Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sein Fein -- And a Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Michael Collins, founder of Sein Fein and military organizer of the Irish Republican Army in rebellion went on to forge a compromise peace with Winston Churchhill and lead a new Irish Free State. Collins was assassinated by dissident Republicans in 1922. He was only 31 years old.

Sein Fein -- usually translated as "We Ourselves" -- is both an Irish nationalist slogan and the name of the nationalist party most closely identified with the Irish rebellion that led finally to the establishment of the independent Republic of Eire.

Sein Fein reflected the Irish desire to govern themselves as a nation, after a century during which Ireland was ruled directly -- and often harshly -- from London. But the Irish nationalist movements that took hold in the 19th century and launched a rebellion in the early 20th were not sectarian. In fact, the greatest hero of that nationalist struggle of that era was Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant landowner and a member of the Anglo-Irish gentry. And the tricolor national Irish flag, first raised over the Dublin Post Office in the 1916 Easter Rebellion, signifies Irish unity across sectarian lines -- green for the Gaelic Irish, Orange for the British tradition and white for a lasting peace between the two.

After nearly two centuries of intermittent conflict, as of a decade ago, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Eire, the Sein Fein Party and the Irish Republican Army, and the Loyalist parties of Northern Ireland and their armed militias finally concluded a comprehensive peace and power-sharing agreement.

Then, earlier this month, splinter groups calling themselves the "Real IRA" and the "Continuity IRA" carried out two cowardly attacks that killed a police officer and two British soldiers in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, the Protestant and Catholic communities have responded in unison to denounce these attacks, along with Sein Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party, the leading loyalist party on Northern Ireland, and the governments of the U.K. and Eire. Martin McGuinness, who formerly led the IRA and now serves as Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland government, strongly condemned the attacks. Thousands of people joined in a demonstration in Belfast last Wednesday to proclaim that they won't allow a few terrorist thugs to turn the clock back on Ireland's peace.

Regrettably, even a handful of ruthless gunmen, by wrapping themselves in republican slogans and posturing as defenders of Catholics, might be able to provoke renewed violence from Protestant extremists and set off a new round of attacks and reprisals.

So when you hoist a drink to St. Patrick today, remember that he's the Patron Saint of all the Irish and if you're the praying kind, say a little prayer for continued peace in Ireland.

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