Tag Archives: commemoration

Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration united all at the GPO

We measure ourselves by special birthdays, 13, 18, 21, 30 and so on. We attend annual commemorations and they blend into one another, that is until the special ones – the magic numbers – come around.

When I was seventeen I stood at the corner of the GPO and Henry Street. It was the day of the 50th anniversary of the 1916 revolution. Two stands flanked the portico of the GPO, each full of the surviving 1916 revolutionaries, by now old men and old women.

1966 GPO commemoration

Just up above me I could see Ernie Nunan who had been a 17 year-old London Volunteer, and a member of the GPO Garrison. I was with his son Jim, my best mate at school. My Volunteer grandfather wasn’t in the stand. He had died in 1940 rescuing a young woman from the sea at the Shelly Banks, and I felt I was representing him.

1966 commemoration Henry St corner

1966 commemoration Henry St corner

I remember thinking of the significance of the 50th anniversary, and wondering if I would make it to the centenary, and wanting to. 100 is one of those magic numbers.

I made it. On April 24th 2016, Republic Day, the magic number rolled around.

If the actual anniversary of the revolution in 2010 had been marked by a proper commemoration organised by someone else I would have happily stood at the corner of the GPO and Henry Street again in 2016. But nothing was organised and that is how the Citizens’ Initiative for Republic Day was started – to cover that outrageous omission. Each year since, a group of citizens has marked that date with a proper commemoration under the Republic Day banner.

But the centenary commemoration had to be different, in scale and content. In spite of impediments thrown up by others we held firm, refusing to be squeezed out, not because of hubris or ego, but because we offered what others didn’t, a neutral space capable of being occupied by all as equal citizens, provided they were prepared to set their politics or differences aside for a short time so as to concentrate on the real purpose of a commemoration, that is to remember and honour those from another time who are worthy of being commemorated.

Nobody should feel inhibited about attending a 1916 commemoration because of their politics or religion or skin-colour, or because of factional differences with others. That would fly in the face of the principles on which a republic is founded – Liberty, Equality and Solidarity – and because the republic is the property of the people – all of the people. And so neutral space is necessary, particularly if we are also commemorating the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, given political and/or factional differences that exist.

I know that that worked. Looking out at the assembly I could see citizens I know of different political persuasions or belonging to different factions. All were entitled to be there, to play their part in the commemoration and to be at peace with the moment and the collective of which they were part. The extensive feedback on the day and especially since the commemoration have unanimously endorsed the sense that something special was experienced by all, that any differences had been put to one side, and that all present were unified, standing shoulder to shoulder as equals, paying tribute to the men and women of 1916.

In 50 years time, some of the children and teenagers who were present on Republic Day 2016 will again assemble at the GPO for the 150th anniversary of the 1916 revolution. The torch has been passed to them.

 

Our street

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who contributed on stage; Adrian Dunbar, Ruan O’Donnell, Marie Mulholland, Lorcán O’Coileáin, Rita Fagan, Fergus Russell, Proinsias O Rathaille, Danny Healy and Mary Stokes – and to the Colour Party of Paul Callery, James Langton, Pól De Pléimeann, Dáithí O’Cuinn, Brendan Hickey and Pauline Mc Caul. Shane Stokes provided a lot of support, including the live-streaming of the commemoration for the benefit of those who could not be with us, and photographing it on my behalf. Thank you to all. Comrades!

But it is the citizens who participate who really make a commemoration valid and true, and so thank you to all who attended. As I said in my closing remarks, I think we managed to create a mini Irish Republic at the GPO for at least 45 minutes on Republic Day, although I think that mood continued for the rest of the day. As Adrian Dunbar said later, perhaps we opened a gap into a space that people can occupy where differences aren’t a roadblock to progress. That is what being a citizen of a true republic should be like.

Let’s now work to create the full-scale Irish Republic without delay, for the benefit of all.

We can do that. First imagine, then believe, then act. We’ll use ideas and words and listening and persuasion instead of bullets.

That way we can arrive at the Irish Republic. What a beautiful destination that will be.

Video of live-stream of the Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration

Adrian Dunbar - Compere

Adrian Dunbar – Compere

Ruan O'Donnell

Ruan O’Donnell

Marie Mulholland

Marie Mulholland

Lorcan Collins

Lorcan Collins

Fergus Russell 'The Foggy Dew'

Fergus Russell ‘The Foggy Dew’

Rita Fagan reads the Proclamation

Rita Fagan reads the Proclamation

Proinsias O Rathaille

Proinsias O Rathaille

Colour Party Paul Callery

Colour Party Paul Callery

Colour Party 2

Colour Party 2

Colour Party 1

Colour Party 1

Danny Healy The Last Post & Reveille

Danny Healy The Last Post & Reveille

Mary Stokes, singer Amhrán na bhFiann

Mary Stokes, singer Amhrán na bhFiann

Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes closing words

Tom Stokes closing words

It's A Wrap

It’s A Wrap

 

 

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Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration on Republic Day 2016

On the 100th anniversary of the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the commencement of the 1916 Revolution on April 24th 1916, there will be a Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration at the GPO in Dublin from 11.15 to 12 Noon – to the day and the hour of that seminal moment in modern Irish history.

Organised by the Citizens’ Initiative for Republic Day, and free of political party or political group influence, the commemoration is designed to facilitate citizens and those who have chosen to be among us to unite for the purpose of paying tribute to the men and women of 1916 who imagined a far better future for us in a true republic of equals, and who were prepared to offer their lives to achieve that.

A commemoration is about remembering people and/or events from another time. In this case it is about looking back to 1916 and to the revolutionary act that began the road to independence, and to those who had the courage and generosity to take a stand in support of the Irish Republic even though that meant confronting the most powerful empire in the world at that time.

A commemoration of 1916, such as this, cannot be about us, or the time we live in, or failures to live up to the vision contained in the Proclamation by any and all governments since 1922. Its focus, for the 45 minute duration of the commemoration, must be solely on 1916.

Given that a proper commemoration must have a period of reflection, a short programme hosted by Adrian Dunbar will include three speakers: historian and biographer of Patrick Pearse, Ruan O’Donnell, will speak on the origins of Irish republicanism among Belfast Protestants in the 1790s and the republican continuum up to 1916; women’s rights activist and biographer of Dr Kathleen Lynn, Marie Mulholland, will speak on the women of 1916; 1916 historian and biographer of James Connolly, Lorcan Collins, will speak on the revolutionaries of 1916, particularly the rank-and-file, and on the contribution of the people of the inner-city tenements to the revolution.

Singer Fergus Russell will provide a bridge between the reflective part of the commemoration and the formal part with his rendition of an iconic song about the revolution.

The formal elements necessary to a proper commemoration of 1916 include: the reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic by political, community and women’s rights activist Rita Fagan; the laying of a wreath on behalf of the people by Proinsias O Rathaille, grandson of The O’Rahilly; the raising of the flags of the Irish Republic, the Starry Plough, Cumann na mBan, na Fianna, and the Tricolour by Volunteer and Citizen Army reenactors led by Paul Callery; The Last Post and Reveille played by trumpeter Danny Healy; and the singing of the National Anthem, led by singer Mary Stokes, which will bring the commemoration to a close.

A great deal of care has been taken to ensure that the centenary commemoration will adhere to the three principles of commemoration – recognition, reflection and respect. It is expected that all present will want to  honour the men and women of 1916, putting all present day differences to one side for the short duration of the Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration at the GPO which should act as common ground as we pay tribute to, and focus on, that golden generation who gave so much for us at great cost to them.

The organisers of the commemoration are just facilitators. The act of commemorating is performed by all who are in attendance. It is they who, after this once-ever experience since there is only one centenary of 1916 on the day and to the hour, should be able to disperse knowing that they have been part of a memorable experience and that they have played their full part in collectively paying proper tribute to the men and women of 1916.

Then, let us be inspired to put that beautiful model of the true republic contained in the Proclamation back in place.

That would be the enduring tribute to the men and women of 1916.

 

 


State 1916 Commemoration: insulting the living and the dead

The hugely successful 19th century Irish theatrical impresario Dion Boucicault once said, “What the audience wants is spectacle, and by God I will give them that”.

That same thinking seems to have formed the basis of the state’s supposed commemoration of the 1916 Revolution.

“Let them have spectacle” is the new “Let them eat cake”. By God, spectacle is what they got, those who could see the giant screens, excluded as they were from the theatre that was O’Connell Street and the GPO. The barriers preventing them from being close to the action might well have borne signs stating “No riff-raff”, since that was what was intended.

O’Connell Street and the GPO were to be the exclusive preserve of the Irish political class, the self-styled ‘elite’ – politicians, both former and current; judges and lawyers; senior state functionaries; corporate kings and bankers; other wealthy individuals; and of course the propaganda wing of state, the media. In an attempt to attach some credibility to proceedings, relatives of 1916 revolutionaries were allowed to apply as supplicants for tickets from some committee or other, or not – a position some of us chose to adopt.

In my case it is because it stretches credibility beyond its limits to have dictating the nature of the state commemoration a prime minister (‘acting’ since the recent election) who has attempted since coming to office in 2011 to submerge the commemoration of the seminal event in modern Irish history, the 1916 Revolution which led to independence and self-government, in a sea of other often minor-by-comparison commemorations, a decade of them no less. Imagine, the state’s launch video for the 1916-2016 commemoration did not have a single image of a 1916 leader but featured a singer (Bono) and a queen (English)!

But the acting prime minister’s party, Fine Gael, has previous form. It is the 1930s iteration of the counter-revolutionary party Cumann na nGaedheal, whose central mission was to obliterate, via the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and a brutal civil war, the Irish Republic fought for in 1916 and sustained up to 1921. It morphed into Fine Gael in 1933 when the remnants of Cumann na nGaedheal joined forces with the fascist Blueshirts. Fine Gael has never moved from that counter-revolutionary corporatist-fascist ideology. During its kleptocratic five-year term since 2011 it forced the most swingeing austerity, often on the most economically vulnerable in society, while transferring huge amounts of wealth to the already wealthy.

In stark contrast, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic promised universal suffrage, religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities to all citizens, to pursue prosperity and happiness for all, in a resolutely anti-sectarian, sovereign republic, owned by the people. Those ideas and ideals are anathema to Fine Gael values, and to those of its equally right-wing alternative, Fianna Fáil, as history shows.

And so to the commemoration (even if we can only see it on a screen).

In the first place, this ‘centenary commemoration’ was a month early. Instead of holding it on the actual anniversary, 24th April, the government chose to stick with tradition and hold it on Easter Sunday, thus tying it to a Christian religious feast. The revolution actually began on Easter Monday, not Sunday, 1916, but hey, let’s not be pedantic about that. Its association with Easter down through the years has been a handy way of associating the Catholic church with the revolution that that church opposed tooth and nail.

Being monarchic in its structures and practices, the Catholic church has always been antagonistic to Enlightenment secular republicanism and to the concept of the egalitarian and democratic republic.

That is why the counter-revolution played into the church’s hands, allowing for the creation of a state that combined Catholic theocracy with plutocracy and oligarchy, the so-called Free State. By creating a false official history, propagated in Catholic schools, the republican basis of the 1916 Revolution was extinguished in favour of one that presented it as having been a Catholic nationalist rising, not a progressive revolution.

That must have made it easy for the one clergyman called on to read the prayer during yesterday’s event. The Irish Defence Forces’ Head Chaplain is, of course, a Catholic priest. He delivered a heavily politicised prayer which very inappropriately at an event marking 1916 slyly referenced the Troubles. We can take that to mean the recent Troubles. Besides that, it was as if all present in O’Connell Street and beyond the barriers in Riff-Raff Street were Catholics, rather than people of all religions and none.

But worse than that, the absence of even an ecumenical prayer instead lumped all of the dead revolutionaries in together, as if Protestants, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, etc., had not formed part of the revolutionary forces along with Catholics, which of course they did. What of it that the inspiration for 1916 came directly from the United Irishmen of the 1790s, all initially of the Protestant faith, or that the 1914 gunrunning into Howth and Kilcoole was almost entirely a Protestant enterprise from start to finish? A Catholic prayer will be good enough for them, and they should count themselves lucky.

What does that say, in this centenary year, to the Protestants of Ireland, north of the border as well as south of it? We know that the Irish Republic of 1916 was proclaimed as a 32-county Republic belonging to all of the people. And we know that if the border is to be obliterated that we must negotiate with northern Protestants, not all of whom are unionists, as well as northern Catholics, not all of whom are republicans or Irish nationalists. But this state refuses to honour Protestant patriots of 1916 in an appropriate way – by acknowledging their existence or their immense contribution. That reveals the ingrained partitionist mindset that delights in a Catholic state on one side of the border and a Protestant state on the other. But this is the 21st century, time moves on, attitudes change, what seems fixed in stone shifts. That, though, doesn’t apply to Fine Gael, and only to a slight degree with Fianna Fáil.

The Proclamation was read. Yes, it was uncensored. Those passages which address issues that have real relevance to the plight of so many of our people today – sovereignty, equal rights and opportunities, happiness, prosperity, control of national resources – were read in full, without the slightest evidence of even a solitary embarrassed blush among the serried ranks of the political class. Perhaps they have inbuilt auditory filters, or perhaps sociopathy is part of their make-up.

Of course the acting prime minister couldn’t resist one more stab in the back for the revolutionaries of 1916. Rather than allow the customary wreath to be laid at the GPO in their honour he had to continue with one of Fine Gael’s much-contested methods of diminishing the men and women of 1916, something that smacks by now of extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In directing the president, Michael D Higgins, to lay the wreath on behalf of the people of Ireland, the acting prime minister added ‘for all of the dead of 1916’, thus including the British forces who were sent to suppress the revolution by all means including murder of civilians and the levelling of the heart of one of the great cities of Europe using artillery.

By that action, the acting prime minister destroyed the notion that this was a commemoration directed at the men and women of 1916, and rendered it into nothing more than a very expensive fraud, a sham, a charade. No other prime minister in the history of independent Ireland has plumbed those depths, has offered such a gratuitous insult to the men and women of 1916 or to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who had assembled in Dublin to honour those men and women. The acting prime minister should be driven from office for that one act.

As for the defence forces, they were great. Most of us admire the role they usually play in the world as peace-keepers, less so the drift in the direction of active involvement with NATO and with US invasions of people with whom we Irish have no argument but have much empathy for their suffering. The same applies to the units from various first-responders too. No criticism is intended of any of them.

No, this is about the failings of the political class, and the failure of the government led by Fine Gael to demonstrate any respect for the revolutionaries or the cause of independence and a proper, modern, enlightened republic that they put their lives on the line to achieve for our benefit and not theirs.

And this is about the insults the government and the political class including the media offered in the run-up to and on what purported to be a 1916 centenary commemoration, to both the living and the dead.

What the audience didn’t need was the sight of the political class making a spectacle of itself. But perhaps we did need to see that, in its ugly naked elitism.

Couldn’t happen in a true republic. So let’s create one. That is the best honour we could pay those men and women of 1916. And it is the best thing we could do for ourselves and the generations still to come.

 


Take It Down from the Mast

There is, to my mind, something very obscene about the State organising a flag-hoisting ceremony at Dublin Castle, supposedly to mark the beginning of the 1916 Centenary year, while the same State routinely thrashes the public services and the public works that so many citizens depend on – often for their lives.

This charade is nothing but a necessary PR exercise mounted on the instructions of two parties, Fine Gael and Labour, which have been forced by the weight of public opinion to appear to be engaged with honouring the seminal moment in modern Irish history – the revolution of 1916.

How could two avowedly counter-revolutionary parties, with another counter-revolutionary party, Fianna Fáil, waiting in the wings, credibly honour those whose vision of a real republic has been deliberately thrashed by those same parties?

It is impossible. More than that, it is a disgusting display of contempt by self-serving hypocrites for the ideals and the idealism of 1916 and the subsequent revolutionary period, and contempt for the people those ideals were supposed to serve – the citizens of Ireland and those who have come to live among us and are part of us.

Those three parties, representative of a political class slaked with lust for power and wealth, have ensured that a third of our people endure dreadful conditions of need and insecurity and unhappiness – from visible poverty including homelessness and literal starvation of children, to unemployment, emigration, chronic illness both mental and physical, early death caused by rampant suicide and undiagnosed or untreated illness, and the list of dreadful conditions goes on and on. But no tangible evidence of concern from the political class.

Today, we see thousands of our people wading through rivers to reach their water-logged homes in an attempt to rescue something of value to themselves. They will continue to wade, through false promises made in the coming election. It has always been thus, since the counter-revolution of 1922.

Meanwhile, those three parties have ensured that the pockets of the wealthy – the political class – are stuffed with our hard-got money. It has always been thus, since the counter-revolution of 1922.

As a 1916 relative I am seemingly entitled, in a way that other citizens are not, to be present at State ceremonies to do with 1916.

I reject that spurious entitlement. I refuse to participate in these charades. I refuse to give cover to those who hate the very idea of the Republic while attempting to secure public approval for their vile project of continuing to administer a grossly unequal and unjust State while pretending to draw on history for their existence.

As a 1916 relative I disown the spurious ‘Republic’ of Ireland. I am a citizen of the Irish Republic – I have been since my first conscious political thought as a child and will be to my last breath.

Today I am filled with disgust.

Tomorrow I will be filled with hope.

Revolution begins in the imagination.

Now we have to imagine.

Imagine the Irish Republic.

Then work now to put it in place.

For the happiness and prosperity of all our people.


Whatever you say, say nothing – Lockout 2013

There are dates in every nation’s calendar that demand remembrance. When those dates fall on the centenary of a significant event then that demand for remembrance is greatly magnified. A remembrance ceremony marking the centenary of a significant event then becomes an event in itself and enters the collective memory. There is one opportunity on the centenary of a significant event to get it right, or to get it wrong, to honour the participants in that original event, or to dishonour their deeds and by implication the participants themselves, either by distorting the narrative, the manner of its representation, or by grievous omission.

It is the last of these, omission, that was particularly startling in what was billed as the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout on the 31st of August 2013, the centenary of Bloody Sunday on which date the Dublin Metropolitan Police attacked and battered protesting strikers in the main street of Dublin, injuring between 400 and 600 and killing two men, James Nolan and John Byrne.

The National Commemoration was attended by the President, Michael D. Higgins. The President arrived, listened to and watched various performances, laid a wreath at the Larkin statue, led a minute’s silence in memory of those who died and those who suffered during the Lockout, took refreshments in the GPO with other dignitaries, returned to his seat to enjoy other performances, and then departed. Nothing strange about what the President did, but it is what he didn’t do that is strange. The President didn’t speak to the people on the subject of the Lockout during the course of the National Commemoration.

President Higgins has not shown himself in the past to be afraid to address issues that may be contentious. He is a skilled and adept public speaker, well aware of the limitations that his office places on him in terms of straying into the party political arena or on matters of government policy. He has spoken on the Lockout previously. There is no doubt that he has a deep interest in the historical event itself and its use in evaluating the present and projecting into the future. Sharing his analysis and his ideas with the public is, perhaps, what he does best. He is not known to be reticent about using the public platform to stimulate discussion – the opposite is, thankfully, the case, and the public seem to approve of that aspect of his presidency.

And so, the question is why? Why did the President, whose words are listened to and valued by and who enjoys the trust and respect of a significant majority of the people, do the unexpected and remain silent on the subject of the 1913 Lockout on such an auspicious occasion as the National Commemoration of the centenary of that event when the reasonable expectation was, as usual, that he would speak to those present and, via the media, to the nation?

Perhaps there is a simple answer. The President may have been unable to deliver a speech through being indisposed in some relevant way. He may, as one observer suggested, have not wished to take from the community element of performances, but that seems unlikely since there were also professional actors and musical performers taking part at other times in the programme. Perhaps there are other simple answers to the question, but they don’t come to mind easily.

Also present at the commemorations were Fine Gael Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Labour Party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and his party colleagues Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn, the latter under increasing fire for his extraordinary and arbitrary decision to remove history as a compulsory subject in secondary schools, without any public discussion. Could a less simple answer be related to their presence? Could it be that their involvement in the neo-liberal austerity agenda which must have formed part of any serious speech on the subject of the 1913 Lockout and the conditions today of workers, the unemployed, the emigrated, the sick, the homeless and the dispossessed, the under-educated and under-resourced children, and the poor in general, might have consequently led to public embarrassment, and perhaps spontaneous protest against their unrelenting support for failed, deeply damaging government policies?

It is unusual to find four government ministers at an event such as this and to note the absence of even one attempt to take the microphone and to speak on the historical event and the main personalities involved, even if that, as sometimes happens, is no more than empty rhetoric and oily words. Extraordinary, really.

There too were the principal organisers of the event, leading members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and affiliated trade unions. A proper analysis of the Lockout and its relevance to today’s issues, the importance and role of trade unions, and their performance over the intervening century particularly since the inception of Social Partnership in 1987 – the sort of issues that the President could normally be expected to touch on – might have proven uncomfortable too.

Any honest critique of the effects of the social partnership model could hardly avoid addressing in some way issues such as the fall-off in density of union membership in the workforce from 54% in 1987 – the start of social partnership – to 20% in 2007 – the end of the ‘boom’, and the fall-off in membership among young workers, part-timers and the lower skills with a higher concentration today of members in the professional and technical grades – mirroring the change in demographics among Labour Party voters. Trade unions, like the Labour Party, have lost much of their traditional base, to the detriment of vulnerable workers in the case of the unions, and the disenfranchisement of the working class in the case of Labour.

There are those who would also criticise the social partnership model for the political dangers that it can impose. One notorious and similar previous model is that contrived by Benito Mussolini around 1930, which brought trade unions and corporate interests together to work with government – as one of the pillars of Italian Fascism.

It may seem extreme to mention fascism in the context of the Irish trade unions, and that linkage is not the intention, rather the dangers of social partnership in which the driving force may be a government of questionable ethics. While Bertie Ahern enjoyed much popularity particularly during the property bubble, the spectacle of him being applauded to the stage at the ICTU Biennial Conference in Bundoran in 2007 (when there were many indicators that the economy was tanking), where he delivered his infamous remark that he did not know how people who moaned about the economy did not ‘commit suicide’. He was then applauded back down from the stage and out of the conference centre. Some could think that that was a ‘Berlusconi moment’. It was certainly unfortunate.

James Connolly would have ‘got’ that moment, just as he would have ‘got’ social partnership. What did he write in the Irish Worker, two months into the Lockout? “It is war, war to the end, against all the unholy crew who, with the cant of democracy on their lying lips, are forever crucifying the Christ of labour between the two thieves of Land and Capital”.

It is no longer ‘war, war’ between the two rightfully antagonistic forces of labour and capital, but ‘jaw,jaw’, or at least since the disintegration of social partnership, no sign of a return to ‘war, war’ – the strategy that many living in straitened conditions might prefer the trade unions to opt for, and who have often vocally expressed their wish for that change. Where, for instance, is the ‘war, war’ on Zero Hours Contracts, criticised by Minister of State Alex White of the Labour Party thus – “We have a new “precariat” in some sectors of the labour force, with people working on zero-hours contracts, short-term contracts, or for free on unpaid internships. These trends can undermine rights earned by past workers, and the relevant statutory protections may require strengthening, or at least review. Zero-hours contracts shape a life of uncertainty for people where their ability to budget for the future or manage a stable family life is particularly difficult.”?

Again, we might have expected that a dynamic trade union leadership might have nominated their best and most inspiring speaker to seize on the opportunities that the centenary of the Lockout offered to advance the cause of labour. But no, an opportunity rejected, it seems. Why?

‘Tis passing strange’ too, as the man himself might put it, how James Connolly got ne’er a proper mention at the National Commemoration other than in the rendition of the Ballad of James Larkin sung by Jimmy Kelly. Hardly likely that the President would have made that omission, had he spoken, which omission is of itself an insult to Connolly whose role in the Lockout was immense. It is, of course, correct to highlight James Larkin’s enormous role in the Lockout, but extremely churlish to downplay Connolly’s powers and sacrifices in that endeavour. It was not a one-man show. That churlishness brings to mind the Irish Labour Party’s inability or unwillingness to properly celebrate the role that Connolly played in founding that party on its centenary in 2012, or to champion his eloquent and visionary social philosophy which is the envy of others around the world other than in brief references that had a distinctly weasely feel to them.

Like that other National Commemoration forced on a recalcitrant State, the annual 1916 commemoration, this one too seemed smothered by the dead hand of State, or of other agencies or a combination of both, and  starved of the oxygen of honest appraisal and discussion. Perhaps that was the plan, perhaps not.

One lesson learned by those who understand the importance of these centenaries to the nation and to the future is that the state has shown itself to be unable or unwilling to trust the public to own its own great history. By its inept and insulting control of the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout, including the barricading of the citizens, the employment of a private security company of bad repute – G4S – to interfere with public access at the event, the searching even of women’s handbags and men’s eye-glass cases, the state has shown itself to be unfit for the job of commemorating the 1916 revolution. In 1966, a far larger event than this one was, not a barricade was to be seen, the police presence was discreet, citizens were free to approach the President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, if they wished, or any other attendee among the ‘elite’. What has changed, other than obsessive control-freakery?

And so the Fine Gael minister and three Labour ministers remained stoically silent on the day. The trade union leadership offered a bland statement via Sallyann Kinihan. So be it. Perhaps it was the safer option.

But can we have an answer, simple or complex, to this question? Why did the President not speak at the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout?


Know the revolutionaries to understand the revolution

I never had personal contact with my paternal grandfather, since by the time I was born he was eight years dead, but in my earliest memories as a young boy he was already becoming to me  a man of mythic stature, a heroic figure in our family, a presence. What I knew of him as I grew was gleaned from snippets of information, often just overheard, sometimes the result of answers to my expressed curiosity about this absent man. It was obvious to me even from my earliest days that he was loved and missed by my father and his siblings, and that they were always proud of him and what he had done in his life. I had no image of him either until much later when I was shown a yellowing newspaper clipping that reported on the circumstances of his death with an accompanying postage-stamp sized photo, too small and too faded to give any real sense of the man.

John Stokes - D Company 3rd Battalion - Boland's Mills Garrison

John Stokes – D Company 3rd Battalion – Boland’s Mills Garrison

That newspaper clipping confirmed what I by then knew, that my grandfather, John Stokes, had died in attempting to rescue a young woman from drowning at the Shelley Banks near Poolbeg on the southern side of Dublin Bay. Other clippings, discovered later, gave greater detail to the story – that the young woman had been cut off on a sand island when the tide started to rise, that John had gone to her assistance and that when she couldn’t swim to shore he went back for assistance but disappeared underwater having suffered cramp. The young woman, Nellie Macken of Parliament Street, was rescued by a boatman. At the inquest into his death John was commended for his bravery. He was 63 years-of-age when he died. That one act of selfless bravery, particularly at a relatively advanced age, would have been enough to establish his heroism, but there was more to him than that one act.

Born in County Wexford, in Bunclody, his people were farmers. But they were, according to family lore, also perpetually rebellious, with an involvement stretching back to the United Irish rebellion of 1798, and the short-lived Wexford Republic of that year. As a young man, John had to flee Wexford to avoid a trial at the Wexford Assizes on a charge of holding off at gunpoint a bailiff who had caught him poaching game on a squire’s land. He made his way to Dublin where he eventually met and married my grandmother, Catherine Finnegan of Slane, County Meath.

By 1913 John was employed as a ‘motorman’ – a driver – with the Dublin United Tramways Company. When he and his co-workers walked off the job because of the company’s refusal to allow them membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, led by James Larkin and James Connolly, that strike allowed the Employers’ Federation, led by Ireland’s leading industrialist William Martin Murphy, to declare a general lockout of unionised workers, leading to a sustained and highly organised attempt by the employers to starve the workers and their families into submission, a cynical programme that lasted over four months bringing death and sickness to the poorest of Dublin’s poor.

Although records of who was involved in and around Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the ITGWU, are virtually non-existent, it is highly likely that John and Catherine were active there. In our family, James Connolly – a central figure in the Lockout and in Liberty Hall – was revered above other leaders, as was Liam Mellows, a disciple of Connolly’s. And, right up to the time of her death in 1956, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who had worked for the welfare of the locked-out workers and their families in Liberty Hall and had been appointed by Connolly as  Chief Medical Officer to the Irish Citizen Army that Connolly led, and later as second-in-command of the City Hall garrison during the 1916 revolution, was a frequent visitor to Catherine at her home in Rathmines, as a friend.

John made the journey from striking tram-worker in 1913 to revolution in 1916 in which he fought in the Boland’s Mills garrison as a member of  D Company 3rd Battalion of the Volunteers, under the command of Eamon de Valera. On April 24th, Easter Monday, he turned up for duty with his Howth rifle and was put in charge of four Volunteers to take over the Gas Works and went from there to the Old Distillery (where the flag of the Republic was flown to divert British Army attention) until Wednesday when they were withdrawn back to Boland’s Mills. On Thursday he was ordered home by de Valera due to a back injury he had carried into the fight. Two days after the surrender he was arrested and taken to Richmond Barracks with the other revolutionaries, and then to Frongoch Prison Camp in North Wales via Wakefield Prison in England. He was released in August 1916. While in Frongoch his commanding officer was Terence MacSwiney. During the War of Independence John provided ‘assistance’ to D Company and to the Active Service Unit, and during the Civil War provided a safe house for guns and men to Anti-Treaty republicans with the active participation of my grandmother Catherine.

The Lockout exacted a high price on both John and Catherine. As a black-listed worker due to his union activity, and as a man of principle who would not work for certain employers on his own blacklist, he often found himself struggling to provide for his wife and young family. This evidently led to occasional difficulties between these two strong-willed characters, she who had children to feed and he who had principles to live up to.  On Fianna Fail’s accession to power in government in 1932 Catherine wrote to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera asking if there was any work available for John to which de Valera replied that if John came to the Dáil on a certain date there would be a job as a porter. John’s response was that he hadn’t fought in 1916 to get a job for himself and refused the offer. He continued to find what work he could, mainly around the motor trade and occasionally as a hackney driver.

There is no doubt that John and Catherine made a solid contribution to achieving independence for Ireland from British domination, but they made another lasting contribution. In being active citizens in their everyday lives they passed on a set of worthwhile values and beliefs that they held dear to their children, who passed them on to their own children, and the ripple effect goes on.

They were not unique in this, and that is the impetus behind telling their story for the first time.

On the 24th of April 1916, ‘ordinary’ men and women, estimated to number between 900 and 1200, assembled at Liberty Hall and at various outposts to create a revolution against the mightiest empire in the world at that time. But very little is known about these heroic, generous people who would take extraordinary risks to benefit future generations with little prospect of gain for themselves and a high possibility of death, injury or long-term imprisonment as a result of their actions.

These people, these revolutionaries, do not figure in history books, other than as statistics. In writing them out of the story as individual people, each with a personal story to tell of before, during and after the revolution, we consistently fail the test of understanding what the revolution was really about and how important it was for them to achieve the Irish Republic that was the objective of the revolution.

There is no doubt that it suited what was, and continues to be, the political class in this non-republic, to narrow the focus of understanding the revolution by concentrating on its leaders and on its opponents, including the failed constitutional politicians and those who faltered and fell away from the revolutionary movement at the last minute.

Far easier to present the revolution as a ‘Rising’, or an ‘Insurrection’, or a ‘Rebellion’ if the motivations and the objectives of the rank-and-file men and women do not form part of the evidence of genuine revolution. Far easier to underplay the fundamental importance to the revolution of the 1913 Lockout and trade unionism, of the centrality of socialism to the Proclamation, of the most advanced form of feminism in the world which was revealed at the barricades and in the Proclamation, if the revolution could be sold as a ‘poets’ rebellion’ or some-such nonsense. Far easier to allow the Catholic church to successfully sell the spurious notion that it was behind the ‘rebellion’ and therefore a party to the gaining of independence when the direct opposite was the case. And so, far easier to create a permanent counter-revolution the aim of which was to destroy the Irish Republic so as to preserve a privileged class, to avoid redistribution of wealth, to introduce rigid controls on society and social behaviour, to embed capitalism and its local offshoot, gombeenism, as the hegemonic ideology.

Even at this late stage, when those generations with a direct connection with the rank-and-file revolutionaries are dying off, it is still possible to salvage these stories involving the ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries and their families, but further delay in doing so cannot be entertained. A concerted effort needs to be made to reach out to the remaining families of 1916 rank-and-file revolutionaries to gather the stories and where possible photographs, so that we can better know who they were and what were their personal circumstances, why they did what was extraordinary, and how it impacted their lives thereafter.

There is work to be done, first in finding the descendants, then in gathering the stories, collating the information and analysing it, and publishing the stories and the analysis. Once again that work involves, in a very fundamental way, ordinary people. But, given its potential scale, it will also need to involve local and national organisations and societies, sociocultural historians and researchers, archivists and museums.

After almost 100 years of obscurity we need to think of ways to acknowledge and honour these ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries. Apart from publishing their stories, one other way would be to ensure that included in the commemorations on April 24th 2016, Republic Day, will be a contingent of citizens, each individual – preferably a family-member – representing an identified revolutionary of Easter Week 1916, and assembled according to the garrison that the revolutionary was part of, to take part in the march-past at the GPO in Dublin.

It is time to give these ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries mythic stature, to understand the extent of their heroism, and to make their presence felt once again as we continue the task of completing their revolution by constructing the Irish Republic that they gave so much to bring to life. We owe it to them, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to the future generations.


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