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.

Disorder in the House

The Victorian parliament is in the news a lot these days, mostly for the wrong reasons. Google “Victorian parliament” and the results over the past month frequently include words such as “chaotic scenes”, “turmoil”, “mess”. In this finely balanced parliament, with the speaker under fire from the Labor opposition and from an independent member who holds the balance of power, members are not behaving as paragons of propriety. Yet, so far, no one has accused the members of being drunk.

In New South Wales recently a minister was sacked after allegations that he had been drunk in the house. But Victorians would be quick to point out that they are a cut above that sort of behaviour, pointing to their northern counterparts’ sordid parliamentary past as depicted so colourfully in Cyril Pearls’ racy Wildmen of Sydney (WH Allen, London, 1958). After all, Edmund Barton, speaker of the NSW parliament and later Australia’s first prime minister, was not nicknamed “Toby Tosspot” for nothing. And that colourful Irish-Australian William “Paddy” Crick had once been expelled from the NSW parliament after he had been in his cups and had defied the chairman of the Committee of the Whole. He might have got away with it had he left the house quietly when the chairman directed him, but, as Hansard records, the charge against him of contempt of parliament went on to say “and afterwards having violently resisted the Serjeant-at-Arms when that officer was directed to remove him, and continued such resistance until other officers rendered assistance, causing a great disorder and scandal” (NSWPD, 12 November 1890, p 5188). The report in The Sydney Morning Herald was a little less anodyne: “The attempt at removal was violently resisted, and it required the strength of three or four of the officers of the Assembly to force the member, struggling, resisting, and kicking, outside the House” (SMH 13 November 1890, p. 4). While his fellow members were sufficiently scandalised to vote immediately for his expulsion, his constituents were more forgiving, re-electing him at the by-election held the following month.

It might be said that by expelling Crick the members demonstrated their abhorrence of such behaviour. Indeed, the Herald argued in its report of the incident that the stern determination shown by the house was the most encouraging aspect of the recent attempts at disorder by “a small section of less than half-a-dozen members by whom the whole House of 137 members has been made to bear a reputation of an undesirable kind”. In other words the honour of the NSW parliament was being besmirched by the bad behaviour of a few drunken louts. Interestingly, south of the Murray it was the corollary that led to the expulsion in 1876 of another Irish-Australian member of parliament Belfast-born James McKean. (Is there something about Irish-Australians and expulsion from parliament?)*

McKean’s offence was slandering the Victorian assembly by alleging that members came into the house ‘staggering drunk’. McKean, a lawyer, made his derogatory remarks while appearing for a client in the Collingwood Police Court. During the hearing the magistrate suggested that the legislature should change a relevant law. McKean’s response, which unfortunately for him was reported in the press, was, “Call such a drunk and immoral lot of individuals legislators? Why, the lowest in Collingwood are not so near so bad as they” (VPD, 26 July 1876, p 153). A select committee was established to investigate the matter and, following the tabling of its report, the motion to expel McKean was passed on the voices.

So, while the present Victorian Legislative Assembly might be in chaos, turmoil and a mess, its members have not as yet plumbed the depths of their 19th-century counterparts. But as my mum used to say, “Things are never so bad they can’t get worse”. Let’s hope not.


Nine members have been expelled from the lower houses of Australian parliaments, six of them Irish-Australians. Offaly-born Hugh Mahon was expelled from the Commonwealth House of Representatives in 1920 for seditious and disloyal utterances. Five members have been expelled from the Victorian Legislative Assembly, three of whom were Irish-Australians: Leitrim-born Patrick Costello 1861 for electoral fraud; Belfast-born James McKean 1869 for breach of privilege and Edward Finley 1901 for seditious libel. The other two were Scotsman James Butters and Welshman Charles Edwin Jones, both 1869 for corruption. Three members have been expelled from the NSW Legislative Assembly, two of whom were Irish-Australians: William Crick 1890 for contempt of the house and Dublin-born Richard Atkinson Price 1917 for conduct unworthy of a member in making allegations against a minister. The third was Englishman Ezekial Alexander Baker 1881 for conduct unworthy of a member, namely misappropriation of funds. All three were re-elected by their constituents.