Tag Archives: GPO

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.

 

 


Commemoration as manipulation

Imagine the United States suspending Independence Day ceremonies for 36 years, or the French doing likewise with Bastille Day ceremonies. Imagine if the British government announced that, even for one year, there would be no Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph on November 11th. There would be national uproar in any of these countries. Yet, here in Ireland, just such a suspension occurred. There was no state ceremony to mark the 1916 Rising on what was then seen as the National Day of Commemoration, at the GPO on Easter Sunday, between 1971 and 2006 when it was reinstated.

By that time the idea of national commemoration had had its emphasis shifted away from remembering and commemorating the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on April 24th 1916 and the week-long revolution that followed which fueled a partially successful War of Independence. In 1986 a new National Day of Commemoration was inaugurated, but this time it would mark all those Irish who gave their lives in war.

But the questions of ‘what war?’, and ‘in the service of what interests?’, and ‘at what cost to others, including civilians?’ do not, it seems, arise.

Should we simultaneously and equally commemorate the 86 members of the Irish Defence Forces who died on peace-keeping missions along with Irish men who signed up to Uncle Sam and went to visit horrible war on the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, with whom we Irish have no argument and no basis for conflict? Should the Irish state put the deceased Irish peace-keepers on a par with Irish men who were part of the British military machine as it exterminated those people that it could not subdue in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia?

No doubt many Irish men have served honourably in wars that were themselves dishonourable. Of the two World Wars of the 20th century the first falls into that category – a war that was about national-imperialist supremacy and resources including colonies. Lured by the ‘Defence of Small Nations’ propaganda many Irish men signed up to do just that. Many others were compelled to sign up for economic reasons in the aftermath of the 1913 Lockout. Were the first group more honourable than the second group?

While the second of those World Wars was, on the face of it, a war to end German fascism – an honourable reason to fight, it was also about national-imperialist supremacy and resources including colonies. It was also about establishing supremacy in the ideological arena between capitalism and socialism, particularly the Soviet brand. Men who had fought, honourably, on the socialist side against fascism in Spain, and who were vilified for that, went on to fight German and Italian fascism, and were praised for that. But not praised at home.

And fascism, despite their courage and sacrifice, is alive and well and thriving today in Europe, and lauded by the US and EU when it is employed in the Ukraine to destablise Russia, and it seems that we are willing partners in that, even if we, the people, weren’t asked if that suited us.

Neither were we asked if it was OK to send members of the Irish Defence Forces to Afghanistan as part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in the war on the Afghani people, with whom we Irish have no argument or cause for conflict. If a member of that Irish contingent was killed in Afghanistan, would it be right to commemorate that person – part of a war on another people – on a par with any of the 86 deceased members of the Irish peace-keeping forces? Article 29 of the Constitution, flawed though it is, places us in the role of peace-keeper, not belligerent.

Commemorating all the Irish who fell in war, even particularly atrocious war, is a ridiculous concept. It is a fudge designed to get us out of the corner of remembering those who fought willingly or through coersion in the first and second of those two World Wars, and of remembering those who fought on either side in the Civil War, which we don’t want to talk about in any event.

Those within the state apparatus who came up with that bright idea have no problem coalescing with the British establishment, a prime architect of global imperialist slaughter over the past two centuries, to run what purports to be our National Commemoration. But they do have a serious problem with commemorating 1916 and the foundational narrative of independent Ireland.

The pomp and ceremony for the Irish who fell in (any) war far exceeds the show put on for members of the political class at the GPO on Easter Sunday from which the public are excluded, barricaded and black-screened away lest they disturb their ‘betters’.

One of the state institutions, RTÉ, plays its part in the elevation of the National Day of Commemoration over the insipid and essentially private 1916 Commemoration at the GPO. Coverage of the 1916 ceremony is usually relegated to the bottom of the schedule on the RTÉ news programmes on the day, whereas RTÉ provides a stand-alone programme of in excess of one hour covering the commemoration of any Irish man who fell in any war. RTÉ is at its core, demonstrably, a relentless propaganda tool for the Irish political class.

Tight control of meaning and of collective memory is hardly surprising in a state that not only fails to defend the integrity of one of the last physical remnants of the 1916 revolution – the GPO Battlefield Site including the National Monument in Moore Street – but seems intent on its virtual destruction to facilitate a bankrupt ‘developer’. Preserve the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, put it centre stage in National Commemoration while destroying the fabric, the memory, and therefore the meaning of 1916. Both historic buildings and sites should be treasured, each with their own story.

Commemoration is always political. The absence of a state commemoration of 1916 at the GPO between 1971 and 2006 was political. The introduction in 1986 of a new and very differently focussed National Day of Commemoration was political. The decision to reintroduce the GPO ceremonies in 2006 was political, as was the later decision to turn it into an event from which the public were excluded.

The wheeze that is the Decade of Commemoration, initiated in 2012, fits perfectly into the same mould. Determined to undermine the power of our story of revolution and liberation struggle – and particularly of the Proclamation and its true meaning, the political class was handed a device designed to submerge the centenary of the 1916 Revolution under a sea of centenaries of secondary importance.

But the wheeze need not work. Commemoration does not fall solely within the remit of the state. There is the not insignificant body known as the nation – the people.

Commemorating 1916 – the Proclamation, the revolution and the revolutionaries – on its centenary, is safer in the hands of the people. It is a political act, best kept out of the hands of the political class.

As for commemorating any Irish man who fell in any war, best go back to the drawing board. There is an ethical question that looms large there. It is one that should define us. War-makers, or Peace-Keepers?


An anthem forged in the white heat of revolution

‘A national anthem…is a generally patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation’s government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people.’ (Wikipedia)Irish supporters

Tens of thousands of Irish citizens regularly sing the Irish national anthem in sports stadia both home and abroad or at other cultural events or meetings, but it is likely that few know the origins of ‘The Soldier’s Song’, or to give it its Irish language title ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’, and probably fewer still understand how or why it became the choice as the national anthem after partial ‘independence’ in 1922. Many people appear to labour under the misapprehension that it was foisted on the nation by the Fianna Fáil party after that party’s establishment in 1926, and some probably have misgivings because of that canard.

‘The Soldier’s Song’ was composed by Peadar Kearney in 1907, with the air by Kearney and Patrick Heaney. Its Irish language translation by Liam O’Rinn was first published in 1923. ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was used as one of many marching songs by the Irish Volunteers, founded in 1913, when on manoeuvres, and while popular for that purpose had no greater significance than some of the more established airs. The clue to what made it stand out, and led to it becoming the national anthem, is provided in Thomas M. Coffey’s great account of the 1916 revolution, centred mainly in and around the GPO during that momentous week, from Monday April 24th to Sunday April 30th.

Coffey’s research for his book involved speaking, fifty years later in 1966, to survivors of the revolutionary forces, mainly of the GPO HQ garrison, and on meticulous research. Writing about the evening of April 26th in the GPO in which the garrison was in holding pattern without the opportunity to engage directly with the enemy, unsure of what was to come, under bombardment and raking fire from a distance, Coffey describes the scene thus:

‘There was a restless stirring, and even in the dim light the haggard, worried expressions showed on the tired faces. Connolly got up from his cot and made the rounds, comforting, exhorting, sometimes scolding, but even by moving among the men at this hour he showed his own concern about their dwindling spirits. Everyone had abandoned by this time the myth of possible victory. There was nothing left for these exhausted and frightened men to think about but the imminent assault against them and, for the survivors of the battle, the dire consequences of defeat.
Connolly looked into their faces, one after another. Then suddenly, without warning, he broke into a bellowing chorus of one of their favorite marching songs, a song that would one day become the Irish national anthem – “The Soldiers Song”.

We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song,
With cheering, rousing chorus,
As round our blazing fires we throng,
The starry heavens o’er us.
Impatient for the coming fight,
And as we wait the morning’s light,
Here in the silence of the night
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.

The men listened to him dumbfounded at first. Then a few smiles began to appear and a few more voices began to rise until, within a minute or two, the main floor of the building was filled with the song:

Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland;
Some have come from a land beyond the wave;
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient sireland
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the bearna baoghail
In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal;
‘Mid Cannon’s roar and rifle’s peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.

(Page 153, ‘Agony at Easter’ by Thomas M. Coffey)

So there it is – a national anthem forged in the white heat of revolution, used by Connolly to rouse the troops under his command, and never forgotten by them because of that. Its popularity grew after the revolution had been put down, at least the first phase of it, first in the ‘University of Revolution’ as Frongoch prison camp in Wales became known, having housed prisoners taken by the British after the surrender, and growing again in popularity during the War of Independence.

Unlike most other national anthems which are composed after the fact, ‘The Soldier’s Song’/’Amhrán na bhFiann’ achieved its status and significance because of the symbolic part the song played for the revolutionaries inside the GPO at their moment of need, spurring them on in the struggle and enabling them to achieve an important objective in a task made hopeless in its greater ambition by the treacherous countermanding order of Eoin MacNeill. That lesser objective was to hold out for a week so as to establish the basis that the leaders believed would give them negotiating rights.

There is only one explanation that can readily explain the obscuring of the revolutionary significance of our national anthem from the people ever since it had grudgingly become the de facto anthem in 1926 and that is the desire of the counter-revolutionaries who have ruled Ireland since partial ‘independence’ to distance themselves and the people from the true nature of both the revolution and the Irish Republic that it was intended to create. Why else blank out a compelling story and through that turning our national anthem into being relatively meaningless and disconnected from its source in the modern Ireland that they have created through distorting and manipulating and censoring the foundational narrative of 1916?

So, spread the story to the citizens, allow ‘The Soldier’s Song’-‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ to evoke the image of men and women in a GPO under fire determined to create a revolution. Our national anthem is not a Free State song – it is the song of the Irish Republic. Sing it with pride. Side with the revolutionaries.

GPO revolutionaries


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.


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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