Ambassador’s Farewell Message, 20 August, 2015

It has come time to say goodbye to Israel.  My family and I are to return to Ireland tomorrow because I have had the honour of being appointed Director General of the Trade and Promotion Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  It is a fantastic opportunity and I am delighted to have the chance to engage in this vital area.  In the normal course diplomatic postings are of four years duration but it happens from time to time in one’s career that Headquarters has other ideas!

We have enjoyed our two year stay here and we have learned an awful lot.  We have been thrilled to set foot in Bethlehem, the Negev, Masada, Galilee, and countless towns and villages, but above all in Jerusalem where it seems that heaven and earth are bound closer than anywhere else.  It was exciting to explore and uncover aspects of Irish Israel relations from the past, such as the key roles played in Israel’s history by such Irish figures as Col. Henry Patterson and Mike Flanagan.  More contemporary highlights included the visits of Ministers Shatter, Coveney, Lynch and of course the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan last February.

And in my two years here, I have experienced the start of the Kerry peace talks, the collapse of those talks, the war in Gaza, the end of a government, elections and the start of a new government.  For a diplomatic posting of any length that’s plenty!

Cultural highlights included our own reading of Joyce’s Ulysses at the Residence for last year’s Bloomsday and the production of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape this year.

More discreetly, we engaged with peace builders and NGOs who patiently build the foundations for Israel’s peaceful future.  As we learned in Northern Ireland, this work is often unseen and thankless but ultimately vital.

All the preparatory reading about Israel cannot substitute for living here.  I leave profoundly impressed with all that Israel has achieved in such a short span of time – in state building, militarily, economically and socially.

Of all the places I have visited, none have impressed me more than Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum.  In its moral clarity, in its accounting of what happened that is both respectful of its victims and of the facts, in its architecture that is both labyrinthine and cathedral-like, it inspires an awe that deepens rather than dissipates on each visit.

And then there is the Occupation.  I profoundly share the Irish Government’s position that it must end.  Only in the realisation of self-determination can both Israelis and Palestinians reach their full potential as distinct communities of people.  Only in separate and sovereign self-determination can both live as two cooperative neighbours, governed by democracy, law and mutual respect.

We have very happy memories of time spent with the Israel Ireland League and count many of its members as friends, including the irreplaceable and effervescent chairman, Malcolm Gafson.  Diplomatic colleagues were not only knowledgeable guides but some have become good friends.  We encountered remarkable people involved in peace building, the arts and academia.  And we’ll never forget the thrill of walking into our garden and simply picking lemons, oranges, kumquats, and mangos from our trees!

I would like to say a special thanks to Mary my wife and my children.  My kids have followed me to the US, Korea and Israel.  In New York we lived through 9/11.  They listened in Seoul to CNN warn of an imminent attack from North Korea in April 2012 and stood in the Residence’s bomb-shelter last summer as Iron Dome very audibly did its work in the skies nearby.  More than that, they adjusted to life in new societies and new schools.  Mary is the other working half of this partnership and was very much captain of the Residence.  She worked briefly too in the Embassy providing vital assistance when it was needed.

I would like to pay a special tribute to David Lee, who began as my PA and is now our office manager; he has been the epitome of courtesy, commitment, enthusiasm and above all integrity, a quality that I have come to value more and more.  We are now supported in the office by Joseph Sa’ad, a great addition as driver/office secretary.  I would like to thank too all those who responded to my messages from time to time.

There is disappointment at not having two more years here, a thrill about the new job and excitement about going home after six years abroad.  The Embassy here will be in good hands under the leadership of Ambassador designate Alison Kelly, my friend and colleague, and the new Deputy Head of Mission, Tim Reilly.

I wish you the very best.

Shabbat Shalom and farewell,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador, Tel Aviv

www.eamonncmckee.com

email: eamonn.mckee@dfa.ie

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Easter Rising, 1916-2016

As you know, the one hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising will be commemorated next year. 

There has always been a lively discussion in Ireland of the Rising itself.   The courage of the rebels and their willingness to die for their country was not in doubt.  Yet a question remains about the Rising’s utility, from a military perspective; an essentially guerrilla army, lightly armed, embedding itself in fixed positions around Dublin and waiting for the army of the world’s largest empire to come and get them. 

Yet it is clear that the Rebels knew exactly what they were doing in seizing Dublin.  It has to be remembered that Dublin was captured by the Anglo-Norman warlord Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow, in 1170.  In an act of fealty and self-preservation he quickly conferred it to Henry II.  The English crown’s hold on Dublin remained throughout the next seven hundred and fifty years, the city and Dublin Castle acting as the lynch-pin of its conquest and occupation of Ireland.  The 1916 rebels were the first to shake that hold.  They expected the symbolism of their act to resonate profoundly with the nationalist people of Ireland. 

The rebels were correct in their assessment of its impact.  Their Rising proved to be a seminal event in Irish history, sweeping aside the Irish Parliamentary Party with its genteel ambitions of home rule and igniting the final and successful push for independence.

The Department of Defence are compiling an official register of relatives of participants in the Easter Rising for the purpose of invitations to Ireland 2016 commemorative events, particularly the Easter Sunday parade (27th March 2016) and evening reception in Dublin Castle (a reception that has a weighty symbolism of its own!)

Registration forms and details of how to apply are available on the Department of Defence websitehttp://www.defence.ie/website.nsf/home+page?openform.  The closing date for registration is Wednesday 30thSeptember 2015.

If you are a relative of participants in the Rising, you may wish to apply to attend these important commemorative events.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

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News from Ireland Israel, Ambassador’s Message 11 June 2015

Here’s some updates on events in Israel with an Irish interest.  You can stay in touch with us through our website (www.embassyofireland.co.il ) which carries a live-feed of the Embassy’s Twitter account with links to articles and photographs of interest, and through my twitter account @EamonnMcKee.

Prof. Guy Beiner was not long returned to Ben Gurion University after his sabbatical when he organised an Irish symposium on 1 June last.  The main speaker was Queen’s University Professor Keith Jeffery, a renowned historian most know for his history of Britain’s external intelligence service MI6 (MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service, 1909 to 1949 (London, 2010). Prof. Jeffery also wrote the seminal Ireland the Great War which was the topic of his fascinating talk at BGU. He is a wonderful and engaging communicator about history and he held the audience with his wit and erudition.

We had a full house at BGU with over a hundred guests, comprising faculty, students and even some interested locals. The event was supported by a grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For the Irish themed party afterwards, Guinness and Tullamore Dew provided product support and lively traditional Irish music came courtesy of the band Black Velvet. The day was a great mix of the educational and the social, perfect.

Thanks to Guy for his enthusiasm, energy and academic brilliance not least on Irish history: His book Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory (Madison, 2007) was highly acclaimed.

The Israel Ireland Friendship League gathered to recall a unique piece of history at the Armoured Corps Museum at Latrun. It is a wonderful place, set on top of the strategic hilltop guarding the road to Jerusalem with panoramic views around the rolling hills. Peaceful now, even with the presence of tanks serried in all their quiet might, Latrun has been the scene of some fearful battles, including in 1948. An Irishman, Mike Flanagan, took some Cromwell tanks from his own unit of the British Army to help the nascent state of Israel defend its existence. My remarks at the event available on this blog (photos found on the sites noted above).

Thanks to the passion and commitment of Prof. Linda Ben Zvi at Tel Aviv University, this year’s Samuel Beckett Event was not a lecture as is traditional, but a performance of Krapp’s Last Tape by ITIM Theatre Ensemble, with the great Doron Tavori in the lead role under the brilliant direction of Remi Yerushalemi. We had a panel discussion with the audience and of course an after-party. Thanks to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a grant which made this possible and to Guinness for adding another Irish dimension through their support for the after-party. My opening remarks on this blog.

Finally, we are approaching the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo. This is seen as the climatic and definitive encounter between France and counter-revolutionary forces allied under Britain’s leadership. However, there was an important, even vital, Irish dimension and you might find my blog on this of interest: you can find it on this blog. How we in Ireland view Waterloo says much about our awakening as a society from what Joyce termed ‘the nightmare of history’.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador, Tel Aviv

www.eamonncmckee.com

on Twitter: @EamonnMcKee

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Annual TUA-Embassy Beckett Event, Tel Aviv

Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett

Remarks by HE Dr Eamonn McKee, Ambassador of Ireland

Without doubt, Samuel Beckett is a colossus of 20th century literature. Paradoxically he is one of literature’s most distinctive voices yet his themes are the most universal: existence, awareness, memory, the nature of self and the ineffable quality of reality.

Paradoxically too Beckett is both a recognisably Irish writer in his characters and experiences and words. Yet, he sought to sublimate this Irishness on a wider, unnameable and infinitely more universal canvas.

If the origin of the universe is the big bang, the origin of Beckett as a writer is what he called ‘the disaster’. If reality was unreliable, and if consciousness seeking certainty of itself could only achieve uncertainty, then this was a disaster.

The only possible negotiation of this was in the act of writing. Only writing could bridge the gap between the bearable and the impossible; between ‘I can’t go on’ and ‘I must go on.’

In his writing, Beckett is detached from his characters but in a benign way. He is a forgiving God in his universe. It is we who judge ourselves. In Krapp’s Last Tape, Beckett has his character use recordings to listen to and to cast judgement on his younger self or younger selves. But he is in fact casting judgement on himself, on his life. Does he find redemption or condemnation in these encounters?

We cannot escape the question, would we?

Beckett moved seamlessly from prose to the theatre. The theatre offered him one thing that prose could not – silence. Beckett is probably the greatest exponent of the tension between the spoken word and silence.

More than that, as the great Irish literary critic Seamus Deane has observed in his wonderful précis of Beckett in Field Day Anthology III, the stage for Beckett offered tangibility. Because of this tangibility, Beckett was famously exacting about the quality and precision of the theatrical performances of his work.

Again prose could not offer this: Drama provided physical characters in the form of the actors themselves: The stage offered a reliable three dimensional space. And the performance provided measured time, real time. Where all of these could slip into nothingness in prose, on the stage they were actualised.

However, in their actualisation, Beckett wanted exactitude. In drama, Beckett was the composer and conductor. The actors were the instruments of his words. The whole production was the realisation of the world he was creating. As his instruments, actors must achieve precision of timing and quality of tone, just as the director must find exactitude of intention.

Only the most committed of directors and actors dare to perform Beckett. Only the greatest directors and actors can achieve this. With certainty of just such achievement, I am honoured to welcome you to this performance.

I would like to thank Prof. Linda Ben Zvi for her enormous commitment in sustaining this annual event. This year it is a very special one thanks to her inspiration. I would also like to thank Rina Yerushalmi, one of Israel’s most renowned directors and Doron Tavori, one of Israel’s most accomplished stage actors, for making this evening’s event possible.  Thanks too to ITIM Theatre Ensemble for their enthusiastic support from the outset. I would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its financial grant and Guinness for their support in a different form of liquidity!

Thank you

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Ireland and Waterloo: Looking Back and Looking Forward

In Ireland we’re thinking of centenaries but this month we should spare a thought for the bicentenary of an event that involved or affected many Irish and whose outcome influenced the country’s fate.

From an Irish perspective, the echoes of Waterloo are faint. But they are worth recalling because the Irish dimension to the battle was an important one.  The nature of Ireland’s multifaceted response to the French Revolution and to Waterloo also tells us much about Ireland at the time. Moreover, how we reflect on Waterloo tells us much about Ireland today and how in looking back, we are also looking forward.

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On 18 June 1815, the Irish-born Duke of Wellington, aided by the decisive late intervention of Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher of Prussia, defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo. Since his escape from Elba, Napoleon had enjoyed hopes of triumph for ‘One Hundred Days’. With Waterloo those hopes ended and with them an era.

News of Napoleon’s escape from Elba electrified Europe. Hearing of Napoleon unbound, the recently restored Bourbon Louis XVIII fled Versailles.  The heads of states, diplomats and notables devising the post-Napoleonic shape of Europe in Vienna condemned Napoleon as an outlaw and assembled a coalition of armies to engage him.

From his landing on the Cote d’Azur, Napoleon advanced north through France like some force of nature, gathering troops and intent on splitting and defeating the coalition forces of the Anglo-Dutch and the Prussians. They in turn were scrambling to combine their forces and crush him. He intended to engage them in turn on the plains of Belgium, the game board of European struggles for many centuries.

Napoleon just missed the mark, failing to keep the two armies apart.  His staff officers were rusty; even his famed Marshal Ney showed hesitation, failing to capture the vital crossroads of Quatre Bras on 16 June. That engagement saw three Irish captains die defending it.

On the day of the battle at Waterloo, Napoleon was fatigued or unwell.  Stubborn defence by Wellington’s Anglo-Dutch force held off the ferocity of Napoleon’s trademark mobility of horse and use of artillery. That was fatal because it meant that the French had not won the field before Blücher arrived.  Even still, the climactic battle was, as Wellington remarked, “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.” Had Napoleon won, he might just have fought again and even won again. Whether he would have reasserted his mastery of Europe seems questionable. Too many European powers had determined to fight him together.

Napoleon returned to Paris to reassemble an army as the British and Prussians surrounded the city. Rather than see the city stormed, the French surrendered. For Napoleon, the game was finally up and after abdicating he boarded HMS Bellerophon to capitulate to the British.  He was soon was on his way to exile on the island of St. Helena, accompanied by Irishman and surgeon Barry O’Meara, who became his doctor and wrote of Napoleon’s last years there.  Louis XVIII was escorted back into the city by the Prussians who returned him to the palace at Versailles that he had so recently and rapidly vacated.

Waterloo ushered in an era of peace after twenty-five years of war. However not everyone welcomed Napoleon’s defeat.  For many he was the avatar of modernity, the destroyer of ancien régimes, the harbinger of a new era of liberalism.  Irish nationalists had waited for the arrival of his troops in Ireland to rebel once more but such hopes were finally extinguished. For progressives and radical reformers across Europe, his defeat at the hands of the established powers returned the reactionaries to dominance.

With Waterloo Britain achieved its strategic objective in Europe; a balance of power in which it was the central source of influence.  It took this opportunity to establish itself as a world power of a scope unprecedented in modern times. In the16th century Spain had been Britain’s continental rival, followed by France in the 17th and 18th centuries. But because of Waterloo Britain would not face another European rival until the rise of industrialised, imperial Germany in 1871. In a twist of history, the rise of Germany was in part due to Napoleon’s reorganisation of the hundreds of Rhineland principalities into what became the thirty-nine states of the German Confederation.

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In many ways, Ireland’s destiny was shaped by the strategic threat that Britain perceived it to represent. There is something of the ‘folly of the consequent’ in this. Having conquered and colonised Ireland as its first overseas possession, it had created a resentful population because of land expropriate and systematic anti-catholic discrimination that was designed to ensure that catholics could wield no influence or develop a political leadership. Looking to throw off the English yoke, Irish nationalists naturally turned to Britain’s European enemies for succour and support when opportunity allowed.

Spain landed troops in Ireland to support the O’Neill rebellion at the end of the 16th century. Revolutionary France sent forces in both 1796 and 1798 to support an Irish rebellion. The military thinking of both Spain and France was similar: deploy a relatively small expeditionary force to spark rebellion in Ireland and tie down a disproportionate number of British troops, diverting them from the main theatre of war. (Nazi Germany pondered a similar diversionary campaign though since Ireland was independent at that stage one has to consider its planning as little more than a feint. One might even counter-factually speculate that had Ireland been left alone by England and developed as an independent country, it would not have been inviting invasions from Spain or France.)

Denied opportunities at home because of their religion, leading Irish Catholics had long emigrated to France for education in the Irish colleges there and to seek careers in the church, banking and medicine. They also joined the military, notably the ‘Wild Geese’ of the Irish Brigade, whose decisive intervention had swung the 1745 Battle of Fontenoy in favour of the Franco-Prussian alliance against the British and their allies. That intervention handed the Bourbon dynasty a new lease on power.

Well before the Revolution, then, links between Ireland and France were strong, if tilted toward the establishment. The Irish community in Paris had carved out a niche for themselves under the Bourbons.  Through their wits they survived the threats and turmoil of the Revolution itself.

Back in Ireland and inspired by the French Revolution, the United Irishmen comprised Protestants and Catholics together demanding more liberties from London, in effect self-determination. For the elite Protestant members of the movement this was a particularly principled and brave demand since any realization of their ambitions would have inevitably led to Catholic demands for a reversal of the land appropriations on which the Protestant Ascendancy was established, the very class from which they themselves came.

The United Irishmen sent emissaries to Paris to lobby the Revolutionary government and then Napoleon for support for an uprising back home. These emissaries were in effect leaders in exile, determined to return and lead an Irish revolution. They added a new dimension and much intrigue to the Irish community in Paris in the 1790s and early 1800s.

The United Irishmen were actually initially very successful in their efforts with the Directory and with Napoleon. The Directory dispatched some 15,000 troops along with Wolfe Tone in 1796 but events and one of the stormiest winters in a century conspired to frustrate its landing. For two vital years, the British had the opportunity to weaken the rebels though paradoxically the repression also helped generate the rebellion it was designed to forestall. By the time a French force actually landed in Mayo in 1798 to support the rebellion, the balance of forces were in Britain’s favour and the rebellion savagely repressed.

After the rebellion, Dublin Castle, the seat of British power, used draconian laws, force and intelligence gathering to ensure that any lingering rebelliousness was leaderless and lack organisation.  Robert Emmet’s 1803 rebellion was quickly snuffed out and he executed. The British military built roads deep into the wilds of Wicklow to thwart future rebels taking refuge there again. The squat Martello towers erected to warn of a French invasion were dotted all around the coast except for the loyal northeast.

The political response by London to 1798 was in many ways it most fateful. By abolishing the Irish (albeit Protestant) parliament through the 1801 Act of Union, Britain created a precise and singular demand for Irish nationalists that would define and dominate their agenda until its achievement, namely the restoration of local autonomy.

Despite the defeat of the Irish rebellions in 1798 and 1803, Napoleon still thought that Ireland could play a key part in his plans to invade England. He formed the Irish Legion in 1804 to catalyse rebellion and then lead it, hoping that the sight of the Legion landing on Ireland’s shores in its green livery would foment revolution. But its mandate was uncertain – was it a nascent political elite for an independent Ireland or a spearhead military force? This would dog its development and frustrate the United Irishmen in Paris. The problems of the Legion played into a broader frustration and growing disillusion with Napoleon, leading many United Irish leaders to emigrate eventually to America, much to the satisfaction of watchful British officials.

The Irish Legion’s history was not then a happy one, its officers mainly Irish but its ranks mixed, including amongst Irish soldiers English prisoners of war, Poles and Prussians.  Yet it would earn its place in Napoleon’s Army on European battlefields, the only foreign regiment to be granted a regimental eagle standard.

The 1805 Battle of Trafalgar stunted Napoleon’s ambitions of conquering England, though he would revisit the notion again and with it the role that Ireland might play. As Marianne Elliott notes: “Napoleon’s treatment of the Irish Legion after 1806 became the temperature gauge of his attitude towards Irish liberation in general…..but the conflict between the military and the political conception of the Irish Legion’s role was never quite resolved, in the minds either of the Irish themselves or of the French officials.” (See suggested reading below, p.349)

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Exiled rebels working with the French is a romantic and compelling part of the Irish story, satisfying to the nationalist narrative. However, it is a partial one because the vast majority of Irish fighting at Waterloo did so in the livery of the British Army, just as they had done throughout modern history. If there were plenty of Irishmen willing to rebel if the odds were good, there many on the other side of the equation; the loyal Anglo-Irish aristocracy filled the ranks of the British cavalry and Irish labourers and weavers (unemployed thanks to the French blockade and then war with America) joined the ranks for an income, adventure and a career.

There is not a great deal written about the Irish in British ranks at Waterloo. On the Irish participation in Waterloo there is one piece of research available on the internet. Peter Molloy’s thesis is, as far as I know, unpublished but it is a vivid and engaging piece of work. He captures well the ferment caused in Ireland by the return of the “Destroyer of Men” (a well earned epithet, since Napoleon’s wars cost about six million lives). You can find his thesis here

Ireland was thrown in excitement and movement by the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba. For most people the immediate visible impact was the surge towards the ports as troops and supplies were moved to embarkation points around the coast.

The Inniskilling Dragoons and Fusiliers prepared for action in what for them would prove to be a brutally heroic engagement. They were joined by the 18th (King’s Irish) Hussars. Molloy records that these regiments comprised the three official Irish contingents at Waterloo. Other Irish regiments that had fought under Wellington’s command in the Peninsular Wars had been deployed to America for the War of 1812. A convoy of troops just out of an Irish port and heading to Bermuda were overtaken and told to head to Belgium, much to their relief. Dublin and Cobh bustled as ships were loaded, anchors weighed and sails raised. You can easily imagine the flutter of conversation at homes and taverns throughout the island at this thrillingly awful turn of events.

Irishmen were enlisted in many British regiments, not just those associated with Ireland. Young James Graham from Monaghan, who had some years before joined the Louth Militia, was now a serving NCO with the Coldstream Guards as the orders came to mobilise.

How many Irish were actually in the British Army at Waterloo is a surmise. By 1830 it has been reckoned that over 40% of the British Army were Irish and while probably not far off one cannot assume this to have been case at Waterloo. From Molloy’s sampling, it would seem that somewhere in the region of 30% of British regiments comprised Irish enlisted men and NCOs. Add to that a good quotient of officers (including three generals) plus camp followers and one can firmly state that Irish representation at Waterloo was very significant indeed and probably not far off 40% even with so many Irish units absent.

Molloy writes:

“Indeed, it is possible to go a step further and argue that the British army of the Waterloo campaign offers a genuinely representative cross-section of Irish society at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Irishmen of all descriptions saw active service in 1815. Some, mostly members of the officer class like Major General Sir William Ponsonby or Captain Edward Thomas Fitzgerald, hailed from relatively privileged and influential backgrounds in the country. At the opposite end of the rank and wealth scale at Waterloo were common soldiers like Private Terence Gallagher of Kilmore, County Mayo; a twenty five year old former weaver who had enlisted into the 1st Foot for a term of unlimited service in December 1813.” (p. 35)

The pace of events accelerated as the confrontation approached, the Waterloo campaign itself lasting a mere four days of furious movement and intensive fighting. Some 200,000 combatants fought in an area about half the size of the Phoenix Park, often hand-to-hand and no more than a couple of hundred yards apart when firing at each other. Casualties have been estimated at up to 54,000 men killed or seriously wounded, along with 10,000 horses dead or injured. The carnage of men and horses in such a concentrated area shocked even hardened veterans.

The 1st Battalion of the 27th (Inniskillings) Foot found itself in the centre of Wellington’s line after a two-day forced march to the battlefield. Their square formation endured repeated assaults by French cavalry and artillery fire. By the end of the day more than half of their 750 troops were casualties. Indeed Molloy writes that “Due to its frequent featuring in secondary literature, as well as the references to the battalion’s stand in a large number of British primary accounts from the battle, it is probably no exaggeration to suggest that the ordeal of the Inniskillings at Waterloo remains perhaps the single most widely discussed and visible element of Irish participation in the campaign” (p. 37).

Our Sergeant James Graham found himself as part of a garrison at a farm complex called Hougoumont on Wellington’s right flank. The French attacked it repeatedly, since if breached and taken they could outflank the Allied forces. They broke in but Graham rushed forward to close the gate and save the day. For that and other heroics, he was recognised as one of two of the bravest soldiers on the day.

Another Irish hero of the day was cavalryman Captain Edward ‘Waterloo’ Kelly whose exploits in the thick of battle earned him his sobriquet. As he wrote to his wife, as quoted by Molloy, “Donnybrooke [sic] Fair was nothing to the fight we had here… there were a great number of wigs on the green” (a figure of speech about gentlemen taking to Stephen’s Green to settle arguments in combat where words had failed them).

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Had events allowed, the Irish in the British Army could well have found themselves facing off against Napoleon’s Irish Legion. As it happened, on Napoleon’s first abdication the officers of the Irish Legion had sworn loyalty to Louis XVIII, re-establishing the pre-revolutionary commitment of the Irish Brigade to the Bourbons.  Napoleon’s arrival on French soil prompted them to swear loyalty anew to him.  Garrisoned at Avesnes near Calais, they were not called into the battle. One has to think that uncertainty about their loyalty might have played a role in this. After Waterloo and in retaliation for the oath to the great usurper, the restored Bourbon regime under Louis XVIII disbanded the Legion, burned its flags and destroyed its regimental eagle.

Ireland was enthralled and deeply engaged by the ‘One Hundred Days’ of Napoleon’s return. His defeat was widely celebrated throughout the island, notably in Dublin where a new bridge was named Waterloo Bridge in 1816 though today it is better known as the Ha’penny Bridge.  To this day the Wellington Monument dominates the Phoenix Park and Waterloo graces a brace of place names.

After 1815, Irish nationalist agitation for political reform and home rule would dominate the rest of a century bisected by the Great Famine of 1845-51. Daniel O’Connell, a champion of democracy of truly international repute and significance, fought politically for catholic emanicipation, home rule and relief of famine victims.  Wellington actually played a key role in securing catholic emancipation.  This did not stop O’Connell from taking pleasure in goading Wellington, inventing the spurious claim that Wellington responded to jibes about his brith in Ireland by saying birth in a stable did not mean one was a horse.

While constitutional politics would dominate Ireland for the next one hundred years, the republican tradition of armed revolt inspired by the French Revolution would live on in Ireland in secret, a subterranean drumbeat kept alive by oath-bound revolutionaries. The next time Irish nationalists looked to Europe for support, it would be to Germany or “our gallant allies in Europe” in the salutation of the 1916 Proclamation.

Elliot’s masterful account of the United Irishmen and France, Partners in Revolution, makes a crucial point about their legacy: “…it was the myth of noble failure, the sanctity of the hopeless struggle, which paradoxically was to exercise most influence on nationalist imagination, and in the 1848 and 1916 risings, republican nationalists used the myth in justification of rebellions pre-ordained to fail” (p.370).

And as she notes, “in fairness, it was a myth initiated by the United Irishmen themselves when things started to go disastrously wrong.” As we look back on our history, even with the best intentions, Elliot’s points is an important cautionary one about how self-conscious history making is not history but its abuse.

The tragedy of Ireland’s divided loyalties were starkly illustrated when in one engagement in Dublin the rebels of 1916, very much sons of the French Revolution, faced off against the descendent unit of the heroes of Waterloo: The Inniskilling Fusiliers (12th Reserve Battalion) were dispatched to help deal with the Rising and suffered two fatalities and some injuries in the fight.

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Waterloo lives on in many different ways. Napoleon’s vision of a European power bound under one (his own) rule recalled Charlemagne’s ambitions. Its peaceful manifestation today is the European Union. The EU may not excite British antagonism as Napoleon did but the island-nation’s relationship to Europe remains unsettled enough to generate an upcoming referendum on continued membership.  The United Nation’s reputedly got its name from Byron’s description of the Allies at Waterloo when he wrote ‘Here, where the sword united/nations drew…’ (see History Ireland, May-June 2015, p. 26).

In literature, Stendhal called on his own experiences with Napoleon’s campaigns to paint a vivid picture of the Battle of Waterloo in his famous and charming novel, The Charterhouse of Parma. That would in turn inspire Tolstoy’s famous account of the 1812 Battle of Borodino, the climax of War and Peace when Napoleon’s Grand Armée stumbles and fatally loses its momentum on the way to Moscow. (Indeed, one might note en passant, that Waterloo is unimaginable without the disaster of Napoleon’s Russian campaign since Russian pursuit and Allied convergence led directly to his tenure in Elba: see Russia Against Napoleon by Dominc Lieven and as a companion piece read Count de Ségur’s diary of Napoleon’s Russian campaign pubilished as Defeat, Napoleon’s Russian Campaign with an introduction by Mark Danner. Lieven contradicts Tolstoy by arguing that it was not merely Russian stoicism that won but logistical organisation by the Russian Army that sustained the pursuit of Napoleon all the way to Paris.)

For the 27th Inniskilling Fusiliers, their heroic unflinching defence in the maelstrom of the battle became a part of their soldiering ethos. As the Royal Irish Rangers they were merged with the Royal Ulster Rifles whose own stout defence of Seoul against the formidable “Chinese waves” during the Korean War were pivotal to the communist defeat (see related blogs under ‘Korea’). Having been merged again with Ulster Defence Regiment in 1992, today the Fusiliers live on in the Royal Irish Regiment.

Molloy again:

“Quite apart from historical study, Waterloo remains a cherished battle honour for the British Army’s contemporary Royal Irish Regiment – ultimate successor, through a complex series of amalgamations, to the 27th Foot of 1815. On 18 June 2011, Waterloo Day, the 1st Battalion of that regiment marked its return from a demanding tour of Afghanistan with the awarding of campaign medals. At the close of the medal ceremony, the battalion was marched off the parade ground by its non-commissioned officers: a symbolic nod to Waterloo, with regimental tradition maintaining that so many of the Inniskillings’ officers had been killed or wounded by the close of that engagement that the unit was commanded by its NCOs instead.” (fn. 98)

***

That there is not much written about the Irish at Waterloo is undoubtedly a result to some degree of the great occlusion of British-Ireland created by the struggle for Irish independence. As Irish self-determination was frustrated throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, the republican revolutionaries who had bided their time found events turning their way again. The Rising of 1916 and all that flowed from it sanctified a singular perspective on our historical narrative. The republican nationalist narrative focused attention on the lineage of the victors and their heroes: the United Irishmen, Wolfe Tone, 1798, and Robert Emmet’s doomed 1803 revolt.

We are re-stranding Irish identity with new lineages from history that suffered from the great occlusion. This is in part thanks to the liberation of the Northern Ireland peace process. It is in part a result of our evolution as a society which is increasingly inclusive, a sure sign of our security when it comes to our identity. Time and reflection allows us review our narrative as we approach one hundred years of independence. It is also in part a result of the decade of centenaries now upon us that demand our attention and consideration.

So, for example, Irish involvement in the British armed services during World War I is now acknowledged and commemorated. Irish defence force personnel who deserted to fight in World War II can be acknowledged rather than besmirched and penalised. As this process develops, the exploits of the Irish in the British Army throughout its Empire in the 19th century will overtime receive more attention.

In reflecting soberly and openly on our past, our history can no longer be considered, as Joyce termed it no doubt accurately at the time, a nightmare from which we must awaken.

And how we respond to Waterloo, as we respond to our history in general, tells much about Ireland today and our appetite for reflection on what constitutes our heritage and what it means to be Irish.

As we recover and embrace so many aspects of our past, that is a very positive story of where Ireland stands today, looking back on a far richer narrative than we have hitherto allowed and looking forward to a genuinely inclusive future.

 Eamonn McKee

Tel Aviv

Some suggested reading:

Peter Molloy, Ireland and the Waterloo Campaign of 1815, (MA Thesis, NUI Maynooth, 2011)

Thomas Pakenham, The Year of Liberty, The History of the Great Rebellion of 1798 (New York, 1993)

Marianne Elliott, Partners in Revolution, The United Irishmen and France, New Haven, 1982)

Liam Swords, The Green Cockade, The Irish and the French Revolution 1789-1815 (Dublin, 1989)

Dominic Lieven, Russia Against Napoleon, the true story of the campaigns of War and Peace (New York, 2010)

Mark Danner (ed.), Defeat, Napoleon’s Russian Campaign, Philippe-Paul de Ségur (New York, 2008)

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Hero of Israel’s War of Independence, Mike Flanagan

Yad Le’Shiryon Museum at the IDF Armoured Corps Memorial

Remarks by Eamonn McKee, Ambassador of Ireland

Laturn, 5 June 2015

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, members of Michael ‘Mike’ Flanagan’s family. It is my honour to be with you here today as we rededicate his memory in this place of honour for Israel’s fallen.  I wish to pay a special tribute of the President of the Israel Ireland Friendship League, Malcolm Gafson. Malcolm is a tireless searcher for opportunities to promote, recall and honour the ties between Ireland and Israel. This gathering today is a further testament to his commitment and his contribution to the ties that bind us.

I would like to express my thanks too for the heartfelt cooperation of the Yad Le’Shiryon Museum here at the IDF Armoured Corps Memorial.

In Ireland we are commemorating a series of centenaries of events that gave birth to independent Ireland, the State that embodies the free will and self-determination of the nation of Ireland.  We achieved that statehood through military means.

The rebels of 1916 knowingly went into a battle that would certainly cost them their liberty and could cost them their lives.  The men and women who continued the struggle in the War of Independence offered the same sacrifice.

All those who fought for Ireland did so for love of country. That is the foundational act upon which all nation states are called into being.

Far more rare is the man or woman who risks liberty and life for the love of another country. Michael Flanagan was such a man. He had already fought in the Second World War, a conflict that clearly pitted good against evil.  Rarely has human evil been so starkly revealed as it was in the death camps of the Holocaust.

Like so many of his generation, he was appalled by that and convinced that the Jewish people deserved and needed a homeland. Like very few of his generation, he acted upon that. And he did so in a very direct way, helping to arm the fledgling state against those who would seek to destroy it as its inception.

We stand before this Cromwell tank, as tangible and potent a contribution by any man to any cause as can be found. In its time, the Cromwell tank was a fearsomely effective machine of war. It and its companion tanks delivered by Mike Flanagan formed the core of the new State’s armoured division. More than that, Mike Flanagan would fight alongside his Jewish compatriots in the struggle for Independence.

Mike Flanagan is part of a great Irish contribution to the birth of Israel. Col. John Henry Patterson from County Longford became the ‘godfather’ of the Israel Army by his command of the Jewish Mule Corps at Gallipoli and then of the Jewish Legion during the Palestine campaign in World War I.  The heroes of the Irish War of Independence like Michael Collins and Tom Barry became inspirational figures for the early Zionist fighters looking to establish an independent state of Israel.  Irishmen and men of Irish heritage helped ship fleeing refugees from post-Holocaust Europe to Mandate Palestine, running and breaking the British embargo.  Other Irish fought too for Israel’s independence but many of them have been lost to history.

And after the first generation of battles were fought and won in the establishment of the State of Israel, Mike Flanagan converted, married and settled in Israel for most of his life. Mike Flanagan was a man of many achievements but a man of mystery too. He was not a glory hunter but content to see the fruits of his labours in the fact of Israel established and defended. The esteem in which Mike Flanagan is held by so many key Israeli figures clearly points to a life of largely hidden acts, carried out in the service of Israel.

Today, we recall his name. Today, we recall his deeds. Today we salute his contribution to the establishment of the State of Israel.

Thank you.

[For photos of this event, go to @EamonnMcKee or the twitter feed on the Embassy’s website at http://www.embassyofireland.co.il ]

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Ambassador’s Message: Ireland’s ‘Yes’ Goes Global

You will no doubt have seen the headlines. The news propelled Ireland to the front pages across the globe. In what is regarded at home and abroad as a dramatic statement about Ireland today, the same-sex marriage referendum was endorsed 62:38 and in 43 out of 44 constituencies.

Crowds gathered and celebrated in a festive atmosphere in and around Dublin Castle’s spacious courtyard. All through that sunny Saturday the vote count confirmed something seismic was happening. Social media soon flooded with images of the emotional cord struck by this outcome, perhaps summed up as acceptance and pride.

In short, gay pride became Irish pride as Ireland took a leading global position on gay rights, equality and tolerance.

And I think that it is not hyperbolic to consider this outcome historic (see my short blog on this last Saturday).

One of the most charming comments was from the leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon: “I bet there will be a few marriage proposals in the pubs of Dublin tonight. What a lovely thought. Enjoy the celebrations, Ireland.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the Archbishop of Dublin Micheal Martin stood robed in red with his tall white hat and said ruefully to children about to be confirmed as Catholics, “Boys and girls, I made my confirmation sixty years ago. Your world is different from mine.” (This is quoted in Danny Hakim’s New York Times’s front page report here. His report usefully sums up the historic context and the many battles that have way marked Saturday’s result.)

UNSG Ban Ki-moon, in Ireland to receive the Tipperary International Peace Award, hailed the outcome: “This is truly an historic moment. Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a nationwide referendum. The result sends an important message to the world; all people are entitled to enjoy their human rights and human dignity, no matter whom they are or whom they love.”

I would recommend reading his full speech accepting the award here. It eloquently captures Ireland’s diplomatic engagement on global issues as seen by the UN Secretary General: our leading role on NPT, our contribution to the UN and UN Peacekeeping, our overseas development programme, leadership on human rights, and the inspiration provided by the Northern Ireland peace process.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Tel Aviv

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