The Irish Times, Jan 30th 2016
I can’t get excited by the 1916 centenary celebrations. I have tried to approach Rebellion with an open mind but I find it difficult to stay with it. It seems to be far removed from any empathetic appreciation of the rebels’ actions or achievements. The re-enactment of the events of 1916 appears contrived and lost in a time warp.
This feeling has little to do with my attitude to the Rising. I was brought up on the historical menu that the event was the culmination of a long line of physical force events commencing in 1798 that eventually lead to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. I never doubted that the Rising was necessary to expedite the departure of the British.
I suppose the leaders were always plaster cast figures in my imagination, similar to the religious statues in the local church. They were pictures, some like Pearse and Clarke and Connolly, making a bigger impact on my imagination than the others, but all difficult to put flesh and blood on.
When they were remembered on television in 1966, particularly in Seachtar Fear, Seacht Lá, and an attempt was made to make them living men and women, they weren’t a success. They were artificial creations, badly realised and had no semblance to the figures in my imagination.
The argument propounded then that they had no mandate from the public, that they were the minority of a minority, didn’t influence me in any way. They were revolutionaries and such are always a minority. It’s the few who initiate change because the majority are invariably satisfied with the status quo.. The rebels were no different.
The other argument, that their actions brought about Partition and prevented the smooth passage to a united, independent Ireland had the Irish Parliamentary Party been allowed to pursue their path to Home Rule, was, in my mind, irrelevant because we don’t know what might have transpired had the Rising not taken place.
Probably the big question that the centenary celebrations pose is how our Ireland of today compares with that envisioned by the rebels. Probably there is no relation. But, what relationship has the U.S. or the Russia of today with the aims and intentions of the Founding Fathers or the Bolshevik Revolutionaries? Or compare the hopes and aspirations of Nelson Mandela with the mess that President Zuma has made twenty odd years after the fall of the Apartheid regime? No revolt lives up to the expectations of the revolutionaries.
The men of 1916 said nothing about the type of Ireland they envisioned. The Proclamation summoned all Irish men and women to the flag of the Irish Republic to strike for freedom from the British. It demanded the ownership of the country for the Irish and the allegiance of all Irish men and women and it placed their effort under the protection of the most High God.
The Democratic Program was a later attempt to provide an economic and social vision of an independent Ireland, The rebels were concerned with getting rid of the British and their concentration on this subsumed all thought of the type of Ireland they envisioned.
In last analysis the Rising started another process, which included the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Economic War, The Program of Economic Expansion and E.E.C. membership and which brought us to the state we in at today. The men who led it were idealistic and self-sacrificing and deserve to be remembered and honoured, whatever about being imitated.