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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Feargal Keane’s Blindsided Ireland

The stellar Irish writer and journalist Feargal Keane made an extraordinary statement in yesterday’s (Saturday) edition of the Irish Times – see

This article is a blurb for Keane's forthcoming series on RTÉ – “The Story of Ireland”.

The title is clear enough. Feargal Keane is going to tell us the story of Ireland - except that he isn’t and neither will RTÉ. Why do I say this? Why would I wish to disparage one of the great white hopes of Irish letters? A man who, in fairness, often writes beautifully and sounds great down a microphone.

Listen, dear readers, to what Feargal has to say about Wolfe Tone's United Irishmen rebellion in 1798:

“…the rebellion of 1798, which saw 30,000 die in a few months and cured the Irish forever of any tendency towards mass uprising.”

Now, Feargal Keane worked in the BBC in Belfast for about a year as its Northern Ireland correspondent. In fact, we were colleagues after a fashion; in as much that we shared the same building around about the time when British Jihad forces were busy conspiring to murder Pat Finucane and a litany of other Irish Catholics who shared a common faith and broadly the same politics.

Thus Feargal knows Belfast and indeed the North of Ireland very well. However, he doesn’t seem to know it well enough to acknowledge that the type of mass uprising he says never happened after Wolf Tone actually took place in the six counties of Ulster that were under British rule. This is an extraordinary omission for a respected journalist to make. The Troubles didn’t happen.

Before you all go off and write angry letters to the IT (that will never be printed) about Feargal's northern blind spot, take a deep breath and instead start feeling sorry for him.

Why the sympathy? You ask.

Well, there is a fault line that runs right through Irish life (both at home and amongst the diaspora). That fault line places most of our Irish Glitterati on one side and the rest of us on the other. Their analysis is bordered by constraint and the wish not to offend the British; ours isn’t.

It is now commonly accepted that Irish journalists (with some honourable exceptions) did not tell the story of the Troubles properly. They did not investigate collusion between the British state and pro British murder gangs. They did not, in any satisfactory way, analyse and reflect the story of truly seismic events that happened in our country. Events that were on a par with the 1916 Rising.

There was no rising in the North we are told.

And we must feel sympathy for the Irish journalists and writers who have propagated this myth because in their heart of hearts they know (to use the language of English soccer punditry) that they "bottled it". They also know that Irish people have refused to accept their analysis or lack of same. It is here that we find the fault line and we cannot just blame poor Feargal Keane. More or less the whole of what passes for the Fourth Estate in our country took a decision to turn a blind eye to the scale of resistance to British rule, the latent support it had in the country as a whole, and the grim reality of Britain's response to that resistance. In fact a large number of Irish journalists with links to what was the Workers Party (and I'm not referring to Feargal Keane here) rigorously supported censorship rather than simply tell the truth.

Of course, this legacy of journalistic fear means that journalists tie themselves in knots on all sorts of issues; not least with regards to how to report resistance. In Keane's piece yesterday, for example, he tells us that Irish uprisings didn’t happen after 1798 but he then describes “mass popular mobilisations” led by O'Connell and Parnell. These happened long after 1798.

Keane also omits to mention that (following the 1916 Rising and subsequent War of Independence) pro British Protestants and supporters of the “Ascendancy” were still hugely overrepresented within the new ruling elite. Again, it is common knowledge that you couldn’t obtain a “position” in certain key industries and professions unless you were a Protestant, or had the right connections within that constituency. Their “flinty” presence (to use Keane’s adjective) was everywhere in the new state. Heresy I know for most Irish journalists, but the truth nonetheless.

Then there is how we describe our country. Keane’s article yesterday speaks of two countries. The plain people of Ireland make no such distinction, despite decades of pro-partition propaganda

So what will happen with Feargal Keane's television story of Ireland, is what happens with almost all of the historical output made by RTÉ (the Des O’Malley love fest of mediocrity was a classic of this kind). Most of the viewers will have two narratives running in their head. One, which is following the official version on screen, and then their own “rebellious” version, which is ready to fill in the gaps that they know are going to come. We might call them Credibility Gaps.

The Croppies Lay Down. Oh no they didn’t.

Wikipedia has a useful biography of Feargal Keane here –


@ Paul Larkin

Mí Feabhra - 2011
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Title: Feargal Keane’s Blindsided Ireland
Date posted: 05 Feb '11 - 23:34
Filed under: General
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