No Privatising of the Rising

The plans were made behind closed doors, the preparations pursued in secret and the mobilisation orders delivered in sealed envelopes. So tightly controlled was the event that on the day just 3,000 people mobilised on the streets outside the GPO – and many of them were accidental observers, with tourists and foreign nationals making up perhaps half of the assembly.

If those people thought that they might play a meaningful part in commemorating the 1916 revolution on its anniversary at the epicentre of the revolution they were wrong. The State had its plan, and ordinary people would play no part in it other than as curious and distant observers. Far better had a countermanding order been issued so that citizens would not be present as insult after insult was heaped on them and on their dreams.

Barriers, barriers everywhere. Private security men patrolled the streets of what passes for a ‘republic’, vying with the State’s own police to hold back sparse numbers of citizens and tourists. It was, of course, necessary to preserve a 100 metre buffer zone between them and that other class of citizen, the political class, so that their private entertainment at the GPO, paid for by the excluded, should not be disturbed in any way.

A large prime viewing area between Abbey Street and the GPO was corralled off, bearing the sign ‘Defence Forces Guests’. It remained empty for the entire proceedings. The only area to which citizens could gain access required being subjected to body-frisking and bag searches. None of that for the ‘dignitaries’ of course, although many of those present had done grievous damage to the State and to the Nation. Not content with that, now they would do grievous damage to the dignity of the occasion.

A contingent from the combined Defence Forces, pathetically small in numbers, marched to the GPO, some unable to keep in step to the drumbeat. Their counterparts of 95 years ago would not have been impressed. Another insult to the occasion.

The Military Band ditched well established Irish marching airs in favour of twee music hall ditties such as ‘Step it out Mary’. The musical director evidently doesn’t know the difference between commemorating the revolution, its participants, and the Irish Republic of the Proclamation, and entertaining the fans in the Aviva Stadium before a football match. Yet another insult to the occasion.

Not content with restricting a view of the proceedings to a couple of medium sized screens so far away from the citizens as to be almost useless, the organisers provided a sound system that was inaudible to all but the chosen few, the ‘dignitaries’. But, perhaps to occupy their minds in case the ‘natives’ became restless, an expensive glossy folded programme informed them about what they were missing, in Irish and English – at the citizens’ expence, of course.

Proceedings over, the man responsible for this debacle, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, thought it appropriate to engage with reporters on the subject of the Queen of England’s visit at the point outside the GPO where Patrick Pearse, accompanied by James Connolly, had read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 95 years ago to almost the precise minute. Enda Kenny obviously has no sense of propriety. He might have waited five minutes and delivered his thoughts on that subject on the way into the private reception for the ‘dignitaries’ in a nearby hotel (again paid for by the excluded citizens). Another insult to the occasion.

A small group of citizens made their way past the GPO, pausing with their banner at the Portico. Its legend stated that “April 24th is Republic Day”.  Some remaining ‘dignitaries’ and State apparatchiks looked on as  if unable to understand what these gatecrashers were about, while some citizens, now free to approach their GPO, took photos of this phenomenon and expressed interest in the banner’s statement.

The Republic Day citizens made their way from the GPO to the almost derelict National Monument at 16 Moore Street, the last outpost of the 1916 GPO Garrison and leaders prior to the surrender. The State has, of course, failed to secure the integrity of this battlefield site and to give it its dignity as a place of immense historical significance. Another studied insult to the revolutionaries of 1916 and the Republic that they created but which still has to be put in place.

At 16 Moore Street this small band of citizens held a meaningful, dignified and proper commemoration of the revolution, its participants and of the establishing of the Irish Republic. In attendance to support the Republic Day campaign were relatives of executed leaders of the revolution – James Connolly’s grandson Roddy Wilson, and Connolly’s great-grandson James Connolly-Heron, Joesph Plunkett’s grand-niece Honor O’Brolacháin, and Thomas McDonagh’s grand-daughter Lucille Redmond.

An address on the relevance of the revolution and the Irish Republic to today’s Ireland and its citizens was followed by the trooping of the flags – the Tricolour, the Starry Plough and Connolly’s Irish Republic flag – as the Last Post and Reveille were played by trumpeter Danny Healy. A wreath with seven Easter Lilies to signify the signatories of the Proclamation was laid at the building by Roddy Wilson. A short explanation that the origins of the Irish National Anthem were in the GPO as the building burned around the revolutionaries was followed by Frank Allen leading the citizens in singing the anthem outside the building in which those revolutionaries spent their last hours together as an army.

The contrast between the official State ceremony, held for the private gratification of a self-styled ‘elite’, with the few citizens present on the perimeter to be satisfied with crumbs from the table as insult after insult was heaped on them and on the participants of the actual revolution, and the unofficial citizens’ ceremony at Moore Street, could not have been more marked. On the one hand a dishonour was done, on the other honour was restored to the occasion.

The State owes its citizens an abject apology for the cack-handed, segregationist affair on O’Connell Street on the 24th April 2011 – Republic Day. It should also withdraw from any future commemoration of the 1916 revolution, its participants and of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It is not up to the job. Those future commemorations will be in safe hands, the citizens’ hands. The citizens understand respect, dignity and honour, the so-called ‘elite’ – the political class – regard these concepts as obstructions on the way to the Banana Republic.

On Republic Day 2012 there will be no sign of the political class at the GPO. They only do Easter Sunday, if they must. On Tuesday 24th April 2012 the Republic Day campaign will hold a dignified ceremony at the GPO. Citizens who care about the establishment of a proper republic – the Irish Republic – should mark their calendars and get ready for the day.

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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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