Thursday 8 December 2016

'Our Rebel hearts' - Brendan O'Connor on historic 1916 commemoration

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

Centenary: A mural in Dublin marking the Rising Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Centenary: A mural in Dublin marking the Rising Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

It is fitting, isn't it, that we can't agree what it was about, or what it achieved, or what its legacy is or how best to commemorate it.

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We could barely agree when to commemorate it. Easter, a moveable feast, a date that shifts. Nothing is immutable in Ireland. Everything is up for change.

Heroes remembered: President Michael D Higgins bows his head as he lays a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance yesterday for all those who died in the Easter Rising Photo: David Conachy
Heroes remembered: President Michael D Higgins bows his head as he lays a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance yesterday for all those who died in the Easter Rising Photo: David Conachy

We cannot agree on any of these things perhaps because to be Irish is to be in a constant state of rebellion: rebellion against each other; against ourselves; against the country we love; against anyone who would dare try to tell us how to feel about anything, how to remember anything, how to commemorate anything. What are we rebelling against? What have you got? We even rebel against the very notion of rebellion.

Perhaps it is this restless soul of ours that we should commemorate today. Perhaps we should look past the decisive notions of who did what and why and was it necessary and what it really achieved. And perhaps we should make this a day to celebrate our rebel hearts, our constantly questioning nature, our refusal on principle ever to accept the status quo.

Terrible beauty is born and reborn every day in this fantastic mass of contradictions that is the country we love, a country where we all disagree with each other on principle, a country where if someone agrees with you, you are likely to change opinion.

We are innately suspicious of consensus. Nothing is ever enough for us. We worry when we ever feel comfortable. We worry and niggle at things that other people might just let slide. We try and figure it out in our angsty and melancholic music, in books that verge on unreadability in their contrariness, books that refuse to even stick by the rules of the language. Many have tried to impose order on the restless Irish, from church and State. But as much as they have done awful damage at times, we have stuck with our determination to never let the bastards grind us down.

Patricia Treacy of the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland plays a haunting tune at the service Photo: David Conachy
Patricia Treacy of the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland plays a haunting tune at the service Photo: David Conachy

And this sense of ongoing rebellion is perhaps what we in 2016 should take from what happened back then. We don't even accept the authority of our own to rule us now. And we keep questioning, we keep our sense of indignation, our refusal to accept that this is just how things are. What we can perhaps take from 1916 is that we do not accept things when we feel in our hearts that they are wrong. And though we can have an inferiority complex, it is mixed in with an even more powerful belief that we are better than everyone else and that we deserve better.

So homeless children are not something we will just accept. The marginalisation of people with disabilities is not something we will just accept. Violence in all its forms is not something we will just accept.

The selling-off of the country to absentee vulture landlords is not something we will just accept. A health service that robs the old of their dignity and the sick of their right to respect and comfort and the best shot they can get of a cure, is not something we will just accept. And a different set of rules for the rich and powerful is not something we will just accept.

This relentless rebellion against perceived injustice is at the core of our psyche and it is the best part of us. And now that we have learnt that killing innocent people is not the way to change things, we do it by talking, by talking and arguing incessantly, in the pubs, in our homes, in our TV and radio studios, online.

We have to keep listening to each other, and disagreeing, without resorting to name-calling and personal abuse, or violence. We can only keep up perpetual rebellion if we all agree to respect each other's right to rebel back.

And we should remember too today that no one party, no one tribe, and especially not the men of violence, own the legacy of rebellion in Ireland. No one group has more of a claim on Irishness. Eternal rebellion against ourselves, everybody else and whatever else they throw at us, is all of our birthrights as Irish people.

Sunday Independent

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