Firstly, there is the centenary of Irish independence. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921 but entered into effect on 31 March 1922. It was the inevitable outcome of the war of independence. It was followed in turn by a civil war between those who supported and those who opposed the Treaty, the bone of contention being the fact that the Six Counties were hived off. The supporters of the Treaty won. Independence meant that Ireland was able to remain neutral during the Second World War.
Economically, however, the Free State, subsequently Republic remained largely dependent on Britain This was not least because of Eamon De Valera, who was Taoiseach, or prime minister, with interruptions from 1937 to 1959, and his short-sighted pursuit of, and failure to achieve, autarky.
The second key event is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the EU Accession Treaty on 22 January 1972 in the Egmont Palace of Brussels. In a referendum 83% of Irish people voted “yes” to joining the European Communities. Accession meant moving away from the futility of autarky and entering a vast marketplace.
Speaking about the impact of EU membership, Micheál Martin, the Taoiseach, said a young Irish State had “transitioned from relative economic stagnation and insularity” to a competitive economy at the heart of the single market. Relationships forged between Irish and British government politicians at a European level “helped to develop mutual trust and understanding,” which assisted the peace process in Northern Ireland, he said. Membership also gave Ireland the push needed “to strengthen our human rights record”, he said.
Ireland, with its success in the years after it joined, became a “beacon” of what could be gained inside the EU, to other countries such as those in Eastern and Central Europe who later joined in 2004, Mr Martin said on 21 January 2022.
Martin went on to say that the union had “stood by Ireland” in the aftermath of Britain deciding to leave the bloc, “making the objective of sustaining peace, avoiding a hard border and protecting the all-island economy a major priority from the very beginning of negotiations”.
Ireland was now playing its part “to defend” the union’s shared values, such as “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights”, both within the EU, and around the world, Martin said.
The Bogside is the downside
January sees the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the British army: Bloody Sunday in Derry/Londonderry. Thirteen innocent people died when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on an anti-internment march in the city’s Bogside on 30 January 1972. A fourteenth died later. The commanding officer, Col Derek Wilford, continues to claim that his men were shooting in self-defence, but no evidence has emerged of any of the marchers being armed.
Thousands of people attended a walk of remembrance and a memorial service to mark the 50th anniversary of the atrocity. Families of those killed on Bloody Sunday have said there must be justice for their loved ones and they will “meet head on” the UK government’s plans to introduce a statute of limitations.
Unlike many countries, the United Kingdom has no statute of limitations for any criminal offence, except for summary offences (offences tried exclusively in the magistrates’ court). In these cases, criminal proceedings must be brought within 6 months. Killing people was a criminal offence the last time I looked. Why should members of the armed forces be exempt from prosecution?
Greek hero, Irish hero
Finally, 2 February sees the centenary of the publication in full (some passages had appeared earlier) of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Writing in the Irish Times, Patsy McGarry described it as ‘probably the most famous unread book in history’. I don’t mind admitting I have not read it all, despite this ringing endorsement from my favourite author, Nabokov. ‘My greatest masterpieces of 20th century prose are, in this order: Joyce’s Ulysses, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Bely’s Petersburg, and the first half of Proust’s fairy tale, In Search of Lost Time.” But Brendan Behan referred to it as Useless. Roddy Doyle was particularly scathing about Ulysses, saying, the book “could have done with a good editor”. But, as Johnson (no, not him; the real one, the lexicographer) said, “the Irish are a fair people: they never speak well of one another”.
I suspect that most people know of Ulysses because they think it will fall open at the alleged dirty bits. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Be that as it may, in 1998, it went on to be selected by a panel of scholars and writers (Modern Library Top 100) as the best English-language novel of the 20th century. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was second, and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, third. (Wot? No Nabokov? – well, he came fourth).