Friday 18 January 2019

Nation honours men, women and children of all persuasions in commemorations

Huge crowds watch as marching bands proceed down O’Connell Street. Photo: Conor McCabe
Huge crowds watch as marching bands proceed down O’Connell Street. Photo: Conor McCabe
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

A democracy is always and must always be a work in progress...

It's not clear whether President Michael D Higgins wrote these words for his speech for the State event for relatives of those who participated in the Easter Rising before or after the general election.

Our democracy is certainly a work in progress at present, with talks ongoing on the formation of a new government.

President Higgins was one of the few political figures sitting in the front row of the viewing stand outside the GPO at the Easter Sunday commemoration who could justifiably argue he had a democratic mandate to be there.

Perhaps it was appropriate, as debates on democratic mandates are a key aspect of the debate around the 1916 Rising.

Although he could yet be out of power within 10 days, Enda Kenny did have the honour of being Taoiseach on this anniversary.

That impasse in the leadership of the country following the general election assisted in ensuring that no party can claim ownership to the 100th anniversary commemorations, which were dignified and devoid of triumphalism.

The line between inclusiveness of all strands of belief and respect to those who gave their lives in 1916 was confidently walked by the organisers of yesterday's events.

The commemorations are markedly different from previous generations.

On the front page of the Irish Independent on Easter Monday 1966, republished in last Saturday's paper, the headline read 'Nation honours men of 1916'.

Of its time, it reflected how the events focussed solely on the rebel side in the Rising.

The commemoration was also dominated by Fianna Fáil, which was in power at the time, with Taoiseach Seán Lemass, who served in the GPO, and President Éamon de Valera, who commanded at Boland's Mills in 1916, centre stage. Opposition leaders, Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael and Brendan Corish of Labour, claimed they weren't even invited to the commemorations.

No such accusation could be made about yesterday's events as political figures of all persuasions were present in the VIP box.

As an aside, Cosgrave - at the grand age of 95, hitting 96 next month - was present for the entirety of the parade yesterday.

Only 10 years ago, the restoration of the military parade for the 90th anniversary of the Rising was deftly handled, but was still a risk.

Then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced the reinstitution of the event at a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis.

The late Séamus Brennan joked that he hoped there wasn't a countermanding order issued cancelling the event - a reference to Eoin MacNeill's famous order of Easter Saturday 1916 for the Irish Volunteers to stand down.

The revival of the parade was a surprise as the event hadn't taken place for a generation.

The parade was halted in the early 1970s because of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, resulting in the 75th anniversary largely passing unheralded.

The Provisional IRA campaign was still under way in 1991 and the State did not want to be accused of glorifying violence. The decades of shame brought upon this country by the Provos' actions are now, thankfully, confined to history too.

But the reawakening of interest in 1916 has ensured that the legacy has been reclaimed for the nation as a whole.

The overwhelming feeling yesterday was a sense of pride in our Defence Forces.

Notably, the largest - and most spontaneous - round of applause came for the retired servicemen who have served with distinction with the United Nations on peacekeeping duties in trouble-spots around the globe.

The entire tone of the Ireland 2016 commemorations has been about ensuring no persuasion was left out. Summing up the aim of this year, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys has repeatedly said these commemorations would be inclusive and about the people.

True to form, there have been no claims that the events sought to genuinely exclude those of any particular persuasion.

The final part of the official programme from the Easter Sunday commemoration is entitled 'Remembering those who died'.

The image below this heading features the names of the 485 lives lost during the 1916 Rising.

The logo will be familiar to readers of this newspaper, as it was designed by Joe Coyle for the immensely popular Irish Independent 1916 Collection of magazines. Based upon research by the Glasnevin Trust, it incorporates the names of all those who died - Irish rebel, Dublin civilian and British forces alike.

No judgement is made, no hierarchy of victims created.

A fitting tribute on a fitting occasion, in keeping with the growing equality and acceptance of a modern Ireland.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss