by Donal Kennedy
One John A Sibbald of Edinburgh, writing in The Times (of London) inDecember 2010 declared that it hardly seemed credible that a second-year history student at Cambridge could be unaware of the significance of the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall.
I decided to begin at the beginning, as the King said to the White Rabbit, in the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland .So I consulted an Oxford Dictionary, which advised me that a Cenotaph was an empty grave.
Further inquiries established that Whitehall’s Cenotaph was unveiled by King George V on 11th November 1920, purportedly to honour those of his Forces killed in the Great War, on the second anniversary of the 1918 Armistice.
On the same 11th November 1920 the mortal remains of an Unknown Warrior of His Majesty’s Forces, killed in the Great War were interred with great pomp, in His Majesty’s presence, in Westminster Abbey.
And, on the same 11th November 1920 the Better Government of Ireland Bill had its Third (and Final) Reading in the House of Commons in Westminster. On 23rd December 1920 His Majesty Graciously gave his Assent to the Bill, which partitioned Ireland and became (British) Law. However the Bill did not have the Assent of the Irish people, nor did any Member of Parliament for an Irish constituency vote for it. Three quarters of the Irish Members returned in the General Election of December 1918, had, in accordance with their mandate, Boycotted Westminster, and those of them not in His Majesty’s Prisons established a separate Sovereign, Republican Parliament, Dail Eireann, in Dublin. In September 1919 His Majesty’s Government declared Dail Eireann, amongst many Irish bodies, an illegal Assembly.
Great numbers of volunteers to His Majesty’s Forces from 1914 to 1918 had been persuaded by the politicians that their service was to establish justice and freedom. Scores of thousands of Irishmen had joined on the understanding that Home Rule, on the Statute Book since 1914, would be implemented at the end of the War.
One week before the 1918 Armistice, the Allied Powers led by Britain and France, had endorsed the declared War Aim of their Associated Power, the United States of America, “the self-determination of nations.”
The following day the pro-Home Rule Irish Nationalist Party, led by John Dillon, had proposed in the Commons that this principle be applied to Ireland. The motion was heavily defeated and Dillon’st party lost all but six of it Irish seats to Sinn Fein in the General Election the following month.
Lewis Carroll could not have invented a more wondrous world than that of Britain’s rulers.
Is it too fanciful to imagine that the Unknown Warrior buried in Westminster
Abbey was a decent man, perhaps even an Irish Home Ruler, spinning in his grave at the cynicism of politicians and that the Cenotaph in Whitehall, far from being an empty grave, is stuffed with the dishonoured promises which led generations of decent men to untimely death?