“From what I can gather from my slight knowledge of ancient Ireland, I find no reason to conclude that either screech or fatalism is indigenous to [our] race. How far it is within the power of [Ireland’s] will to alter her condition must remain a matter of opinion; but I would point out that national character, as much as individual character, can, by conscious effort, be moulded and changed.” —D. P. Moran
As detailed throughout my previous article, the fraternal relationship between Afrikaner and Irish Nationalists, was a natural development, born out of the encroachment of British imperial interests on their respective national sovereignty. Yet the history of Irish Nationalism has been reinterpreted to further a political narrative that is in conformity to the current cultural zeitgeist of the West.
In 21st century Ireland, our fraternal affinity for the Boers has been replaced by a superficial comparison to anti-colonialist movements throughout the former British Empire. The intention of this article is to analyse the contributory factors that developed our perception of Irish history towards the modern anti-imperialist victimhood complex that has come to dominate the discussion.
It should be first acknowledged that Irish Nationalists have historically retained a degree of sympathy towards Indian and Egyptian independence movements, however, that does not justify the current prevailing perception of Irish history. Ireland’s experience as a small nation dominated by an imperial power, struggling to assert its national identity is reminiscent to the histories of Hungary, the Boer Republics and Ukraine.
Though these comparisons are now rarely drawn, in favour of an emphasis on British colonialism, and the contrast of Irish history to that of oppressed racial groups across the world. The proponents of this interpretation will refuse to acknowledge the malignant nature of the hegemonic American liberal worldview that is responsible for the development of such a popular thesis. It is important we stress that this is an external ideology, imposed on the people of this island by an international political orthodoxy.
The Troubles & the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement
The characterisation of Irish Nationalism as a movement driven by staunch anti-colonialism is a mindset which had come to dominate the Provisional IRA throughout the Troubles, thus fostering a sense of camaraderie between the IRA and anti-colonialist movements across the world. The perception of foreign independence movements led to the eventual establishment of formal relations between the IRA and uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the paramilitary wing of the African National Congress, with each group regularly cooperating in terrorist training activities.
Relations between these organisations were so developed that the IRA is believed to have done reconnaissance for one of MKs most ambitious attacks, the bombing of the Sasolburg oil refinery, the largest in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, the leader of MK, along with key ANC leadership would be arrested in 1964 after the South African government had discovered documents containing extensive guerilla warfare plans drafted by these organisations, which were heavily inspired by the guerilla warfare tactics used by the IRA, among other organisations.
As detailed in his memoirs, the South African born Indian lawyer, Kader Asmal was responsible for arranging the IRA’s involvement in the Sasolburg oil bombing. As a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin for human rights, labour and international law, and as the leader of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, Kader Asmal was able to secure an influential position in Irish politics.
“I undertook this task quite separately from the [Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement]. This was partly to protect the organisation and partly for reasons of security. We knew too that right-wing British intelligence services and right-wing British media would use the information to undermine the ANC and the broad Anti-Apartheid Movement. Once again I arranged the task with Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, through the intermediation of Michael O’Riordan. Though I no longer recall the names of the persons who volunteered, if indeed I ever knew them, they laid the ground for one of the most dramatic operations carried out by MK personnel.” —Kader Asmal
The Irish Anti-Apartheid movement emerged as an outgrowth of the success of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. Through the efforts of its founder, Kader Asmal, the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement would shape public opinion in Ireland to favour Black South Africans. Asmal would go on to influence his students at Trinity College Dublin, including the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson. The ongoing developments of the Troubles in Northern Ireland led Asmal involve himself in Northern Civil Rights organisations for the purpose of fostering a sense of sympathy between these two movements.
The Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement would reach its zenith during the 1980s Dunnes Stores strikes, as workers refused to handle South African produce in an erroneous demonstration of solidarity with Black South Africans. The political movement for a mass-democratic state under the ANC and other African Nationalist groups would see the common ties between the Boer and the Irishman forgotten due to the natural anti-British sentiment in Ireland compounding the issues of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland into a perception of Irish victimhood, which was seen as analogous to the status of Blacks under Apartheid. With the ongoing Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Anti-Apartheid Movement was able to characterise and compare the Irish struggle with that of Blacks in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela’s 1990 address to Dáil Éireann saw him make this same comparison, framing Ireland’s condemnation of Apartheid as a moral decision driven by a shared colonial experience. Nelson Mandela’s speech implies that this shared experience has given Ireland a respect for the Anti-Apartheid Movement under the interpretation that its goals were a mirror-image of those of Irish Nationalism.
“I thank you most sincerely for the honour you have bestowed on me individually, on our organisation of the African National Congress, as well as the struggling people of South Africa. We recognise in the possibility you have thus given us, the reaffirmation by the members of this house and the great Irish people whom you represent, of your complete rejection of the Apartheid crime against humanity, your support for our endeavours to transform South Africa into a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist country, your love and respect for our movement and the millions of people it represents. We know that the joy with which you have received us and respect for our dignity you have demonstrated, come almost as second nature to a people who were themselves the victims of colonial rule for centuries. We know that your desire, that the disenfranchised of our country should be heard in this house and throughout Ireland, derives from your determination, born of your experience, that our people should —like yourselves— be free to govern themselves and determine their destiny.” —Nelson Mandela
Mary Robinson is a figure in Irish politics whose involvement demonstrates the mindset in which modern Irish politicians perceive their country, through the lens of a liberal political doctrine. After being elected as President of Ireland in 1990, she would later resign so as to pursue a career as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. A position that she would later use to criticise her native Ireland as being backward and racist for its —then— highly restrictive immigration policies towards countries outside of the European Union. Robinson’s political career acts as a symbolic turning point in the popular perception of Irish history, as her aforementioned relationship to Kader Asmal’s Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement demonstrates the capacity for foreign political movements to shape the doctrine of Irelands political leadership.
We must recognise this prevailing liberal worldview as an external ideology that is responsible for the current irrational state of our country —neither free to pursue its own interests nor assert its national identity beyond the shallow pride of plastic paddy nationalism. However, as Arthur Griffith details in the following quote, Irish Nationalism is an ideal independent of all other political opinions and races. The right of the Irish to govern themselves supersedes that of all other races, as the sole obligation of Irish Nationalists is to Ireland.
“The right of an Irish Nationalist to hold and champion any view he pleases, extraneous to Irish Nationalism, is absolute. The right of the Irish to political independence never was, is not, and never can be dependent upon the admission of equal right in all other peoples. It is based on no theory of, and dependable in no wise for its existence or justification on the “Rights of Man,” it is independent of theories of government and doctrines of philanthropy and Universalism. He who holds Ireland a nation and all means lawful to restore her the full and free exercise of national liberties thereby no more commits himself to the theory that black equals white, that kingship is immoral, or that society has a duty to reform its enemies than he commits himself to the belief that sunshine is extractable from cucumbers.” —Arthur Griffith
The writings of Irish Nationalists throughout history decisively refute the modern perception of Irish Nationalism, but one only needs to look as far as major figures in our history such as Arthur Griffith or John Mitchel to discover how dishonest this perception is.
The affinity for Irish Nationalists towards the Afrikaners stemmed from a common enemy and mutual assistance in achieving their respective aims, whilst the pivot towards identification with decolonisation and the Anti-Apartheid Movement was a superficial comparison, born from foreign influence. It was an idea developed by, and spread amongst the Irish populace by foreigners for their own political goals.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement was not a natural development in the perception of Irish identity, but rather one imposed upon us, and readily accepted due to the circumstances of the time in which it developed —the Troubles. The development of a form of negative nationalism in which Irishmen see themselves not with a sense of racial or ancestral pride, but with a colonial victim mentality and a contrived understanding of Irish Nationalism unable to detach itself from anti-British sentiment. This negative nationalism was a primary factor in the identification of Irish Nationalism as a parallel to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and the oppression of Blacks in South Africa as analogous to the injustices of British rule in Ireland.
The perception and character of Irish Nationalism has been shaped into a false representation of what it truly was. As has been demonstrated throughout this article, popular perception of Irish Nationalism has changed drastically due to international influence throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Consequently the character of Irish history as a recollection of the Irish soul is damaged, and thus manifests a need for the re-evaluation of Irish history in the public conscience, so as to properly secure the foundations for a new nationalist future. The re-identification of Irish Nationalism as somewhat parallel to Afrikaner Nationalism and a detachment from negative nationalist identity is a necessary correction for Irish historiography, and a critical objective for contemporary Irish Nationalists to pursue.