One of Britain's leading authors and editors stated in 2016 in the establishment newspaper The Telegraph that it is time to apologize to the Irish for the way the British handled the Easter Rising.
Simon Heffer, 55, former Associate Editor of The Telegraph, a major establishment figure and a well-known biographer of famous British subjects such as Thomas Carlyle and Enoch Powell wrote that:
“One hundred years ago, the Irish people fought for independence from the British. But now bygones are bygones: we have too much in common to quarrel.”
He stated that “All nations make catastrophic mistakes, and one of Britain’s was in its relations with Ireland and the handling of the Easter Rising a century ago.
"The extent of the damage can be gauged by the fact that it has only been in the last five years, with the Queen’s visit to Ireland and President Higgins’s reciprocal visit here, that anything approaching normal relations has been achieved.”
He stated usually it was wrong to give apologies for what happened in the past but “there is nothing more contemptible than politicians seeking approval by apologising for wrongs committed by previous generations: but the wrongs the British did Ireland, and their consequences, require an apology, and the centenary of the Rising is the time to make it.”
He stated: “The Irish are said to have a long memory for grudges: but in my experience of that country over the last 30 years this applies only to a few disaffected bigots.
"Most Irish are forward-looking, ambitious and determined. Like us – and this is the great change in recent years – they are an increasingly secular people, having shaken off the domination of the Catholic church, as they proved last year in legalizing same-sex marriage.”
He continued to say that failure to grant Home Rule as promised was behind the Easter Rising debacle.
Heffer notes, “The war on the Western Front was not going well, and the British were in no mood to treat rebels with leniency when the nation was in peril. Artillery attacked rebel positions, notably in the General Post Office, with ferocity. That much was understandable, but the aftermath was disastrous.The leaders were tried by court-martial and 14 of them executed by firing squad in early May; another, Sir Roger Casement, was tried for treason and hanged.”
He said the British made a huge mistake with the executions. “Britain was well aware of the pressure it was under from the (World War 1) war: but it made no allowances for Irish rage at 30 years of being treated like naughty, incompetent children. With hindsight, locking up the rebel leaders and releasing them within 18 months – which is what happened to the rank and file – would have calmed the situation."
Instead, he said “Execution made martyrs and encouraged violent republicanism. The brutality of Sinn Fein replaced moderate Irish nationalism. Instead of Home Rule to keep Ireland within the United Kingdom, a Free State and then a Republic were set up, with Britain as a sworn enemy to many.”
He stated the British must make it clear they know they acted badly.
“If the idea persists anywhere in Ireland that the British feel happy about the way earlier generations of them patronized, infantilised and sought to control the Irish, then we must disabuse our cousins thereof it once and for all.
Heller suggested Ireland might join the Commonwealth “nations for whom the Queen is not head of state, but with whom we share values. Bygones should be bygones: we have too much in common to quarrel.”
He stated because of the European Union exit support in Britain “Many Britons now can understand how the Irish felt a century ago. We, too, want to govern ourselves and determine our own future without the control of a foreign power. A distinguished Irishman said to me not long ago that if we choose to leave the EU, so Ireland would have to, given the volume of trade between us.
In conclusion, he stated “I am not sure that follows: but what we have in common remains so powerful that, if we do leave, our first bilateral deal should be with our Irish cousins. Potentially, we have no better friend on earth: on this sombre centenary, let us recall that apparent paradox above all else.”
Do you think the British should apologize for the executions? Let us know.
*Originally published in 2016.