Easter Centenary

I think that most people will accept that yesterday’s Commemoration in Dublin was a good day for the Irish Nation …the centre-piece being an ELECTED President and Defence Forces that have never been involved in a war except in their prevention or the maintenance of Peace thru the United Nations.

It was an opportunity to recognise that the Republic that the men and women of 1916 gave us…eventually a nation of which the citizens can be proud. On a personal note, the parents of one of the young cadets in the Guard of Honour are friends. And at least two of the Defence Forces parading yesterday are known to my family. It is a small world. It is a small country.

And it is a good one. Was the Commemoration too inclusive? I dont think so. The men and women who fought in the Easter Rising…especially those who lost their lives…did more than anyone else to create the Republic of Ireland. But they did not EXCLUSIVELY build it. Those who fought in the War of Independence, the creation of the Defence Forces and Garda, the democratic parties, the Emergency Services, the voluntary organisations, the Churches (YES…the Churches!).

Of course there were the orphanages, the Magdalene Women, the bankers, the Golden Circles but a Republic is always a work in progress.

Any unionist peeping over the garden wall into the Republic of Ireland has to conclude that it is a pretty decent place. LetsGetAlongerism obliges us to to say that being Irish and British are equally valid expressions of identity. But nations have an …ethos. And the ethos of the Irish Nation, born a century ago has frankly a better ethos than the so called “United Kingdom”, a hotch potch of spurious beliefs such as monarchy, a hereditary Head of State who is Supreme Governor of an established Church, an Empire and so called-Commonwealth and a Flag that has flown over prison yards in every continent and slave ships on every ocean. A war-like nation who built its capital on the plunder from five continents.

Britain creates its own legitimacy, casually ignoring the inconvenient in 1688 and 1936. Britain had the misfortune to win  two World War Wars, avoiding the revolution that would have overthrown monarchies (as it had in Germany, Austria and Russia). And of course, United States of America and France established their own republics in blood.
Notwithstanding centuries of failed rebellion and British repression, the Easter Rising was comparatively bloodless. The Rebels wore no masks, they primed no car bombs, they targetted no civilians and the positions they occupied were largely defensive. The Surrender was based on the avoidance of civilian deaths. In the clean fight/dirty fight analysis, the balance is in the Rebels favour.

If I love just one thing about the Irish Nation, it is that we are a former colony which is part of the “First World” and suited to have an understanding of the “Third World”. The service to United Nations was usually in response to a colonial or post-colonial crisis.

We have no empire. We sought no Manifest Destiny but our own.  In 1916 we were as despised as much in Woodrow Wilson’s White House as we were in Asquith’s Downing Street. The Easter Rising Was not about proclaiming our nation to be better than any other nation. Our “august destiny” is modestly to be as good as any other nation. Primarily thats the success of this nation…an Irish citizen can look anyone in the face.

I am of course disappointed but not surprised that SDLP for the most part avoided any northern organised events. As I wrote a few months ago, the SDLP can make History but is incapable of dealing with History…especially its own. I was involved in a SDLP meeting re Easter last September but it was pretty obvious to me that nothing would really happen.

Frankly the decision to not do much might actually be the right one. SDLP politicians were in attendance at the Dublin events and there is a certain dignity about that. As an Irish citizen, I would rather channel my respect thru the Irish Nation. Better to have no event in the north, than half-arsed compromises. Nothing could be better than the Dublin show-piece. And maybe the Easter Rising can only be celebrated in Freedom.

Of course I do understand repudiation of violence. I do understand Pacifism and a wariness about the notion of blood sacrifice or the lack of a mandate for Rebellion. I inderstand that some SDLP people, self-style progressives cannot fully throw themselves into the “militarism”.

But there has to be consistency. No point in talking about the importance of “shared history” and openly embracing the Somme Centenary but only the non-militaristic aspects. No point in agonising about the innocent lives lost in Dublin in 1916 and not agonising about the innocent lives lost during World War One.

Likewise no point in accepting an invitation to summer garden party at the French Consulate in Belfast, raise a glass to Liberty, Egality and Fraternity and not agonising about the thousands of innocent lives lost as a consequence of the French Revolution.

There was not much wrong with the Commemoration in Dublin yesterday. In the interests of balance, RTÉ gave too much air-time to the likes of Ruth Dudley-Edwards, Kevin Myers and Michael Portillo but for the most part, it seems the national broadcaster is having a good war.

A word of praise for the drama-documentary “Insurrection” an ambitious nightly half hour prhogramme first shown in 1966. At times, it looks dated and appears like a pageant rather than a drama….but depicting the Rising thru the prism of a modern news programme, with “reporters” present at the events and with “interviews” with the participants. And from a personal perspective, nice to see my fathers cousin (an actor and RTÉ continuity announcer) playing one of the parts.

So….Sinn Féin. Their own events in the north will play well with their core. Might even give them a pre-election boost. But ultimately their claim to be the direct descendants of the Spirit of 1916 looks weak in the face of the comparative might of the Irish State.

The event in Dublin was a State Occasion. The event in Milltown Cemetry was a farce. Street Theatre. Pantomime even. The sight of Sinn Féin members in uniform (of 1916 vintage) looked like Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj showing up in uniform at a Star Trek Convention. So this made the man on the platform, Gerry Adams come across as William Shatner being the guest of honour…I bet he signed autographs.





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8 Responses to Easter Centenary

  1. Ok, that Big Bang analogy was too damn good!!! 😀

  2. sammymcnally says:

    A tad ungenerous(though funny) to Gerry & Co, I think that doing something in the North was required and there was no point (given the resources and the backdrop) in trying to compete with the Dublin show, which was both excellent and very moving. SF can console themselves with the thought that their very presence in the South ensured the ‘Free State’ got it’s act together.

    Perhaps being a touch ungenerous myself to Gerry & Co in my remarks over on Jude’s ?


    • I have to say that a few months ago, I thought SF would be uniformed although I did not think in terms of “retro”.
      There is an aspect of it that looks like those American Civil War re-enactors. And to me, it never really works.
      I dont think I was unduly unfair. As I pointed out in the Blog, I was verydisappointed with SDLP approach in North. We only get these chances once in a lifetime.
      In their own ways the “too much” SF approach and “too little” SDLP approach, arguably both failed northern nationalists.
      On the other hand the Dublin event got it totally right.
      It was really quite hard hitting …inclusive without being apologetic as the revisionists would have wanted.
      In fact an tUachtarán yesterday was bang on the money when he said that 1916 had been over-scrutinised but than Imperialism had got far less scrutiny.

  3. sammymcnally says:


    Not too unfair… these things need to be said- especially when they are funny..

    One thing I think you are perhaps overlooking is that in Dublin the government had the armed forces at their beck and call – and although SF are in ‘government’ in the 2nd most northern green field the official (British) armed forces are not (as far as we know anyway) under the command of Marty – although some (including me) believe he does have some (para) military forces to call on – should the need arise.

    Now, given that if you are celebrating an insurrection,you do need a few weapons to carry things off and SF could hardly call on the British army to play the part of the rebels or risk upsetting their their colleagues by carrying up to date ones or inviting a few lads from the Curragh up for the day.

    That leaves retro the order of the day – if you want to have gun about the place.

  4. sammymcnally says:

    typo: risk upsetting their colleagues in government

  5. zig70 says:

    It was a special day for a few reasons. It was the first nationalist celebration to be free of the embarrassment of IRA atrocities in recent memory. It maybe required the Dublin centric and slightly elite smell to achieve it. I would have liked it to be a bit less dainty in its national pride and I hope it builds on it and creates a yearly event. Tourist dollars should make it worth it. Should have been more about the rebirth of a nation than wreath laying and graves. Needs to be a national event rather than a cordoned off one for the chosen few. If the SDLP had of made an effort with some events then SF could have been made to look a bit like boys with toy soldiers. Now that Dublin has achieved it, should be our turn next. Open air Ceili in Custom house square next year?

    • I think its a watershed in many ways.
      And there still a few days to go….with even a reprise on 24th April the actual calendar date.
      There is a feeling that nobody does ceremonial better than the British…yet I think our ceremonial hit the mark. It helps that our Army is actually Defence Forces and its a whole different..and better! …dynamic.
      Our Air COrps never bombed Dresden and our Naval Services did not sink the Belgrano.
      And British ceremonial is mostly about the Big Lie of a Monarchy.
      I think as the week has gone on, we have seen the Presidency at its best. I really find it a good thing that elected politicians can actually become so nonn-partisan. Certainly Robinson, MCAleese and Higgins seem like the right President at the right time.
      “Dainty?” ….I would have said less so as the week has progressed. When the President said that British Imperialiism had not been scrutinised as much as republicanism, he was clearly having a dig at revisionist historians. And it needed saying and yet the President can say that in a way a “politician” cant.
      Surprised also that the President at Liberty Hall clearly identified with the Citizen Army. He held nothing back. It was good to see.
      The event was inclusive but the other side of that is that republocanism and “Irishness” will be more acceptable north of the Border.
      There willprobably be scaled down versions in 2017, 2018 etc but as it becomes normal it will lose some of the lustre of the “centenary”. Crowds wont be the same but it will be good for northern nationalists that this gets to be more mainstream.
      And whats good for nationalism is bad for unionism.
      Its a Win-Win situation.

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