth on this cold place, I concluded my address with the following words:

Mindful that the loss of life in war is “always personal, always tragic, and always has consequences”,* it is right that we remember the individual men and women killed in the war and their families left with long mourning and deep grief. In that way, we commemorate our war dead, not to glorify their deeds, for there is no glory in war, but to see them as our father, our mother; our brother, our sister; our son, our daughter, whose life was precious, and then to echo Pope Paul’s exhortation to the UN: “No more war, war never again”.

(* Michael McKernan, Gallipoli, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2010)

The Last Summer: William Redmond’s Final Visit to Australia

This year 2014 we will be commemorating the centenary of the start of the First World War, which, appropriately, will overshadow many other centenaries. Nevertheless, apart from the war, a centenary event of relevance to Irish Australia is the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the Third Home Rule Bill, which had been introduced into the Westminster parliament in April 1912. It gave Ireland limited domestic self-government within the United Kingdom and under the Crown. In the course of the ensuing two years the House of Commons voted three times in favour of the bill, but on each occasion the House of Lords rejected it. However, under the terms of the Parliament Act 1911 the bill could become law without the consent of the Lords if it had passed the House of Commons three times in the same form in three consecutive sessions of parliament. Accordingly, on 18 September 1914 King George V signed the bill into law, but with a suspensory bill that delayed the commencement of the Home Rule Act until the end of the war or twelve months, whichever was the later.

The home rule bill’s passage from 1912 to 1914 had caused a political and constitutional crisis that almost plunged Ireland into civil war, with Ulster unionists, urged on by the Conservative Party opposition, pledging to resist home rule at all cost. Australia was not spared from the fallout of the crisis, with discussion of the bill becoming mixed up with the local issue of state aid for Catholic schools, amplifying chronic sectarian tensions between the British Protestant majority and the Irish Catholic minority. For almost 40 years the Australian Irish had been strong supporters of Irish home rule, particularly following the visit of John and William Redmond in 1883. Thereafter a procession of delegates sent from Ireland sustained antipodean support for the cause, particularly of the financial kind.

One of those visits occurred one hundred years ago when William Redmond arrived in Australia in late 1913. Following William’s tour of Australia with his brother in 1883, he had married Eleanor Dalton of Orange, NSW in 1886 and thereafter had made several trips to Australia. On one of them, in 1905, William was instrumental in persuading Hugh Mahon to shepherd through the Australian parliament resolutions in support of home rule. Almost nine years later William made his next and final visit. On his arrival in Fremantle on 1 December 1913 Redmond was upbeat about the prospects for home rule, telling journalists, “Ulster will not fight. The whole affair is a gigantic bluff in an attempt to frighten the English people. I am confident that home rule will become law in June of next year”. It was a message that he repeated many times during his stay of two months. On 9 February 1914 the Redmonds departed Australia so that William would be back in London in time for the third and final introduction of the Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons.

In the end Ulster did not fight, but for reasons neither William Redmond nor anyone else could have predicted in early 1914. The outbreak of the war in August saw home rule put on the backburner and, instead of fighting each other, as many had feared, Irishmen, nationalist and unionist, found themselves in the same uniform fighting a common enemy, Germany. Before war’s end both William and his brother John would be dead along with the cause to which both had devoted themselves for more than 40 years. By then home rule was too anaemic a proposition to satisfy the desire of the Irish people to govern themselves. While many in Australia would continue to espouse the Redmondite cause, in Ireland a new generation of activists with aspirations for a separate, republican Ireland was by then in command of the nationalist movement.

Ireland – in a new light

I have just received a copy of a new eBook Ireland – in a new light by Chris Hill and Colin McCadden. Published by eBooks Ireland it is a most wonderful illustrated book that takes you on a virtual tour of Ireland. The images – 400 in all – are enchanting with an amazing depth of colour. It’s a delight to flick through them on the iPad. The text is shoIreland - in a new lightrt, to the point and not intrusive, in most cases just identifying the scene but in others providing valuable context. There are also galleries of images that allow you to dispense with the text altogether. The arrangement is logical with chapters for the provinces and sub-chapters for the counties in each province. Navigation is easy, whether you want to browse seriatim or to jump to your favourite province or county. In a nutshell it’s a coffee-table book for the iPad – truly a great read/view. As yet Ireland – in a new light is available only for the iPad and through iBooks. In time that will change so that those with Kindle and Android devices can share the experience. At about $A15 it is a real bargain. Try it out with a free sample at the iBooks store or take a look at eBooks Ireland‘s Facebook page.