WITH this weekend marking the actual centenary of the Easter Rising, which started on April 24th, 1916, we can look back on the commemorative events that have taken place over the past five weeks with pride as they were staged with such dignity and respect, involving all ages and persuasions.
It was great to see the younger generation being taught about the men and women of 1916, their motivations and the actions that led to the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives being made by several of the leaders. The Proclamation Day, held at schools throughout the country on March 15th, got the commemorations under way with great style and enthusiasm after copies of the Proclamation and the national flag had been delivered to the schools in the preceding months by members of the Defence Forces as part of a history module about the 1916 Rising.
Pupils studied the contents of Proclamation, which has extra relevance this year – not solely because of the centenary, but because the majority of its aspirations are still relevant today and some of them still need to be attained. The young people of today were given a keener insight into the motivations of the seven signatories who declared the setting up of an Irish Republic on Easter Monday, 1916 and they were also encouraged to come up with their own Proclamation for 2016.
Those who were schoolchildren back in 1966 at the time of the 50th anniversary commemorations – when a lot of the participants in the fight for Irish freedom were still alive – were given a much more partisan version of the events of 1916 with a strong anti-British sentiment underlying it. What the current generation was taught was far more balanced, as history should be, and better informed by the availability of a wider range of archival material.
From a strict military point of view, the 1916 Easter Rising was a failure and some have asked why it should be glorified so much, but it did lay the foundations for the subsequent War of Independence. Many of the 1916 participants were pilloried by the general public for the mayhem that ensued from their actions, but when the British authorities suppressed the rising so brutally, destroying the centre of Dublin in the process and then summarily executing the main leaders, the tide of public sympathy began to turn in favour of the rebels.
The rounding up of Irish Volunteers who had taken part in various marches to collect guns that were due to be landed from the German ship, the Aud, sailing under a Norwegian flag, and their subsequent internment in British prison camps in England and Wales helped radicalise the prisoners even further and they were even more ready and willing to fight for the cause of Irish freedom on their release, buoyed by greater public sentiment of goodwill towards them.
The centenary commemorations themselves, held at Easter – which fell much earlier than usual this year – were a credit to the organisers. The military precision of the parades showed off, not only the discipline and integrity of our armed forces and police, but also the wide range of dedicated volunteers who back up the emergency services when needed. They did themselves and the bodies they represent proud and hopefully made the public appreciate how lucky we are to have them.
The highly-commendable range of events was varied and interesting and, most importantly, they were accessible and inclusive. It was important that none of the main events were hijacked by any of the political parties to try to boost their popularity on the back of them and, apart from a few sideshows by Sinn Féin, the commemorations were largely apolitical.
Indeed, one would have thought that, by the time the actual centenary was reached this weekend, people would have had their fill of 1916-related events, but that does not seem to be the case as there seems to be a great appetite to get to know more about the events of 100 years ago and the people involved in them, especially at local level, with a number of further commemorations coming up in the next week or two.
We in The Southern Star were both gratified and humbled by the response to our 1916: A West Cork Perspective, published at Eastertime, which seems to have become something of a collectors’ item, and there are also a number of exhibitions ongoing throughout the country that will attract interest for a long time to come.