March 21, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Brian Todd, RBAI

Brian Todd was born in Drogheda in the early 1950s of northern Presbyterian parents. He lived in Dundalk until 1965 when he and his family moved back to Northern Ireland. Educated in both the secondary and grammar spheres before Queen’s University, Belfast. He "did one or two unmentionable things before settling to teaching in the late 1970s." He Taught history at Inst for over thirty years, taking the position of vice Principal 2001-2011, before retirement. In retirement Brian discovered running.
Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Brian Todd:
"At a very early age while living in Dundalk with my parents, probably at the age of six or seven. At Easter time every year the local people would wear badges of the Easter lily on their lapels in commemoration of 1916, and around the town large colourful Easter lilies would also have been painted on the roads. I remember my father explaining to me that it was all in commemoration of the Easter Rebellion of 1916, a military action by republicans against British forces that was very important in the history of the state in which we lived. However, we didn’t discuss it much and it was only after the family returned to Northern Ireland that I began to learn more about the Rising and its main characters, mainly from republican pamphlets I began purchasing from a bookshop in the old Smithfield Market."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" BT:
"I think I am probably sensible enough to realize that what happened in Dublin in 1916 was a very logical reaction to the opportunity that arose at that time. Those who carried out the action died for the ideal in which they believed and surely cannot be faulted for their blood sacrifice and endeavour. However, I also believe that while 1916 was a vital in the founding of the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland it also, undoubtedly, brought on the partition of Ireland too, surely the gravest of errors, which obviously was at complete variance with the central ideal of the proclamation, the founding of a 32 county Irish republic."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" BT:
"Also in my early youth in Dundalk. There was an annual Remembrance Sunday parade in our local church, Dundalk Presbyterian Church, in which several local veterans of the Great War took part. I remember bemedalled veterans in the pews. One in particular sticks in my mind. He had a vicious and very raucous cough which disrupted the service and caused me some amusement. My sniggering was rather curtly curtailed by a swipe from my father who was quick to remind me that the gentleman had served in some of the worst battles on the western front and had suffered serious lung damage in a German gas attack. My father often talked about the Somme offensive and the awful toll that it took. My boyish interest in the Great War was further increased at that time by the long running 26 part documentary shown on BBC in 1964 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the war in 1914…  ‘The Great War’, a series which sparked considerable interest in the 1914-1918 for the first time." 
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" BT:
"One has a natural sympathy for anyone who dies in the service of their country. However, it should never be forgotten that many of those who volunteered felt pressurized to join up and do their bit. It was probably less about being loyal and more about self respect and doing the right thing at the time. Few who went to war could have predicted the awful carnage that would ensue. Had I been alive at that time I would probably have enlisted, but not necessarily out of loyalty to Britain."
BJS: "As a British person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and belonging on this island?" BT:
"Even though I am a Protestant by upbringing who has now lived longer in the North of Ireland than I ever did in the Republic of Ireland, I think you tend to identify closely with the place in which you were born and where you spent your formative years. So, given that, I recognize the enormous importance of the 1916 rising in the founding of the State in which I was born and where I spent some of the best years of my life."
BJS: "As a British person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" BT:
"I feel a degree of pride in the contribution of the 36th Ulster Division at the Somme and elsewhere. However, let us not forget about the sacrifice made by other soldiers from other parts of Ireland, many of them not of the Unionist tradition, who fought and died. Our pride should be for Soldiers of Ireland rather than merely for Soldiers of Ulster."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year?" BT:
"Neither specifically. However, I did recently publish a book on RBAI’s and Instonians contributions to the Great War, ‘Inst and Instonians at War, 1914-1918’. In the Great War over 700 Instonians volunteered and served and 132 or more were killed, no fewer than thirty during the Somme campaign and at least 15 on the first day, including brothers, 1st July, 1916. In the process of writing this history I felt I grew quite close to one or two of those Instonians who didn’t return and I shall probably think of them on the first day of July, 2016. One in particular reminded me of myself. I shall think of him specifically. I guess nobody else will."
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster’s take on events put on by the Irish State? (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" BT:
"It would be remarkable if the Republic of Ireland did not mark the occasion of the Easter Rebellion. As far as I am aware there has been mainly a worthy attempt to explain, educate and place the event in its historical context. Arlene Foster is an astute lady who has inherited a very tetchy constituency. She has to tread carefully and has done so. Nevertheless, she too will be very aware of the significance of the events of 1916 in the emergence of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, whether she likes them or not."
BJS: "As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" BT:
"It is getting better all the time and is certainly better than say 20 years ago, but there is still a long way to go, particularly in the working class areas of Northern Ireland where lack of education, mistrust and suspicion leave us looking very parochial indeed to the rest of Europe. The Republic of Ireland has come on leaps and bounds in this respect in the last twenty years, but there is still a way to go."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" BT:
"I think our parochialism has been maintained and intensified by partition…so unification of the two parts of Ireland within fifty years; the sooner the better."
BJS: "Please share any future thoughts these questions may have stimulated?" BT:
"The two crucial events of 1916 deserve to be remembered and commemorated for what they are, milestones on the way to what we have today. Sadly, in both parts of Ireland, there will be those who will try to make political capital from them and, by doing so, will increase our parochialism Thankfully they are, increasingly a minority."
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