Reworking the script

Mar 14th, 2010 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

“Protestants don’t do revisionism”, said my friend.

He being far cleverer than I, not a Protestant, and it being one of those arguments that was so subjective that no conclusion was possible, there seemed no value in arguing the point. Do we really not do revisionism?  Do we really not rewrite the past in our own minds so that we appear differently from the way that others might see us?  Is it the case that we don’t sometimes simply misremember things?

Revisionism is a rewriting of history and his point, I think, was that Protestants so tended towards individualist viewpoints, that no single version ever met with the endorsement of them all.  There was not a collective Protestant memory because there was not a collective Protestant tradition.  Even when a majority of Protestants have tended in one direction, there have always been dissenting voices.  The TG4 documentary in February on the execution of Tipperary IRA man George Plant was a reminder that Loyalism was not the only cause for which Protestants took up arms.  TG4’s programme was about

the execution of George Plant for the murder of an alleged IRA informer, Michael Devereux on Slievenamon Mountain in September 1940. George Plant fought in the War of Independence and the Civil War and continued his involvement in the IRA into the 1930s and 1940s. He was first tried in the Special Criminal Court for the murder, however, the case against him collapsed when witnesses withdrew sworn statements. Under new legislation, he was tried in the Military Court with the same evidence that had been withdrawn at the previous trial. He was found guilty at the second trial and executed by firing squad in Portlaoise prison on March 5th 1942. It has been described as one of the most distressing chapters of Irish legal history.

Perhaps we don’t do revisionism as a community because we cannot agree from whose perspective we might revise history, nevertheless we do rewrite scenes and scripts from an individual or even a local community perspective, maybe because revisionism or plain misremembering seem innate to human nature.

The London Underground thirty years ago was an attractive place in my memory.  Cost trains, tiled walls, polite passengers, newspaper sellers at station entrances, cast iron signs and the distinctive maps and logos.  Watching the opening sequences of Hazel O’Connor’s 1980 film “Breaking Glass”, it was astonishing to see how dark, dingy and dismal the Tube really was; not at all like the memories.

How many dark, dingy and dismal times have been rewritten in the memory?  How much does nostalgia cover the less glorious aspects of Protestant life, including the sectarianism and the snobbery?

It was pointless to argue, but we do revisionism.

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