#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Anthony McIntyre

Brian John Spencer interviews Anthony McIntyre for The Ideas Workshop.
  • Anthony McIntyre grew up in South Belfast until, when aged 16, he was first imprisoned. Anthony moved to West Belfast upon release from imprisonment and he is now a denizen of Drogheda. Anthony gained a first class honours degree in politics from the Open University and a PhD in history from Queens. He has effectively relinquished the doctorate, having lost all faith in academia to stand up for anything other than academic careers. A doctorate is more like a bell to warn people, “beware, academic approaching.

Brian John Spencer: When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?

Anthony McIntyre: I can no longer recall. I know that 1966 was the year that Paisley marched in Cromac Square, Nelson’s Pillar was blown up in Dublin and England won the World Cup, but I have no specific memory of the Easter Rising commemorations in Belfast.

BJS: Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the Proclamation mean anything to you?

AMcI: The men and women of 1916 mean a lot in terms of what they were prepared to self-risk in a fight against a cruel injustice. But it is nuanced. Connolly means more than Pearse. I don’t take to nationalism in any strong political sense. I more identify with wider European trends than I do with narrow Irish ones, and that applies also to a preference for integration over isolation. I fear obligatory nationalism and think people should have the right to dissent from it in the much the same way as they have from religion, even though dissent from the nation can pose serious practical problems that a dissent from religion does not. Tom Clarke probably means more than the rest of the signatories given his lengthy time spent in prison. But that is sentiment speaking rather than logic. 

I don’t look on the Proclamation with any fervour or conviction. It does not feed into how I make decisions in my daily routine. The Proclamation has become a bit of a bible and I tend to pay no attention to bibles or bible thumpers.

BJS: When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?

AMcI: As a youngster growing up in the Lower Ormeau Road and loving the 12th of July parades because of the bands, I would have seen Orange Lodge banners referring to the event.

BJS: Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?

AMcI: I always admire human courage that is neither reckless nor driven by some hero syndrome.  I realise that a willingness to die for a cause is no proof whatsoever of its virtue. Chris Kyle was a very brave US soldier and I love the film American Sniper, watching it over and over again with my ten year old son. But what was the US doing pulverising Iraq and not Saudi Arabia?

BJS: As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?

AMcI: I am European. I appreciate the secularism of the continent. I feel for the journalists of Charlie Hebdo and the victims of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster pretty much as I do for the 1981 hunger strikers. When I visited the Anfield shrine for the LFC dead the sense of emotional turbulence was only ever experienced on visiting the graves of hunger strikers.

Were I to choose between tomorrow’s Patrick’s Day parades in Dublin or the Free Speech protest taking place around the same time in London organized by Maryam Namazie and her colleagues, I would attend the London event. I more identify with that wider rights driven trend than I do with the more narrow assertion of Irishness.

The 1916 Rising figures but is not all consuming. I am currently reading Charles Townshend’s Easter 1916 but I jump between it and Alexander Werth’s Leningrad 1943. I am not touched by the 1916 Rising in the way that I am by more recent events. I spend more time pondering the events of Paris in 2015 than I do thinking about what took place in Dublin in 1916.

BJS: As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?

AMcI: The Somme offensive does not figure in my thinking, other than it was such a waste of poor lives in defence of the right of the rich to rule and divide the booty amongst themselves with very little of it trickling down to those who died in trenches or storming the enemy lines. But when I read the first-hand accounts of those who were there, it is impossible not to experience empathy with them as individuals and human beings: much as I would not see a loyalist prisoner go without cigarettes or something to read were they deprived of those things. Human thinking and feeling is multi-faceted. Personal empathy is not shared political outlook. Two men in the same trench might look up at night but see completely different stars. But unlike the Easter Rising, I am not currently reading anything on the First World War.

What I dislike about the Somme is the poppy culture which seems obligatory: a forced remembrance - wear it or else. People should have the democratic right to personally forget – not to officially obliterate, however.

BJS: Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?

AMcI: I will not be commemorating the July events. I have not planned yet to attend any April events although I have been asked to write and edit in respect of the 1916 Easter Rising. I haven’t been bitten by the bug and it is not just something I can blame any contrarian spirit on.

BJS: Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?

AMcI: I pay little heed to the events put on by the Irish State. It has this feel of them all wanting to make sure they hold the conch, and then apply the “rule of the conch” so that they and no other will speak authoritatively on 1916. They do pageantry outside the GPO each day which I occasionally pass and give it no more than a cursory glance. I just feel that were the 7 signatories of the Proclamation to magically run past them and into the GPO in pursuit of a Republic to replace the current partitionist arrangement, those reading the Proclamation outside it at noon today would rush in to arrest them. Others would denounce them as enemies of the peace process, George Hamilton, rather than James Connolly, now their guiding light.

Yesterday on television I watched schoolchildren re-enacting the Rising on Proclamation Day. I realise that to be true to events guns could not be concealed but I found it disquieting that children would be pointing guns. I thought gun-bearing scenes, even in pageantry, should have been performed by adults.

If I try to extract Foster from the political minefield that she has to walk through I think her response is not just practical but is a manifestation at a personal level of her deep hostility towards the Easter Rising. Moreover, she probably detects some serious reservations toward it amongst the nationalist political class on the island, leading her to conclude that their “respect” is massaged and managed to suit public expectation rather than being immanent. She is probably being more honest than them. They only commemorate it because they have to. She doesn’t have to commemorate it, so refrains.

BJS: As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?

AMcI: I am happy that we are moving towards it at least in the South. But as Romanians and Polish as well as Africans and Brazilians are now allowed to share in our poverty, broad mindedness has not yet expanded to a broader distribution of the country’s wealth. The culture is still one of tolerance towards avarice. I am pleased at the advances made for gay people and women and the manner in which the power of the Catholic Church has been rolled back.

Moreover, I worry about the knock on effects of a successful Trump bid for the US presidency and what that might do in putting wind into the sails of any right wing resurgence already underway in parts of Europe. Eight years ago with the arrival of the first Black US president, who would have thought that today we are now faced with this monstrosity about to trump civility and progress? Political culture can change very quickly and Ireland is no more immune to such change than the US.

BJS: What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?

AMcI: That not one more person loses their life either trying to unite it or keep it divided.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

8 comments to ''#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Anthony McIntyre "

  1. "That not one more person loses their life either trying to unite it or keep it divided."

    Anthony McIntyre responding to an enquiry of his hopes for the future of a divided province and island.

    Now there's a worthy shared aspiration, one already agreed to by almost 95% of the population.

  2. Agreed, 3000 murders and not one thing changed.

    How the fuck can you unite a people by murder?

    Moreover, would you want it at that price?

  3. Steve

    I'm writing this in hindsight but it does look like you are correct, whether it be Ireland, Cyprus or Sudan, to name just three, it looks like when violence is the weapon of choice to achieve unity, the outcome more often than not fails to achieve its original aim. I feel the leaders of 1916 rising clearly understood this when they issued an order that not a shot must be fired in the north.

    Having said that some people who govern parts of divided countries by undemocratic means, often needed a violent nudge to put some manners on them. (Bring them to their senses) The big problem emerges when armed struggle overrides all else, including the command structures of an organisation.

  4. Mick,

    'Having said that some people who govern parts of divided countries by undemocratic means, often needed a violent nudge to put some manners on them.'

    For every seven fatalities during Easter 1916, six were Irish, four were civilians, one was a rebel, one was Irish in police or military uniform and one was from Great Britain.

  5. Robert

    Not sure what point you are making, you seem to be saying the violence of a slave owner is comparable to the violence of a slave fighting for his/her freedom.

    If the English had never invaded and then occupied Ireland for centuries there would have been no easter rising,

    If we go down that road Spartacus, who led an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Republic was responsible for the slaves killed, George Washington was responsible for the american deaths in the American revolution and Toussaint Louverture for those slaves/locals killed in the Haitian Revolution.

  6. Mick,

    In terms of who had 'manners put on them' during Easter 1916 the point appears elementary. What claim to have been governing by undemocratic means can be made against fifthteen year old Eleanor Warbrook?

  7. Mick,

    Maybe a 'kick up the arse' would have been a better euphemism!

    But what I've noticed is that those who agitate for violence invariably have desire for power within their own communities. Paisley being a perfect example of winding up sectarian hatred to cement his own power base. I suppose the hawks on the Republican side did too.

    What then happens is lots of violence, blood spilled on streets, and families mourning the deaths of loved ones. Who started it becomes a rather pathetic game of whataboutary and tit for tat.

    Republicans can look back at hundreds of years of mistreatment but the prods still harbour grievance over persecutions during the Reformation. Utter madness in the context of modern day to day living.

    I agree with this blogs author on most things but specifically the hope that no-one again loses their life in the pursuit of whichever political goal is their flavour. Violence is counter-productive. All it does is create resentment and distrust which is the very opposite of unity.

    I've traveled extensively over this planet for nearly twenty years now, and have grown far more aware of the nature of people than I ever could have back there. By and large 90% of people are peaceable and just want to be happy. The other 10% are only content when they have more than everybody else, and they will stop at nothing to achieve this. Perfect example is the disproportionate accumulation of wealth in Western society. Its disgusting that there are an obscenely wealthy few while the majority struggle. But its not just the West this happens, corruption is everywhere.

    I was reading some of Brendan Hughes archived articles on The Blanket, funny, me coming from a Loyalist background and I would have liked to have had a quiet pint with him just to ask his opinion on things. I reckon I would have learned a lot.

    Go figure.

  8. We always always under-estimate, ignore, dismiss,then permit politicians to frustrate, the energy and the dynamic thinking of our younger generation. Glan Abhaile!


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