The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Monday, November 14, 2005
They shall not grow old ...
by Steve Travis

Last Friday was Armistice Day, 11th of November. To my surprise this event, whilst not as popular as ANZAC day, is still marked in Australia. Cloth poppies, somewhat more substantial than our paper versions, are sold, and there were a smattering on show in the crowds on Queen Street, Brisbane's main shopping area. This year was the first year that no Australian veteran of World War I was present at the service in Canberra, following the death of Lt William Allan, aged 106, some 3 weeks ago.

For the first time in ages I have had time to read properly (aided by the quality of Australian TV), and by coincidence one of the novels I have just completed is A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry. To an extent it is Yeat's line Those that I fight I do not hate, those that I guard I do not love teased and drawn out into a thought-provoking and moving novel about an 18 year old Catholic soldier in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and his confused reaction to the events of WWI and the Easter Rising.

It seems that with the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising looming, together, in the North, with the Unionist counterpart celebration of the 36th Division's role in the Battle of the Somme (a "history" which conveniently airbrushes out the part played by Catholics both in the regiments of the 36th, and also in the regiments, such as the RDF, of the 16th Division, who fought side by side with the 36th at Ginchy and Guillemont) some more thoughtful Irish commentators are re-examining the role of Irish troops in WWI and using it as a means to forge common links between the two communities.

Here Dermot Ahern, the Irish Foreign Minister, looks at the reaction to the war and offers the following anecdote:

The bonds that were forged among the Irish soldiers is perhaps best exemplified by the tribute paid to Fr Willie Doyle, one of 30 Irish Catholic priests to die in the war, by a Belfast Orangeman in the Glasgow Weekly News on September 1st, 1917: "Fr Doyle was a good deal among us. We couldn't possibly agree with his religious opinions, but we simply worshipped him for other things. He didn't know the meaning of fear and he didn't know what bigotry was. He was as ready to risk his life to take a drop of water to a wounded Ulsterman, as to assist men of his own faith and regiment. If he risked his life in looking after Ulster Protestant soldiers once, he did it a hundred times."

This, to me, highlights the liberal message to be found in seeking that which unites us rather than divides us - although it is a shame that so often such sentiments are only discovered when facing a far greater external threat. Nonetheless it offers a glimmer of hope that these forthcoming events might be used in a constructive fashion, for there is indeed far more that unites us in these Islands than divides us. My own children, who have a Scots-born mother of Irish Catholic parentage and a Welsh-born father of English Protestant parentage are testament to that.
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:48 am  
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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