Thursday 19 April 2018

'A century dissolved as we stood looking at the GPO, remembering that band of young rebel patriots'

Members of the Defence Forces march past the GPO on Dublin's O'Connell Street during the 1916 commemoration parade on Easter Sunday. Gerry Mooney
Members of the Defence Forces march past the GPO on Dublin's O'Connell Street during the 1916 commemoration parade on Easter Sunday. Gerry Mooney

Nicola Anderson

AT the pillars of the GPO, children from all four provinces of Ireland came to lay golden daffodils, a symbol of rebirth.

In silence, the nation stood together in miraculous sunshine. Even more miraculously, all petty squabbles over how, or if, we could get to this point, were forgotten amid the purity of this unique moment in time.

It was a mark of just how historic this most special of occasions was to see the elected heads of State, past and present, behaving like giddy school children - former President Mary McAleese throwing stuffy formalities aside to take former President Mary Robinson's picture, as Martin McGuinness smiled benignly on.

The frail figure of the former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave (95), determined not to miss this most momentous of State occasions, sat observing it all from his parked car.

The highlights during the year of centenary celebrations had been numerous. Perhaps what surprised most were the genuine emotions stirred up, again and again, at each individual event. This was no mere lip service to the past but a crucial landmark in our present lives and another cornerstone laid for our future.

The State programme for the centenary celebrations had started on January 1 with a flag-raising ceremony at Dublin Castle, progressing steadily up to Easter, with national flags delivered to every school in Ireland and a commemoration of the women who had fought in the Rising taking place at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham on March 8.

Revellers dancing in Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, as part of RTE's Reflecting the Rising celebrations. Photo: Damien Eagers
Revellers dancing in Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, as part of RTE's Reflecting the Rising celebrations. Photo: Damien Eagers

At the Garden of Remembrance on Easter Saturday, the determined words of Padraig Pearse rang out, as delivered by Muriel McAuley, the grand-niece of Thomas MacDonagh.

"We seem to have lost; but we have not lost. To refuse to fight would have been to lose; to fight is to win. We have kept faith with the past and handed on its tradition to the future," she said.

Amongst the guests were 35 members of the MacBride family who had travelled over from the United States. Their pleasure at being part of this important event was touching.

"The Government did a wonderful, wonderful job of telling us what it was all about," said Dan MacBride from Utah, a great-grandnephew of Major John MacBride.

We've been planning this since last March," he said, adding that his relative was "folklore" for the family.

But of all the events in the State Centenary programme, the one to cherish was Easter Sunday outside the GPO. It was the pinnacle - though not because of the pomp, the ceremony and the expense. What was distilled from all that was something much simpler and vital that could not be drummed up by event organisers or reckoned in a budgetary programme. The people had taken it to their hearts because it was theirs - and that was why it worked.

Joan and Nick Wilson at the Easter Sunday 1916 commemorations in Dublin. Justin Farrelly
Joan and Nick Wilson at the Easter Sunday 1916 commemorations in Dublin. Justin Farrelly
Children in period dress at Stephen's Green as part od RTE's Reflecting the Rising event. Photo Maxwells

A century dissolved as we stood looking on at the GPO, remembering the ghosts of that band of frightened young rebel patriots, facing personal doom as they fashioned a shining cornerstone of the nation from the dusty rubble around them.

There were relatives there of the leaders later miserably executed and buried in a mass grave; of the backroom heroes who had gone on to live full lives in the new Free State and of those innocents whose lives had been snuffed out amid the Easter carnage. Some of their bodies had never even been identified.

Captain Peadar Kelleher from Douglas, Co Cork, stepped forward to read the Proclamation amid the silence; his voice echoed, the words sounding as fresh and the sentiments as idealistic as they had 100 years ago, when it had been Pearse who had stood there at the corner, reading them for the first time.

Because a new government had not yet been formed following the February General Election, Enda Kenny was in Acting Taoiseach mode and came forward to invite the President to lay a wreath and again, it was done with a sincere sense of gravitas that could not fail to affect onlookers as the President bowed his head and a minute's silence was held, broken by a muffled drum beat.

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'The Last Post' was played and the National Flag was sent aloft again, to flutter proudly with the 'Reveille' sounding until 'Amhrán na bhFiann' struck up, more glorious than it had ever sounded, forming a backdrop to a meticulously timed Air Corps flypast.

The same military precision played a vital role the following day for the synchronised wreath laying in Cork, Ashbourne, Enniscorthy and Athenry, as well as across Dublin at the key Rising sites - the former Boland Mills, Jacob's Factory, Dublin Castle/City Hall, the Four Courts, St James Hospital, The Royal College of Surgeons and Moore Street.

At the Four Courts, Mrs Justice Susan Denham spoke passionately about the role women had played and recalled the humanity displayed by the Irish Volunteers when a water mains burst and threatened to drown all in the cells of the Bridewell.

At Moore Street, the mood was tense when Arts Minister Heather Humphreys was drowned out by protesters calling for her resignation because of her stance on the preservation of the key buildings.

The ceremonies concluded and it was time for a change of mood. The city shook off all sombre memories, and the party of all parties began.

On O'Connell Street, an impromptu singsong of 'The Foggy Dew' broke out amongst the crowd at large.

RTÉ's 'Reflecting the Rising' event programme was a showcase of awesome proportions, with re-enactments, talks and events galore and every corner of the city heaved with a sea of people thoroughly enjoying themselves. It was great fun to watch scenes straight from the Edwardian Dublin of 1916 come alive around us, with hundreds of people getting into the spirit by wearing period dress.

There were other moments to cherish in a State programme that spanned the spectrum - the grief that still rose to the surface during the commemorations of the executions at Kilmainham Gaol, again at Banna Strand for the commemoration of Sir Roger Casement and again at Grangegorman for the event marking the death of British soldiers.

A Children's Day garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin in memory of the children of the Rising was a special event. Everything had been laid on for the pleasure of today's young generation, with lawn games and lavish teas. It was a day out of epic proportions in memory of the largely impoverished children of Dublin who had died a century ago - forgotten until recently.

And in marking the past, we created many memories of our own to tell the next generations about.

Irish Independent

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