"Irish fascists? - get away with you." "Anti-semitism! - don't be stupid." My interlocutor remained unconvinced by my references to the Blueshirts or Denis Fahey. If he'd know that my maternal grandfather was from Pontlottyn, he'd have surely put my ignorance down to an innate prejudice born of the Anti-Irish riots of the 19C.
Perhaps I should lend him my recently acquired copy of Professor Ray Douglas's Architects of Revolution, subtitled Ailtiri na hAiseirghe and the fascist 'new order' in Ireland. It's a good read, although I did find myself getting bogged-down with the multitude of unfamiliar Gaelicised personal names.
In truth hAiseirghe and it's would-be Fuhrer, Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, might have deserved an extended essay rather than a 320 page book but the background against which the movement grew, and finally failed was fascinating.
hAiseirghe's policies seem crazy now, but at the time that was not the case. Hitler was fighting, and seemingly winning, a war to make the world safe for totalitarianism. hAiseirghe and Ó Cuinneagáin saw themselves as obvious candidates to take on the Dublin franchise.
Many Irish people supported the Germans and anti-Semitic views were widespread. Democracy had shallow roots, let's remember that Britain had ignored the result of election after election and even locked up most of the victors of 1918. The 26 Counties had been liberated by the gun rather than the ballot box and many were disappointed with the party bickering that had soured the hopes of independence. The economy stagnated and emigration reached ridiculous levels - four out of every five born in the 26 counties between 1931 and 1941, for example, would eventually leave the country. A youthful movement that:
sided with hated England's German enemy;
wanted to expel the Jews;
hoped to form a standing army of a 100,000 to march on the north;
planned to organise an economy based on the corporate state;
advocated that emigration be made illegal - this was also contemplated by De Valera,
declared it would pass laws against the public use of English
and that ultimately aimed to create a "missionary-ideological" Catholic state acting on the world stage
Well it wasn't quite so wildly out of touch with contemporary Irish realities as we might nowadays imagine.
To be a little controversial I'd say that in some ways hAiseirghe resembled the 1970s Welsh group Mudiad Adfer. Both had grown out of the mainstream language movement, both appealed to idealistic young men and women and both rejected Anglo-American culture in its entirety. Of course there were huge differences, stemming from time and place and the religious and cultural backgrounds of their members.
A couple of surprises. Ó Cuinneagáin, who was no soldier, turned to the British general Dorman-Smith for advice on invading the North. An interesting character I'd not come across before. On another occasion in the cause of Celtic solidarity hAiseirghe plastered South Dublin with posters proclaiming Rhyddid i Gymru!
In the end the author says hAiseirghe missed the boat, largely because of Ó Cuinneagáin's failings, and that with better leadership they could have garnered the electoral success that went to Clann na Poblachta in the 1948 Election.