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Ireland and the End of the British Empire

The Republic and Its Role in the Cyprus Emergency
Helen O'Shea
Publisher
I.B.Tauris
Price
£62.00
ISBN
9781780767529



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Introduction: Ireland Has More Than One Story

On St Patrick's Day 1958, a newly qualified young doctor from England arrived in Cyprus to begin work at Nicosia General Hospital. His memoir of the time, written under the pseudonym 'Peter Paris', gives great insight into the Irish presence there during the Cyprus Emergency. His new boss, Dublin man Dr Jack Gillespie, had been Senior Consultant Physician at the hospital since 1947, having studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin before joining the Colonial Service in 1942. 'Paris' described his new boss thus: 'eyes sharp and blue as a razor blade edge between grim parallel lids... only his pleasant Dublin accent relieved the asperity of his face.' Several more of Paris' colleagues were also Irish, including orthopaedic surgeon EJ. Kirwan and many of the nurses. The reason for Paris' interest was obvious. His parents were Irish and, though raised in England, he too considered himself Irish: 'my blood is Irish; the case if not the cause seemed only too close to that of Ireland 40 years ago.' He was invited by Turk—Cypriot Dr Hadji, married to an Irish nurse, to join them that night for celebrations at the Irish Club, founded on another St Patrick's Eve, two years earlier in 1956, Hadji explaining to Paris:

The doctors here are Irish, the police, the lawyers. The large man there, he is the Chief Justice, Sir Paget Burke [sic]. He is Irish; so is Gillespie himself and Kirwan the orthopaedic surgeon... that judge, Sir James Henry. Sir Hugh Foot and the Colonel of the Irish Guards are the only Englishmen in Cyprus!

Paris described the Jack and Anne Yeats paintings on the walls as 'strange Gaelic treasures to find so far away'. Another Irish guest pointed out the irony: 'I fought against the Black-and-Tans in the old days and one thought then that the British were a dirty lot. Well, I'm one of the dirty British myself now. And after all, we are not so bad -at least we are nothing as bad as the Black-and-Tans were!' When Paris declared himself Irish, another guest, Mr Demetrakis, replied:

'No! You too! Wonderful! All Irish! Tell me, are you IRA?' I replied that nobody had yet asked me to join. 'Amazing! There is a person I know - knew of,' he corrected, 'who was in EOKA; he was caught and sent to Wandsworth Gaol in London. And who do you think he found in the gaol? IRA people, also prisoners! So they used to plot together things against the British, the Irish and EOKA together. But look at this room,' his hand swept around him. 'Who are the British? Irish. It is Irish against the Irish.'

No single narrative can encompass the complexity of independent Ireland's interaction with empire, but examining the evidence of one case study can tell a great deal about its substance. It has been commonly assumed that, given its own difficult semi-colonial legacy, the Republic ardently supported self-determination elsewhere; the reality, as always, is more complex. This work aims to capture the intricacy of Ireland's interaction with empire using the case of British Cyprus during the Emergency period of 1955-9- Using this, it is possible to identify disparities between the multifaceted micro-realities of Irish complicity and cooperation in the imperial project and the homogenised master-narratives of nation-building public history. This attempt to reflect the 'varieties of Irishness' in a period when the Republic was still intrinsically linked to the British Empire aims to widen the scope of what has traditionally been regarded as Irish national history. Distinctive contributions in terms of proficiency or proportionality are subject to analysis where found, but cognisant of the performativity, shifting meanings and intersectionality of ethnic or national identity with other positionalities such as social class, religion or power positions, this work does not attempt to locate any alleged 'Irish' exceptionalist tendencies. It is hoped, however, that gaining as complete a snapshot as possible will allow for an exploration of independent Ireland's interaction with itself within empire.

An investigation of this kind seems especially ripe in light of Queen Elizabeth's recent trips to the Republic and to Northern Ireland, which stimulated and renewed debate about Ireland's place in the imperial project. Addressed in this text are discourses that the Irish revolutionary period, its Civil War aftermath, and later the Troubles did much to deflect attention from - namely, the many continuities between pre- and post-independent Ireland's imperial partaking, the imaginative divorcing from Ireland's 'spiritual' empire, and a shared tradition of imperial participation north and south of the Irish border. It also discusses how these silences and incompatibilities were facilitated at local and national — and official and unofficial — levels to create a myopic sense of identity in the 1950s, despite isolationist Ireland's transformation, following its ostensible wartime neutrality, to 'good international citizen' on the United Nations stage. The current national identity crisis makes these traditions ready for reassessment. Indeed 1950s Ireland, denned by fiscal emergency and mass youth emigration, resonates only too clearly with 'Generation Emigration'. It seems that while future certainties have disappeared with the financial crisis in what is a nation of emigrants once again, past certitudes have unravelled with scandal after scandal in the Catholic Church. As a contrite national church contends with the harrowing global scale of clerical child abuse, formal state repentance has also taken place: Taoiseach Enda Kenny's unreserved apology to survivors of the Magdalene laundries in February 2013 was swiftly followed by government legislation in May providing for an amnesty and apology to Irish Defence Force members who fought with Allied forces during World War II.