Sunday 30 April 2017

In 1966, we did not understand. Now, we can handle the truth of the Rising

The 1916 celebrations this time around demand something more nuanced than history as pageant; it's time to insist on being treated as adults who can cope with the facts

Soldiers inspect the interior of Dublin's General Post Office, viewing the complete destruction of the building after being shelled by the British during the Easter Rising 1916 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Soldiers inspect the interior of Dublin's General Post Office, viewing the complete destruction of the building after being shelled by the British during the Easter Rising 1916 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Fergal Keane

I have only the sketchiest memories but marching men are there, soldiers of the Republic on O'Connell Street on a spring day in 1966. I was five years old and the son of a devout romantic. My father brought me into town to view the parade. He was a gifted storyteller and his stories brought the dead of the Rising back to life. Dev came to our school, a titan shuffling towards immortality, but without the hero glow of the executed and the assassinated.

I was a child of the cult of Pearse. I worshipped our heroes as I imagine English children were taught to see the glory of the lost of the Somme.

It was easier then, three years before the North erupted. Paisley was a vague noise, discordant and menacing, the powerful militarist cult of the Provos unimagined and unimaginable; a Catholic barman was among three people murdered by a re-emergent UVF. Leading UVF figures would later say the group's revival was in part motivated by the rise in nationalist spirit around the 50th anniversary of 1916.

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