The founding father of modern Irish Republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone, was a wealthy protestant, inspired by the French and American revolutions. He recognised the inequality, injustice and lack of rights afforded to the catholic population, and that the issue was British governance, based on the principles of dividing and conquering, and removing this foreign governance would be positive for all citizens of Ireland. He wished to “substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.” Hardly surprising given that the core principle is that of unity.
You see, the formative years of republicanism is based on the same ideals as America or France, it is based on personal freedoms, but perhaps most importantly equal freedoms and rights.
The next rebellion came in 1803 through the leadership of Robert Emmet. The key players at the time essentially consisted of 3 wealthy protestants, inclusive of a British Soldier, Thomas Russell.
What does all this history signify though? Well, it shows us that when emotivism and tribalism is taken out of the situation, anyone can recognise the benefits of Republicanism and the logic behind it. Of course anyone is entitled to a British identity, and this would be protected in a united Ireland, but if we look objectively it does not make sense for us to divide this relatively small island.
Clearly, as has been demonstrated by this history, Protestant heritage is part of the fabric that makes up republicanism, but an Irish identity in the same vain. Intertwined to a certain extent with religion too, the Orange culture holds relevance and is a part of Irish culture and regardless of your opinion on it, it has to be respected as much as traditional Irish culture.
Fast forward to 1916, and another Irish Republic is proclaimed by Padraig Pearse and ex-British soldier James Connolly, as well as the other five signatories. Not only did these seven men declare a Republic, but also “civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its [32 county Republic’s] citizens. This of course included Ulster, and guaranteed the rights of every person. It importantly provided human and voting rights, for Women, Protestants, Catholics, Dissenters, LGBTQ citizens as well as Irish and British citizens on the island of Ireland, and everyone in between too.
Irish Republicans, were and are prepared to, not forget about the past, but reconcile, learn and grow from it, in order to provide a better society for everyone on the Island, not just Irish Republicans.
This longing for unity, is not just that of land, but the unity of the people of this island firstly, so that we can work together towards a brighter future. Agree with him or not, but it is Bobby Sands MP who sums this up perfectly and it is true to this day that “everyone, Republican or otherwise has their own particular part to play”.
And this isn’t just about history, we can see this in the modern day too. The late Martin McGuinness promoted peace during his political career, consistently extending the hand of friendship to British citizens in the North. Clearly, as a republican he earned the respect and friendship of people within that community. One of McGuinness’ close friends, Minister David Latimer, described their relationship as an “unbelievable friendship” and he stressed the closeness of their relationship. Two unlikely characters to be friends, but close friends nonetheless. We as Republicans will go to great lengths in order to encourage our British friends’ culture in Ireland, because it is part of our shared culture. When he was Lord Mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir even added William Connor’s “the orangemen” painting to his inner sanctum in Belfast City Hall. This illustrates a deep understanding and respect for a culture that is so important to our Island. You see, there’ s more that unites us than separates us, and the sooner we realise this, the sooner we can work together to build a better, united future on our small island.
To quote Ó Muilleoir, “there’s orange in my flag”, and I would implore anyone of the orange tradition to recognise this, and come to an understanding with Republicanism, and realise that your culture and history, is also ours, and vice versa.
Republicanism is not just for Republicans, it recognises the rights of every person to individual freedoms, happiness and opportunities in life. Everyone should have the right to marry the person they love, this is indisputable. Everyone should have the right to express their culture in a safe and respectful manner, and everyone should have the right to access the same opportunities as others, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion, nationality, or any other precondition. Although these are basic human rights, I firmly believe that it will be Republicanism that will protect and fight for them, because, and I can’t stress this enough, we were denied these rights in the past, so we will stand up for our fellow oppressed people, all of whom can be Republicans.
Irish citizens are Republicans
British citizens are Republicans
Protestants are Republicans
Catholics are Republicans
LGBTQ citizens are Republicans
Socialists are Republicans
Businesspeople are Republicans
But no matter who or what you are, should that be “Protestant, Catholic or Dissenter” you have your “own particular part to play.”
Caoimhín McCann attends Rathmore Grammar School in Dunmurry and studies Religion, Sociology and Spanish. He is also a Sinn Féin activist in Lagmore.