April 24th – Reclaim the Spirit of 1916

Do you want to know a secret? But you have to promise not to tell! There will be a military parade in Dublin on Easter Sunday to commemorate the 1916 revolution, organised by the State. For God’s sake, keep it to yourself, no-one must know about it. If word leaked out there might be repercussions, chaos in the streets. Even the military must be kept in the dark.

April 24th 2011 will mark the 95th anniversary of the revolution of Easter 1916, but even a focused search of the internet reveals no detail of the State’s plans to commemorate that seminal moment in Irish history that led to independence from the British Empire. Enquiries to relevant departments of the Irish military reveal that there is to be a parade in O’Connell Street at the GPO, but no details as to time or form of commemoration.

This has a resonance back to 1991, the 75th anniversary of the revolution, when the State disowned the event and it was left to individuals and small groups to organise events and ceremonies to commemorate and celebrate the revolution and the revolutionaries.

Robert Ballagh, prominent artist and activist, was the driving force behind maintaining the commemoration by organising a series of events featuring artists, writers, actors, musicians and political activists. For his efforts he was rewarded with State harassment, with the Special Branch paying very close attention to his movements, stopping him on the streets to demand his ID and so on. A young man – a Leaving Certificate student – who was assisting in the organising of events had his school visited by Special Branch detectives and his parents warned of his ‘subversive’ activities to the extent that he had to withdraw from participation in honouring the revolution and its heroes!

With the coming of the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement, the State seemed by 2006 to have put this nonsensical attitude behind in organising a significant military parade on Easter Sunday through O’Connell Street in the 90th anniversary year of the revolution. Fine words were written and spoken, newspapers published colourful supplements marking the occasion, massive crowds turned out and the military created a fine and dignified spectacle.

It seemed as if a corner had been turned and that in the approach to the centenary in 2016 official attitudes would change and the value of commemorating and celebrating the revolution would be recognised. Far from it! Subsequent military parades were reduced in size and the commemorations downplayed. Even viewed from a crassly commercial perspective this makes no sense, given the extensive interest in the 1916 revolution, internationally. But, more seriously, the benefits of using the anniversary as a means of re-engaging the citizenry, particularly the young, with notions of citizenship and community, and with the meaning of the word ‘republic’ and all that that carries in terms of values, seem to have been discarded.

In five years time the centenary of the 1916 revolution will presumably be marked by the State. In the meantime, the State, by now no longer sovereign and certainly not independent of the EU and the IMF, seems to wish to go through the motions in as low-key a manner as possible. That is hardly surprising, given that Fine Gael, the lead party in government, grew out of the counter-revolution of the 1920s including the murder of heroes of 1916, while the junior partner in government, the Labour Party, has long since distanced itself from the revolution led by the party’s founder James Connolly, while in a lily-livered fashion paying lip service to his social ideas.

This year, by pure coincidence, Easter Sunday falls on the actual anniversary, otherwise it would be left to citizens alone to mark the anniversary. But the Citizens Initiative for Republic Day will be present with their banner stating that ‘April 24th is Republic Day’ from 10.30am outside Eason’s Bookshop on O’Connell Street. Following the military parade the Republic Day campaign will move to 16 Moore Street, the final battlefield location of the 1916 GPO Garrison prior to surrender, for a brief commemoration ceremony. Please come along and join us at both locations. And spread the word – don’t keep it a secret.

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About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

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