Saturday 1 October 2016

Easter 2016, our collective past

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

'There is no doubt that the Easter Rising was the most significant event in the subsequent, painful birth of the Republic'
'There is no doubt that the Easter Rising was the most significant event in the subsequent, painful birth of the Republic'

History is important. This statement would seem self- evident, but in a modern society such as ours, there can be a tendency to turn our backs on the past, to look down on it, or to treat it as a time to disregard. We live in a time of rapid change, after all, in a time of progress, heralded by the advent of the worldwide web. In an era such as this, it sometimes seems that we prefer to define ourselves in terms of where we are going and not where we have come from.

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The events to commemorate Easter Rising 1916 today, tomorrow and throughout this week, and indeed this year, are important, therefore, in that they will allow us to consider where we have come from, in all of its glories, in each of its cruel and blood-soaked manifestations, so that we might learn and know all the more where we are going at this, such a break-neck pace, and what we might do when we eventually get there.

So these events do matter. Of course they do. History is nothing if not the story of the past that is in equal measure both significant and true. There is no doubt that the Easter Rising was the most significant event in the subsequent, painful birth of the Republic. Most modern historians would agree that there is no absolute truth, but perhaps the greatest benefit of this commemoration, the manner of which, it must be acknowledged, has left many people feeling a little uncomfortable, is that it has provided some belated perspective to the events of 1916, perspective by and large shown to be well supported by the facts of that time.

But while the past is fixed, and no one can change what has happened, whether they wanted to or not, the values of any society can also change, and when they do, so too can our interpretation of history. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche warned that when we are tired, we are attacked by the ideas we had conquered long ago. As these commemorative events unfold, we can celebrate as a people the freedoms delivered however terribly, however beautifully, but we would do well to not fall tired, rather to stay alert to those who would seek to control what is our collective past. It has been said that he who controls the past controls the future. As a people, we all, collectively, today, tomorrow, this week and this year have taken control of our past and our future.

The question will always stand - what of that future? If our view of history shapes the way we view the present, it also dictates what answers we can offer to our existing problems, of which there are many. The Proclamation itself can still answer many of those questions. However, we need not be bound by word and deed to that document alone, but as a modern society can now set about the task with gusto to prepare our own template for the future, a future that is as rich in promise, as hopeful and as bright as the day the Republic was born outside the General Post Office on Easter Monday 1916.

Sunday Independent

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