Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reclaiming the Vision of 1916: Sinn Féin's Programme for 2016


Bobby Ballagh and mise

Wynn’s Hotel in Lower Abbey Street in the centre of Dublin played a pivotal role in the formation of two of the key groups that shaped the 1916 Easter Rising; Oglaigh na hÉireann – the Irish Volunteers, and the Cumann na mBán.

On November 11th 1913 a small group of republican activists met at Wynn’s Hotel. Present were Bulmer Hobson, Eoin Mac Neill, Padraig Mac Piarais, Sean Mac Diarmada, W.J. Ryan, Eamonn Ceannt, The O'Rahilly, and several more. It was agreed to hold a public recruiting meeting for a body called the Irish Volunteers whose aim was ‘to secure and maintain the common rights and liberties of Irish men’.

Three of those in attendance; Pádraig Mac Piarais, Sean Mac Diarmada, and Eamonn Ceannt were among the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. They were subsequently executed by the British.

Two weeks after that first inaugural meeting - on November 25th- over seven thousand joined the Volunteers at a meeting in the Rotunda Rink in the grounds of the Rotunda Hospital. On the same night a special section set aside for women was also full.

On April 2nd 1914 the first official meeting of the Cumann na mBán took place in Wynn’s Hotel.

Relatives of 1916 leaders

Last Friday morning Wynn’s Hotel was crowded for the launch of Sinn Féin National Launch 1916 Commemorative Events. Mary Lou MacDonald chaired the event; Martin McGuinness spoke about the importance of 1916, and in particular about the National Monument in Moore Street where the 1916 Leaders met for the last time and which the government has failed to protect or develop properly. James Connolly Heron, the great grandson of James Connolly also spoke. So did I.

The centenary programme is first class. It is our intention to launch it in Belfast in the near future.

The programme includes a re-enactment of the funeral of veteran Fenian Jeremiah O Donovan Rossa on August 1st this year.

Under the title ‘Revolution 1916’ a visitor exhibition will run for 33 weeks in the Ambassador Theatre (part of the Rotunda complex) in O Connell Street commencing on February 27th 2016. This will feature a day-by-day account and legacy of the 1916 Rising through different mediums and artefacts.

Outside the GPO on March 8th 2016 a rally will be held to celebrate the role of women in the Revolutionary period.

A parade of the Irish Citizen Army will take place from Liberty Hall to St. Stephen’s Green with a special emphasis on the Diaspora.

Nationwide Easter Commemoration Parades will take place. Dawn Vigils
will be held outside Kilmainham Gaol on the dates our leaders were executed and in Cork on 9th May and Pentonville on August 3rd 2016.

Over April 24th – 29th 2016 (the actual dates of the Rising) a light show will use the portico of the GPO to depict the story of the Rising.

On Sunday 24th 2016 the Citizens’ Initiative will be holding a national march and rally to ‘Reclaim the Vision of 2016’.

In Belfast there will be events to mark the life of James Connolly and on May 15th 2016 at Arbour Hill there will be an oration and ceremony.

I have no doubt other events local and national will be organised between now and next year.

Tim Pat Coogan and Martin McGuinness

This programme is Sinn Féin’s contribution to the centenary celebration of the 1916 Rising – a seminal event which shaped the history of this island for the following 100 years. Other organisations and individuals will also organise and hold their own events.

There has been widespread criticism of the government’s failure to produce a programme of any substance and public reaction to its promotional video – Ireland Inspires 2016 – was so angry that it had to be withdrawn. The 80 second promotional video failed to mention the Rising or the Proclamation or the executed leaders. It did however include images of David Cameron, Queen Elizabeth, Bono, and Bob Geldof.

In stark contrast the video presented at Friday mornings launch of our centenary programme of events is an excellent production which captures the essence of the period and its impact.

This shambolic approach by the Irish government is an accurate reflection of the Fine Gael and Labours leadership’s attitude to 1916, and in particular the Proclamation. Little wonder they don’t want to celebrate the Proclamation.

They don’t believe in it. They are embarrassed by its content.

The government’s failure to protect and properly develop the National Monument in Moore Street, as well as the laneways of history – those adjacent streets and lanes where the men and women of 1916 valiantly fought the British Army – has been shameful.

The Easter Rising saw an alliance of organisations come together, including the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the woman's movement, and Irish language activists.

They rose up against British rule in Ireland and declared a Republic. For Ireland and for the British Empire this was a point from which all changed utterly. It was a hugely courageous act. A few hundreds of Irish men and women taking on the might of what was then the largest empire in history, and the foremost global power.

For the British the Easter Rising, and struggle for self-determination and sovereignty, set an example that was to be imitated successfully in the following decades in its countless colonies around the globe.

The British hoped by the speed and scale of the executions that followed that they could extinguish the flame of freedom. They were wrong. At his court martial Pádraig Pearse got it exactly right:

'Believe that we, too, love freedom and desire it. To us it is more desirable than anything in the world. If you strike us down now, we shall rise again to renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom.'

That is absolutely true.

The revolutionary period was followed by a counter revolution. The counter revolutionaries won. Partition and small minded narrow, mean and conservative states were forced upon us. But though the counter revolutionaries won they did not defeat us.

So the centenary celebration of the Easter Rising is a time to build. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to the achievement of the politics of Wolfe Tone, of Padraig Pearse and James Connolly, of Maire Drumm and Mairead Farrell, and of Bobby Sands.

The Proclamation summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. We are those children. I invite you to join in that great historic enterprise.

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