Thursday 17 August 2017

'Some 1916 ideals not yet achieved' - President

President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina, sporting an Irish Citizen Army hat, with Siptu members at the State commemoration of the role played by James Connolly and the Irish Citizen’s Army in the 1916 Rising at Liberty Hall, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina, sporting an Irish Citizen Army hat, with Siptu members at the State commemoration of the role played by James Connolly and the Irish Citizen’s Army in the 1916 Rising at Liberty Hall, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Siptu members John Magee and Liam Higgins dressed as volunteers of the Irish Citizen Army. Photo: Maxwells
Orlagh Fawl, a section organiser for Siptu, dressed as Countess Markievicz. Photo: Gerry Mooney
President Michael D Higgins lays a wreath at the commemoration of James Connolly at Liberty Hall in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin

Alan O'Keeffe

James Connolly's ideal of an Ireland free of inequality has yet to be achieved, said President Michael D Higgins at a major 1916 Rising event in Liberty Hall.

The President and his wife Sabina were applauded when they arrived at the landmark building in Dublin in glorious March sunshine for a State commemoration of James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army for the role they played that Easter 100 years ago.

The acting Tánaiste, Labour leader Joan Burton, had arrived earlier, relaxed and smiling. She formally invited the President to lay a wreath at the nearby statue of Connolly on behalf of the Irish people.

The President then stood in silence as the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, known as The Starry Plough, was raised to full mast. Traffic was diverted outside the trade union headquarters during the event.

The Dublin Fire Brigade band and the Army's No 1 Band played 'The Last Post', while a minute's silence, a stirring reading of the Proclamation and the national anthem were features of the dignified outdoor ceremony.

In a wide-ranging speech inside Liberty Hall, the President referred to inequality in 1916 and 2016 and praised Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army for seeking a fairer Ireland as well as a free Ireland.

"Let us seize the opportunity of these ongoing commemorations to rekindle the unfulfilled promises bequeathed to us across the century by the women and men of the Irish Citizen Army.

"Their vision of a people free from want, free from impoverishment and free from exploitation remains a wellspring of inspiration for us as we seek to respond to the situation of too many workers who, in Ireland today, earn a wage that guarantees neither a life free from poverty, nor access to decent housing, adequate childcare and health services," said the President.

The Irish Citizen Army, led by Connolly, was founded to defend workers after the 1913 Lockout.

Many members were from the slum tenements where one-third of all Dubliners lived.

"Land and private property, a restrictive religiosity and a repressive pursuit of respectability, affecting in particular women, became the defining social and cultural ideals of the newly independent Ireland, at the expense of any fundamental social transformation of an egalitarian kind," said President Higgins.

"The republic for which they hoped remains unfulfilled, yet those same aspirations for true equality, or real independence, can still sustain us today in the task of rebuilding our society and our economy," he said.

At various places throughout the building and surrounding paths, men and women wore uniforms of the Irish Citizen Army with rifles resting on their shoulders. Orlagh Fawl (42), a section organiser for Siptu, cut a striking figure dressed as Countess Markievicz.

The unveiling of a plaque to the fallen members of the Irish Citizen Army underlined the central position of the old Liberty Hall in preparations for the Rising.

Military training and bomb-making, as well as the printing of the Proclamation, all took place in the old building.

It was replaced with a modern high-rise office in the 1960s.

Pupils from St Vincent's National School, North Strand, Dublin, and from St Louis High School, Rathmines, Dublin, as well as musicians and relatives of historical figures from the Rising, participated in providing a rich and moving programme of music, song and readings for President Higgins.

Siptu union general president Jack O'Connor welcomed the President to Liberty Hall.

The union leader said while there were frequent uses of the phrase "putting the country first" these days, Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army's emphasis was on "putting the people first", an aspiration for an immensely better society, rather than just a different flag.

Irish Independent

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