Here we go. Now the perpetually offended fringe have found new things to be perpetually offended by.
Yes Mitchel's view were vile and extreme - and not just on slavery. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any monument that references someone whose views, attitudes and behaviours would not be offensive today.
Literally everyone in the past held views on race, gender and orientation that would appal us today. Even Lincoln didn't see Blacks as equal to Whites. Support for the US confederacy was strong in Ireland. Significant numbers if they researched their family history would find they had ancestors, direct or indirect, who fought for the confederacy. (I have collateral ancestors who fought for either side in the US civil war.)
Should we 'allow' de Valera's statues and monuments remain up, when he expressed such comments as "Ireland is now the last white nation that is deprived of its liberty." (1920)
Should we allow Michael Davitt's statues remain up, as he shared the racism of the Boers to Black Africans and called them "savages"?
Should the respected 19th century historian and Liberal politician Edward August Freeman still be remembered in monuments in Britain given that he wrote:
If the Chinese controlled the press of half the world, as the Jews do, there would be a cry everywhere of "Frightful Religious persecution in America," because of the bill which has just passed Congress. The only difference is that the Russians have punched some Hebrew heads irregularly, and the heathen Chinee (sic) has before now suffered from California mobs; but there is no religious persecution in either case, only the natural instinct of any decent nation to get rid of filthy strangers.
And of America he wrote "This would be a grand land if only every Irishman would kill a negro, and be hanged for it".
And what of all the statues of Thomas Carlyle, Scottish essayist, historian, mathematician and writer - who wrote the controversial pamphlet "Occasional Discourse on the Ni***r Question" that supported slavery and led to walkouts when he read it publicly in 1853? His views even for the time were controversial? Should all his statues be removed?
Speaking of racist bigotry, what about that other Scottish man James Connolly? In 1916 he wrote:
No work in Ireland for Irishmen, lots of work in Ireland for Brit-Huns – every ship that goes to England carrying away Irish men to jobs in England; every ship that comes to Ireland carrying over Brit-Huns to jobs in Ireland. Was ever a nation so beset?"
He also called migrants "swarms of locusts". Should Connolly's monuments be removed?
Or what about Keir Hardy, an intolerant xenophobe who indulged in crude racial stereotyping and castigated foreigners for taking Scottish jobs? It was a far cry from the public image of him but his words were unearthed by a former Labour First Minister of Scotland while researching a biography of him. In 1887 he castigated migrants coming to Scotland from Europe, saying:
In former years if a slave escaped in America and crossed to Canada he was a free man, but here we have a batch of men sent from their homes into our midst for the purpose of bringing you down, if possible, to their level. The authorities are at fault to allow it in view of their filthy habits.
When it was pointed out to him that more people left Scotland than entered it, Hardie replied:
It would be much better for Scotland if those (Scots)were compelled to remain there and let the foreigners be kept out. Dr Johnson said God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.
He seems to have particularly despised Lithuanian immigrants.
I could go on. Arthur Griffith? Antisemite. Padraig Pearse? A very creepy poem with hints of paedophilia with fantasies of kissing a child in it ('Raise your comely head/Till I kiss your mouth . . . There is a fragrance in your kiss/That I have not found yet/In the kisses of women/Or in the honey of their bodies.')
If you apply the standards some on the left want to, then there would not be a single monument that could stay up.
Instead of thinking of statues as glorification, recognise them as memorialising incidents and people - good or bad, and include honest accurate signage to the base.
So keep the monument to Mitchel - but mention that he was a slave owner with extreme views on race that offended many even in his day and would be abhorred today. Keep Carlyle but mention his defence of slavery as a negative along with his positives. Keep Davitt but mention he held deeply racist views that tarnish his reputation. Don't censor and destroy the past because it is inconvenient. Use it to teach how complex the past really was.
➽ Jim Duffy is a writer-historian.