Monday 21 October 2019

My 1916: 'Rising threw down a gauntlet to younger generations'

The Banner County had its fair share of Rising activity too, not least the murder of the Scariff Martyrs

Rebels: Harry Boland with friends Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera whose footsteps Timmy Dooley is following as Fianna Fáil TD for Co Clare
Rebels: Harry Boland with friends Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera whose footsteps Timmy Dooley is following as Fianna Fáil TD for Co Clare

Timmy Dooley

The old stone 13-arch bridge spanning the river Shannon between Killaloe and Ballina on the banks of Lough Derg seems a long way from the storm of war whipped up in Dublin during Easter 1916.

The tranquil image of that historic town, the ancient home of Brian Ború resplendent, with St. Flannan's Cathedral, stands in stark contrast to the blazing inferno that consumed the city that week.

Yet the shots fired on O'Connell Street (then Sackville Street) reverberated across the island and were heard aloud in every parish in Ireland, none more so than the towns and villages of Co Clare.

That is where my understanding of 1916 begins. For it was on that picturesque bridge some four years after the Rising had sparked a new national movement, that the Scariff Martyrs were brutally murdered by rampant Auxiliaries.

Four unarmed men, bundled together with ropes, were badly beaten by their captors. Their cries awoke the town before they were raked with gunfire.

Their story then seeped into the collective Clare memory of a dark and dangerous time. These were the kinds of tales that you heard and read about when you were young, and which shaped our political outlook on life.

For me, 1916 could be seen in the memorials and stories of the War of Independence in Clare that it ignited.

While the fire and blood of the Rising was centred on Dublin, Clare also has a direct link to the Rising and one that I, personally have the privilege to maintain.

During the tumultuous days of that Easter week, Eamon de Valera commanded troops from Boland's Mill overshadowing the Grand Canal in the south side of the city.

One of the last commandants of the insurrection to surrender, De Valera was also sentenced to death but through a serendipitous mixture of reasons, luckily avoided being shot.

Little more than a year after narrowly avoiding execution in the grim surroundings of the stone breakers yard in Kilmainham, he spearheaded a major electoral breakthrough for independence.

The death of Willie Redmond in the Battle of Messines opened up a by-election in East Clare that was bitterly contested between the Home Rule party and a resurgent Sinn Fein with De Valera, fresh from prison, as its candidate.

Polling took place on Tuesday July 10 1917, and De Valera emerged triumphant, elected by a huge majority of 2,975 votes.

In the first throes of victory he appeared on the steps of the courthouse in Ennis clad in his iconic Volunteers uniform, shadowed by Countess Markievicz, Count Plunkett MP, and Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith, whom he subsequently replaced.

A new political movement that would fundamentally reshape Irish history took hold and the political colossus of 'Dev' was born. He would continue to represent the Banner County for over 40 years until he was elected President in 1959.

I am fortunate enough to take up the mantle of being the Fianna Fáil TD for Clare following in his historic footsteps.

In a small country like ours where we take pride in our past, the big political stories of our history have an intimate feel.

Individual family memories and the shared stories of the locality feed into the bigger picture narratives of the history books. Incidents like the savage murder of the Scariff Martyrs abound in County Clare from the years following the Rising.

In my own family the tale of my grandfather being arrested in the field while out tilling ground by the Auxiliaries gives colour to history's record of terror.

Many families have their own personal link to those turbulent days. The old stone Killaloe Bridge is quiet and peaceful now, barring the odd truck trundling between its narrow walls. I am reminded of the terrible price paid for freedom everytime I pass it.

The legacy of 1916 can be dark and complex. De Valera won his seat in East Clare after Willie Redmond sacrificed his life in the name of Home Rule. His grave is a lonely spot, hidden behind a family house off a main road in Flanders Fields.

Yet there is something special about 1916, the men and women who boldly struck out to assert our right to freedom and its unique place in Irish history as a moment when we took our collective destiny into our hands.

That is perhaps the most important legacy of 1916 to me and to others, the profound impact 1916 had on our political ideas. Ideas that still shape and inspire us.

The Rising marked a national awakening, a moment when in the words of Robert Emmet, we took our place amongst the nations of the Earth.

The patriotic feeling that drove on the Easter Proclamation and its principles of republicanism are the bedrock of our state.

The firebrand words of the Proclamation continue to stand as a challenge to legislators and citizens alike.

Forging a country that cherishes all its children equally remains an ongoing task.

In this sense 1916 throws down a gauntlet to the current generation. The stories and histories of the period, either personal or political, remind us of the sacrifices laid down to achieve independence.

The historic task to build a country that fully lives up to those ideals remains to be completed.

Timmy Dooley is the Fianna Fail TD for Clare

Irish Independent

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