Tuesday 6 December 2016

Martina Devlin: Pride, yes. It was heartening - a relief, even - to feel an emotion so positive after the bleak years of the financial collapse

Published 28/03/2016 | 02:30

A young girl holding daffodils at the GPO. Photo: Maxwells
A young girl holding daffodils at the GPO. Photo: Maxwells

Impulsively, joyously, a current of elation has taken hold of Dublin. Such a mood is impossible to choreograph - the centenary organisers were able to invite dignitaries, plot parades and organise Proclamation-reading ceremonies with precision. But they could not predict the level of engagement from the people.

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The population responded wholeheartedly, however. It was clear from the way some dressed up in period costume, while others pinned ancestors' medals to their children's anoraks.

The Air Corps stages a flyby above the GPO. Photo: Tony Gavin
The Air Corps stages a flyby above the GPO. Photo: Tony Gavin
Joan and Nick Wilson from Crumlin at the Easter Sunday 1916 Commemorations in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Justin Farrelly

It showed in the enthusiasm with which they waved flags, and the respect with which they listened to an army officer read the Proclamation from the steps of the General Post Office. The words - the aspirations - contained in that statement of intent never lose their vitality.

Quite simply, people wanted to be part of this historic occasion.

Read more: Richard McElligott: Finally, we have remembered 1916 in a way that is measured and inclusive of all our history

During the approach to the centenary, a debate circled about the politics of celebration versus commemoration, with certain readings of the national pulse betraying unease about appearing to endorse bloodshed. Not least because of the Troubles in the North.

Jayden Smith (5) from Crumlin at the Easter Sunday 1916 Commemorations in Dublin. Pic: Justin Farrelly.
Sheila O’Leary (94) from Clontarf, whose father Thomas Byrne fought in the GPO in 1916, pictured with his medals, on O’Connell Street, Dublin awaiting the 1916 Centenary Parade. Picture: Maxwells
The guard of honour from the 28th Infantry Battalion from Donegal before the wreath laying ceremony in The Garden of Remebrance on Saturday. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sabina Higgins, wife of president Michael D Higgins places a wreath at the graveside of Countess Constance Markievicz during a ceremony on Saturday. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nial Ring. Photo: Tony Gavin
Finna Fail leader Micheal Martin was at the wreath laying ceremony in The Garden of Remebrance on Saturday. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rupert Flood with his daughter Aoife, wife Roisin, father Tony and mother in law Ruth. Roisin's great grandfather was James Connolly. Photo: Tony Gavin
President Michael D Higgins arrives to inspect a guard of honour from the 28th Infantry Battalion from Donegal before the wreath laying ceremony in The Garden of Remebrance on Saturday. Photo: Tony Gavin
President Michael D Higgins inspects the guard of honour from the 28th Infantry Battalion from Donegal before the wreath laying ceremony in The Garden of Remembrance on Saturday. Photo: Tony Gavin
Members of the Defence Forces pictured at the Easter Sunday Commemoration Parade on Dame Street, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Grace Nic Mhathuna (6) from Dublin on O’Connell Street, Dublin awaiting the 1916 Centenary Parade. Picture: Maxwells
Sheila O’Leary (94) from Clontarf, whose father Thomas Byrne fought in the GPO in 1916, pictured with his medals, on O’Connell Street, Dublin awaiting the 1916 Centenary Parade. Picture: Maxwells
Acting Minister for Defence Simon Coveney and Members of the Defence Forces at the Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony at the GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Easter Sunday Wreath-laying ceremony in Kilmanham Gaol. The ceremony took place in the Breakers Yard on the site where the 1916 leaders were executed. Picture: Maxwells
President Michael D. Higgins laying a wreath at the Easter Sunday Wreath-laying ceremony in Kilmanham Gaol. Picture: Maxwells
Acting Tanaiste Joan Burton at the Easter Sunday Wreath-laying ceremony in Kilmanham Gaol. Picture: Maxwells
Ms. Moira Schlindwein (nee Reid) whose father fought in 1916 in the GPO, pictured awaiting the parade at the GPO, O’Connell Street. Picture: Maxwells
People watch the centenary Easter Rising Parade at Cuffe Street in Dublin. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Members of the Defence forces pictured during the centenary Easter Rising Parade at Cuffe Street in Dublin. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
A reflection of the GPO in a spectators glasses on O’Connell Street, Dublin awaiting the 1916 Centenary Parade. Picture: Maxwells
Chief Superintendent Frank Clerkin (left) and Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan (right) are 'photobombed' at the Easter Sunday Commemoration Parade. Photo @GardaTraffic
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
The flyover on O'Connell Street for 1916 Centenery parade Picture issued by the Defence Forces Photos taken from Cassidy's Hotel
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
The flyover on O'Connell Street for 1916 Centenery parade Picture issued by the Defence Forces Photos taken from Cassidy's Hotel
The flyover on O'Connell Street for 1916 Centenery parade Picture issued by the Defence Forces Photos taken from Cassidy's Hotel
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
The flyover on O'Connell Street for 1916 Centenery parade Picture issued by the Defence Forces Photos taken from Cassidy's Hotel
The 1916 Centenery Parade passing by the Garden of Remembrance. Pictures issued by the Defence Forces Pic taken from Cassidy's Hotel
The flyover on O'Connell Street for 1916 Centenery parade Picture issued by the Defence Forces Photos taken from Cassidy's Hotel
Aerial shot of the 1916 Centenery Parade from Westmoreland Street onto O'Connell Bridge Picture issued by the Defence Forces Images taken from roof of the Blood Bank on D'Olier Street
Garda Mounted Unit prepare for Easter Sunday Commemoration Parade. Photo @GardaTraffic
Flyover at the Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony and Parade from O’Connell Bridge, Dublin. Photo: Maxwells
Flyover at the Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony and Parade from O’Connell Bridge, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony and Parade from O’Connell Bridge, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony and Parade from O’Connell Bridge, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Crowd at the Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony and Parade from O’Connell Bridge, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony and Parade from O’Connell Bridge, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Easter Sunday Commemoration Ceremony and Parade at the GPO, O’Connell Street, Dublin. Picture: Maxwells
Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Peter Kelleher reads the Proclamation pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
President Michael D Higgins pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
President Michael D Higgins lays a wreath pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
People watch the centenary Easter Rising Parade at Cuffe Street in Dublin. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Members of the Defence Forces file past the GPO pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Members of the Defence Forces file past the GPO pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Members of the Defence Forces file past the GPO pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Watching the parade pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Scenes at as thousands attended military parade in Dublin. Some to line streets of capital for Easter Rising commemorations. Pic Stephen Collins/Colllins Photos
Joan Bates and her daughter Barbara, from Kilbarrack, Dublin, enjoy the parade. 1916 Rising 100th Anniversary parade. O'Connell Street, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Members of the Army Ranger Wing pictured this afternoon on O'Connell Street for the Easter Rising 1916 Centenary Commemoration. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

But yesterday in the capital was no day for reservations, doubt or ambiguities, and people streamed onto the streets to express their pride in Ireland's journey towards self-determination. Pride, yes. It was heartening - a relief, even - to feel an emotion so positive after the bleak years of the financial collapse.

As for the Republic that emerged from the wreckage of the Civil War: while far from perfect, it is a democratic and self-governing State, and people gladly acknowledged that yesterday.

Such delight there was in the city centre, whatever its source. Such communion between strangers and swapping of 1916 stories. Such interest in where one man's relative fought and another woman's relations are buried. 

Read more: Nation honours men, women and children of all persuasions in commemorations

In their readiness to listen and to share, people were paying tribute to an exceptional generation of men and women who sacrificed themselves for an ideal - a metaphorical dip of the head took place towards the prominent combatants known to all of us, and those others known only to their families.

In O'Connell Street, pots of Easter lilies stood outside the GPO with its prominent bullet holes, that sliver of ever-present history, while all about the city tricolours fluttered from places where they never flew before.

The composition and performance of the official commemorative events was both dignified and effective. But for me, fortunate enough to have a bird's eye perspective from a viewing stand in front of the GPO, it was the unchoreographed vignettes that made Easter Sunday 2016 spring into life. There was the man I met selling flags to raise money for the homeless, inspired by the words of the Proclamation he could recite by heart. There was the seven-year-old boy whose grandfather explained to him that we fought the English for freedom but old enmities were laid to rest. Especially as many of us have English relatives.

Speaking of which, Essex-born Michael Pender (55) and his wife Deborah were in O'Connell Street to honour his grandfather James Pender, a 15-year-old volunteer who served under Eamon DeValera.

Read more: President Michael D Higgins: 'A democracy must always be a work in progress, and how we use the independence we have been gifted will continue to challenge us, morally and ethically'

Meanwhile, Michael's grandmother Margaret Whelan was in the College of Surgeons. Michael was taken aback to hear no women were allowed into Boland's Mill, by DeValera's express order, and we shared a laugh about how some of the male volunteers were said to be aggrieved because they had to do their own cooking.

"My grandmother told me it was a very dark time," he recalled. "She never spoke about it much. The only detail she ever gave me was that she saw a Black and Tan strangle a woman in front of her with barbed wire." No wonder that generation was disposed towards silence.

Michael Pender senior (81), his Dubliner uncle, was wearing his father James Pender's medals from 1916 and 1922, and plans to have them mounted in a picture frame. "We kept his letters to his family from Frongoch [internment camp], too," he said. Family treasures, all - and they'll stay in the family. The Penders are planning a private celebration on April 24, the date of the Rising.

Former Presidents and Taoisigh, as well as would-be Taoisigh, occupied prime seats by the GPO for the formalities. But to my mind it was important to see British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott there. In his carefully chosen RNLI tie, a lifeboat search-and-rescue service that's common to Britain and Ireland, he sat in the front row close to Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson.

The ambassador referred to it as a place of honour and was far from being insensible to it, he told me afterwards. He paid close and respectful attention throughout, and it seemed not only proper but desirable that he should be in attendance to represent Her Majesty's Government.

'Inclusive' was yesterday's buzzword and it's an admirable aspiration.

Read more: Nicola Anderson: Lavish spectacle had a heart and a soul as crowds came out

Unfortunately, no senior Unionist politician travelled south of the border to share the day. That was not just a shame, but a missed opportunity, especially in view of Queen Elizabeth's historic visit in 2011, when she bowed her head to pay tribute to those regarded as traitors by her forebears.

Of course, she doesn't share the electoral anxieties of Unionist leaders, but it was a little ungracious that none among them had the magnanimity, let alone the vision, to make the short trip from Belfast to Dublin.

That's why, for me, the story of Ireland is one of unfulfilled potential - for both parts of the island. Not necessarily because of partition but because of the separation of our two traditions, whose co-operation could strengthen this country we share.

However, the lessons of 1916 are that mindsets can change and the status quo can be overturned, no matter how daunting the odds. Alice Milligan, a Tyrone Methodist and poet who toiled tirelessly for the Gaelic League, said we must work as passionately for something as if we believed it was only round the corner, even though it may be a long way distant.

Collaboration between Unionist and Nationalist was among the ideals of 1916 and that's a legacy we should continue to strive towards. More centenaries are approaching - let's keep issuing invitations.

Read more: Kevin Doyle: Politically we have just learned how to deal with the history of the Rising, so we can afford Britain some time to catch up

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