Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dáil Diary: Commemorating 1916

As party leader one of my tasks on a daily basis in the Dáil is to question the Taoiseach. There are two opportunities for this. Taoiseach’s Questions is an opportunity to ask Enda Kenny about issues for which he has specific responsibility and Leader’s Questions are on the important matters of the day.

Thus far I have used the opportunity afforded by Taoiseach’s Questions to quiz him on the withdrawal of the 50:50 recruitment policy to the PSNI by the British secretary of State; the European Council meeting; about meeting with the Ballymurphy Massacre Committee (which he agreed to do); north-south co-operation and much more.

This week I asked him about his plans to re-establish the all-party committee in the Dáil to plan for the 1916 celebrations which he agreed to do by Easter.

I reminded him that the decade before us is one which 100 years ago was filled with momentous and tragic events which dramatically shaped the subsequent history of this island.

They included the formation of the UVF and Irish Volunteers in 1912 and 13; the signing of the Ulster Covenant; the 1913 Lockout; the formation of the Irish Citizen Army; the Easter Rising of 1916, the General election of 1918 and much more.

In particular, in 5 years Irish people at home and across the globe will be remembering those brave Irish men and women who rose in rebellion at Easter 1916.

But the issue of commemorating the events of 100 years ago also raises the important issue of how we preserve those iconic sites linked to them.

In particular I asked the Taoiseach to ensure that every effort is made to restore and preserve Numbers 14 to 17 Moore St where the leaders last met before the surrender on April 29th 1916. And I urged him to look positively at the creation of a Revolutionary Quarter covering that part of Dublin City. He said he would.

In recent years I have travelled to many parts of the world. Some of these places won their freedom through hard fought struggle and revolution. Whether in Paris, or Philadelphia, in Washington or South Africa or Cuba, buildings and sites designated as ‘national’ and linked to their freedom struggles are preserved, restored and have pride of place as part of the history and culture of those nations.

And so it is in many other places. Not so in Dublin.

Last September a group of us, including Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and myself, visited the National Monument at 14-17 Moore St in Dublin.

If truth be told though 14-17 Moore Street looks unlike any National Monument I have ever seen. It is a short terrace of red brick buildings that have lain derelict for many years.

For me and others in the Sinn Fein group it was a political pilgrimage to the spot where the leaders of the 1916 Rising held their last meeting before the surrender to the British.

It was a beautiful autumn day. We were met by some members of the families of the leaders who were subsequently executed. They have been campaigning for many years for the Moore Street site to be preserved, protected and developed as a proper national monument.

They brought us around the streets adjacent to the GPO, recounting as we walked, the story of those seven days in April 1916 which shocked the British Empire and shook it to its foundations.

Moore Street itself is the site of a famous fresh vegetable, fish, and flower market with stall holders many of whom have been there for generations.

And while this historic site has been designated a National Monument, a developer plans to level most of it apart from some outer walls of the four buildings.

I believe that 14-17 Moore Street should be protected and incorporated into a wider revolutionary quarter that would link together all of those iconic sites we visited that day in and around the GPO. The story of 1916 is there for future generations in that quite small space. It is a story of courage and heroism and an example of the heights to which the human spirit can rise in pursuit of freedom.

1916 was the first body blow to the ‘Empire on which the Sun never sets’ and it began a process of rebellion and revolution which led within 50 years to the dismantling of that Empire.

The families told us how on the Friday evening of Easter week the leaders were forced from the GPO which, like most of O Connell Street was in flames and in ruin. Their objective was to make their way to the Four Courts’ Garrison.

They left by a side entrance in Henry Street and under fire, and carrying their wounded, including James Connolly, they slowly made their way along Moore Lane to Moore Street.

There they tunneled from one house to the next. On Saturday morning they eventually reached number 16 Moore Street which was then a poultry shop.

It was here that Pádraig Pearse, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett and Sean Mac Diramada along with James Connolly, discussed their next steps. One plan was to rush the barricade the British had on Parnell Street but Tom Clarke who went to see if this was practical returned to say it was impossible.

There was then a fierce discussion about a surrender. It was decided that this was the only course of action open to them and Elizabeth O’Farrell was charged with the dangerous task of going to the British.

She was taken from the barricade to Tom Clarke’s shop in Parnell Street. The British demanded unconditional surrender.

As O’Farrell was returning to 16 Moore Street and as she passed Sackville Lane, “the first turn on the left in Moore Street going down from Parnell Street, I looked up and saw the dead body of The O'Rahilly lying about four yards up the lane - his feet against the steps of the first door on the right and his head on the curbstone."

The O Rahilly had sought to prevent the Rising. He had returned to Dublin after travelling to Kerry where he had instructed the Irish Volunteers there not to join the Rising. But when he discovered that the Rising was going ahead the O Rahilly stepped forward and famously said: “Because I helped to wind the clock I come to hear it strike."

At 2.30 pm Pearse left Moore Street and with Elizabeth O’Farrell beside him he met General Lowe. Pearse handed over his pistol and sword and ammunition. And on an old wooden bench he signed the surrender document. Elizabeth O’Farrell was then asked to take the document to the various outposts held by the republicans.

The Volunteers formed up in ranks in Moore Street and marched defiantly to the Parnell Street barricade. They were held in the grounds of the Rotunda Hospital where Tom Clarke and some others were stripped by British soldiers.

The Court Martials began on May 2nd with Padraig Pearse, Tom Clarke and Thomas MacDonagh executed the following day. The last to die in Ireland were Sean MacDiarmada and James Connolly on May 12th . Roger Casement was hanged in August.

In his poem Easter 1916 W B Yeats concluded:

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

hello Gerry,
Your using the new voice at the Dáil. A few years ago I was at the old Dublin central coach station and found the small plate De Valera Last stand across from the Custom House. Now a contemporary building,at the new Bus station find any reference to that fact of history. Another site that has my concern is the Mansion House, looks in need of care and up-keep. You right Gerry must be part of the nationl vision.
There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternally new now that builds and creates itself out of the Best as the past withdraws.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Thanks Gerry,