Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter 1916 and the laneways of history

Last week’s state visit by Úachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina was a good week for the peace process and for the reconciliation phase of the process. I have no doubt that the state visit will help to further foster an atmosphere of greater mutual respect and understanding, especially in the north.

President Higgins, Queen Elizabeth, Martin McGuinness and our other representatives have demonstrated in a powerful way the importance of building bridges of understanding, and of parity of esteem between the people of theisland of Ireland.
One aspect of the visit which attracted some interest is the speculation about the possibility of the Irish government inviting a member of the British royal family to the 1916 centenary events. I note that the Irish government is saying it must explore what events might be appropriate. It will be interesting to find out what 1916 event the government think fits this criteria of appropriateness.
Regrettably, the Fine Gael/Labour government has a tendency to try and dumb down the revolutionary period of 1916. Its whole approach thus far has been to have a minimalist centenary programme – to make it as politically anaemic as possible.
It is important to note that the government hasn’t yet set out its proposed Easter centenary programme of commemorations. The Irish government is also inclined to adopt an equivalence between the Easter Rising and World War 1. 
The First World War is clearly a very important historic event. Given the numbers of Irish men, nationalist and unionist, who fought and died in battlefields in Europe and elsewhere, it is important that that horrendous war is remembered.
However, the Easter Rising was a defining part of the revolutionary period in Ireland and was a strike for the freedom of the Irish nation. There can be no equivalence between the two.
The government’s amnesia about the revolutionary period is most evident in its plans for the Moore St historic monument. Thelanes surrounding Moore Street, which are synonymous with the 1916 Easter Rising, are to be bull dozed and covered by a mall.
The government’s proposal to turn 14-17 Moore Street into an interpretative centre are inadequate and fail to match the reality that this is the most important historic site in modern Irish history. The rest of the terrace is to be demolished.
Moore Street is where the GPO garrison retreated to after the destruction of the GPO; it is where the O Rahilly was killed; it’s where the 1916 Leaders last met and agreed the surrender to the British forces. Nurse Elizabeth O Farrell, a member of Cumann na mBan, who acted as dispatcher for the leadership and helped care for the wounded in the GPO, made her wayalong Moore Street to bring a message from Pearse to the British.
The green outside of the Rotunda is also where many of GPO garrison where held under guard by the British before being marched off to prisons and prison camps, and it was from there that Pádraig Pearse and James Connolly and Tom Clarke and others were taken for court martial and execution.
The Rotunda is also an inextricable part of our national history and of the struggle for freedom. It is there in November 1913 that the Irish Volunteers were formed. Across from the Rotunda on Parnell Street is where the Irish Republican Brotherhood would meet in Joe Clark’s shop.
The other side of Parnell Street is where Pearse, accompanied by Nurse O Farrell, surrendered to the British.
In any other state these laneways of history would be preserved and would be a vital place of remembrance and pilgrimage.
That is what the government should do instead of kowtowing to a developer. The entire Moore Street battlefield site should be developed and protected as a national monument.
This would be a fitting centre piece for the centenary and an economic boost to the north inner city as well as a prestigious international educational and a tourist facility.
It would therefore serve the government better if it produced a comprehensive and visionary centenary programme for 1916 that reclaims the spirit of that time, matches the historic significance of the event, and embraces all of the men, women and children of this island in a citizen’s celebration of Irish freedom and independence.
A celebration that accurately reflects the singular importance of the Rising and its impact on subsequent Irish history and society.

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