Setting: Glasnevin Cemetery August 22nd, 2022 in Ireland (but not as we know Her)
A volley of ceremonial rifle rounds was heard shortly after Sinn Féin leader and President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State Eoin Ó Broin finished a speech honouring one of Ireland’s great progressive icons snuffed out in the prime of his life during the Irish Civil War.
The decade of centenaries was in full swing, with members of the Sinn Féin Cabinet gathering in strength along with trade unionists and even members of the Marxist left brandishing red flags to commemorate what most serious historians regarded as the most important lost leaders of the revolutionary period second only to James Connolly himself.
A man that most experts agreed could have prevented the decades of junta and clerical rule which followed the turmoil of the Treaty split but instead was shot dead in the Tipperary hills by marauding government forces.
“What happened in the Knockmealdown Mountains set Ireland on a very different course than what was envisioned by the Proclamation and contributed to our nation’s slide towards the authoritarian abyss, a death spiral that this government has no intention to allow happen again,” Ó Broin declared by the graveside, going on to reference directly the rise of the far right both in Ireland and the Continent.
Referring again and again to the legacy of Wolfe Tone and the pursuit of secular republican values, Ó Broin stated that the dead Fenian whom the crowd was commemorating that day could have secured an Ireland of equals that was not beholden to generals or bishops as was the case throughout the 20th century.
That deceased Fenian’s name was Éamon de Valera.
After Ó Broin’s speech, an alternative event hosted by the Connolly Youth Movement scorned the Sinn Féin leader for not acknowledging the socialist legacy of De Valera, with their memorial ending with a singing of The Internationale by Alex Homits and TCDSU President László Molnárfi behind a giant placard of De Valera and Lenin.
Earlier that day the YouTuber Paul Connolly aka Marxism Paul had released a video titled “Éamon de Valera: Irish Lost Socialist Revolutionary” with the more neoliberal-inclined Irish Independent releasing an editorial praising the significance of De Valera as a fallen standard bearer for a more tolerant and pluralistic Ireland.
Indeed in this timeline, Irish progressives actually had a lot to gripe about with the post-Treaty Irish state entering Connolly’s forewarned “carnival of reaction” under a military junta led by General Collins following the elimination of republican resistance.
Similar to Spain, Portugal and Greece, the new Irish Free State remained a general’s republic throughout most of the twentieth century with the country’s semi-overt embrace of fascism during WW2 earning the country the cold shoulder by Western powers until a gradual political thawing in the 1970s.
During the 1920s a dictatorial General Collins led Ireland to consolidate into what evolved to be an Irish corporatist state following a botched attempt to destabilise the newly founded Northern Irish statelet to relieve persecuted Catholics.
General Collins fronted a clique of Treatyite military men who captured the apparatus of state from a departing British political order as a combination of Church and state hammered any and all cultural and political resistance and implemented a partial Gaelic revival.
After tearing through the Treaty clauses throughout the course of a decade, land was nationalised, emigration banned and de facto martial law in effect as, similar to Hungary’s Horthy, the Collins regime began a close relationship with Nazi Germany to industrialise the country in an alliance that greatly annoyed Anglo-American powers.
While Ireland never formally joined the Axis, black and white pictures of Collins greeting Hitler at the GPO haunted Irish historic memory egged on by British tabloid media outlets who were always clear to publicise the many anti-semitic statements uttered by the General during the war years.
Ardnacrusha was just the start, with German-designed autobahnen greatly assisting the Free State’s decoupling from England as a so-called “Gaelic Brigade” of Irish volunteers fought on the front lines of Stalingrad and Kursk with the blessing of the Collins junta.
The 77 republicans slain by the Treatyite government during the Civil War were just a start, with a secret police force An Lucht Faire (ALF) clamping down on all liberal, anglophile and socialist dissent throughout Ireland up until the collapse of the corporatist state following a student revolt in 1974 months after a similar political earthquake in Portugal.
General Collins himself died suddenly in 1953 only to be replaced by a much more despised Richard Mulcahy, as an underground Sinn Féin network firmly aligned with the international left and brought together socialist and liberal intellectuals to fight what they referred to as one of Western Europe’s last remaining fascist holdouts.
By the late 1960s, both the Free State and the equally authoritarian North were in crisis with the initial economic vibrancy caused by earlier corporatist reforms stagnating and leading to a return of the blight of emigration. Looking to the post-68 West, the youth of Ireland were fatigued by their jaded Free State and corrupt generals who ran it and small vanguard groups rallied behind exiled Labour leader Dick Spring in calling for a new Saorstát Éireann.
The political dam broke on August 22nd 1974 when following a commemoration at De Valera’s graveside in Glasnevin, reform-minded students gathered in Trinity College Front Square to proclaim a new Irish Republic and moved to storm the Free State’s Dáil at a refurbished Mansion House.
American media dubbed the revolution the Celtic Spring with a coalition of hardline socialists and pro-European market liberals taking power thereafter and quickly applying to join both NATO and the developing European Economic Community after the Collins-era state was dismantled.
While a conservative-minded rump of the Irish population remained sympathetic to the old Saorstát order, Ireland transformed itself socially in the 1970s and 1980s legalising abortion and contraception well before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A hair-brained coup attempt to reinstall military rule led to the Dáil being attacked by a deranged colonel from the Curragh in 1981, culminating with shots being fired on the Seanad floor almost killing then Labour leader Mary Robinson.
Sinn Féin which was formally renamed “Sinn Féin the Workers Party” in 1979 gradually phased out the more formal socialist elements of its party programme during the democratic left years of the 1990s with the party sitting in the Socialist and Democracy ideological faction of the European Parliament to this day.
Modern pro-Treatyite sympathies now rally around Cumann na nGaedheal with a more radical right-wing splinter group An Dian Cecht breaking away to form Ireland’s answer to ultranationalist and right-wing populist parties and which hosted a conference recently with the Alternative für Deutschland at the RDS.
One right-wing TD in attendance at the RDS courted media and republican scorn for joking about the death of De Valera on his Twitter account with left-wing commentators running repeated investigative pieces about old elements of the Free State’s military and intelligence infrastructure sympathetic with the far right.
De Valera had been in the Irish public’s good books since a sympathetic Hollywood portrayal in the 1990s directed by Neil Jordan which presented the historical figure as a humanistic firebrand fighting against the beginnings of Free State totalitarianism under General Collins.
A more left-wing version of De Valera’s life was presented by British director Ken Loach as the Irish republican leader’s life was dramatised in order to “reflect the true Marxist vision” of the dead patriot.
As Ó Broin and the Sinn Féin delegation left Glasnevin that day in 2022 the Irish Times ran numerous historical pieces about the Irish state’s late coming to liberal democracy and dalliances with ultranationalist extremism throughout the twentieth century.
Among them was a polemic by Fintan O’Toole who lauded De Valera as “the historical epitome of our shared republican secular tradition, an Irish Lafayette by all historical accounts” before condemning a far-right demonstration by An Dian Cecht leader Ulick Fitzhugh to commemorate the life of Collins where undercover antifascists had captured footage of Roman salutes being given.
One Dublin historian Donal Fallon wrote a solitary contrarian piece warning about simplistic historical narratives around the romantic cult of De Valera the revolutionary period should come under greater scrutiny.
Both O’Toole and Una Mullaly would later argue that De Valera would have stopped Archbishop McQuaid’s takeover of Irish education and health services under the decades of Free State rule at that year’s Dalkey Book Festival.