Emotional mood for 99th commemoration of Rising
Tangible links to history in the air as large crowds turn out to pay respects
Published 06/04/2015 | 02:30
He was a candle-maker who was second in command to Eamonn Ceannt at the South Dublin Union workhouse and infirmary during the 1916 Rising.
Cathal Brugha was severely wounded by a hand grenade as well as being peppered with gunshots, and was written off by medics, who thought he could never survive. He did - though he was later shot dead by Free State troops on O'Connell Street in the bitter Civil War, 11 days before his 48th birthday.
Almost a century later, his great-grandson soared over Dublin's O'Connell Street in a military flyover to honour all those who died in the bloody struggle of a fledgling nation.
Lt Gearoid O'Briain (27), from Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, was "to the left of the diamond", as the Air Corps formation flew over the GPO yesterday at the solemn event to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
His presence in the skies was a somehow awe-inspiring reminder of how far we have come - and yet how closely we remain tied to the events of our still recent past.
This is the last year in which we can still say that the Rising happened 'within the last century'.
With the landmark centenary looming next year, this seismic event in Irish history will appear to shift further off into the mists of time. And so, though not 'the big one', yesterday's commemorations seemed somehow strangely precious and more tangible.
Politicians who attended the event were quick to say that this was 'not a day for party politics'.
And they were right.
If this was a dry-run for next year, the mood was the correct one.
At first, it seemed that only tourists were bothered to make their way to stand outside the GPO to watch what was about to unfold, drawn, perhaps, by the sharp military orders that echoed authoritatively around a cordoned-off O'Connell Street; for once silent but for the wheeling gulls and cawing rooks.
But little by little, the crowds swelled until thousands of people stood by patiently and respectfully.
And yet the street still remained in virtual silence, the scene framed by the mundane hustle and bustle of buses and bin trucks along the perimeters.
The 1916 relatives were buoyant - at last.
It had been a good week.
After a valiant tussle for what was right, the Government had finally bowed to pressure, securing the future of the pivotal 1916 site at 16 Moore Street for what will very shortly seem like the paltry sum of €4m.
James Connolly Herron, great-grandson of 1916 leader James Connolly, said he was "happy enough" with the way things were proceeding.
"But we still need to do more," he warned - and would like to see some sort of flagship project like a national event so that the whole country can celebrate a very special year.
"But we've come a long way since Ireland Inspires," he said with a twinkle and a reference to the disastrous Government PR launch for the commemorations last November.
As the Guard of Honour stood outside the GPO, the official arrivals of the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney, Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke and Taoiseach Enda Kenny took place, amid pomp and ceremony and much stamping of military feet.
From their vantage point, photographers fretted because a young child in bunny ears, aloft his father's shoulders, was obscuring the faces of the politicians.
And then the motor cavalcade roared up, to accompany the arrival of the President, Michael D Higgins, in a black woollen suit, and with one finger carefully bandaged up, as he formally inspected the Guard of Honour.
Military orders echoed around the colonnades of the GPO and Clerys across the street and the Tricolour was lowered to half mast.
And then Monsignor Eoin Thynne, chaplain of the Defence Forces, read a brief prayer, honouring, amongst those remembered, the women and children who died in the Rising.
And he said that we stand together "in our determination to ensure that our country will honour the ambition set out in the Proclamation, to be a republic which cherishes its children equally, not just in lofty words but in everyday deeds".
And after a piper's lament, the strong deep voice of Captain Kate Hanrahan of the Defence Forces read aloud the Proclamation.
It was a powerful and emotional point.
And it reminded us that we still have some progress to make.