In times of noise and strife, stillness is balm to the soul

President Michael D. Higgins lays a wreath during 1916 commemorations at the GPO on O'Connell Street, Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos


Easter has long been a landmark date on Irish people’s calendars. It is a definitive turning point in the year; a time to think of gardening and the outdoors, a step up in sporting events, and perhaps taking the first trip of the year away from home.

It was and remains the Christian churches’ most significant festival marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even in an increasingly secular society, this has a big influence on the ordinary citizen. The festival’s coinciding with the blooming of springtime regrowth has always given it an air of hope for the despondent. The lengthening evening light is a boon to all men and women and the return of rapturous bird song gladdens the human heart.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who had a long association with Ireland, captures the magic of this seasonal rebirth in his poem Spring.

“Nothing is so beautiful as spring

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring.”

Hopkins had a keen eye for the changes in nature and an innovative way of writing to capture these sights and sounds. He took the time to be still, observe and contemplate.

Perhaps this holiday weekend, many of us can use the leisure afforded to us to do the same, for such stillness is a balm to the soul.

For many Irish people, Easter has also been a time to reflect back on the events of 1916, when the nation’s destiny was reshaped.

The years have also taught most of us to do this reflection with wisdom and a greater sense of inclusivity, knowing that no one group lays claim to the full truth of our complex history, which is a mosaic of diverse stories.

We mark this Easter at a particularly difficult time which has followed on from other troubles. We had barely exited the economic crash, the effects of which had endured for a decade, when the Covid-19 virus tied up most of our lives in a black knot.

We had scarcely time to draw breath, nor fully emerge from that complex calamity, when we were confronted with something few believed we would see again in our lifetimes.

War in Europe has suddenly brought us woeful loss of life, massive human suffering, and large-scale wanton destruction.

Ireland is not in the frontline of this wrongful Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the fallout again reminds us of Leon Trotsky’s rueful maxim: “You may not be interested in war – but war may very well be interested in you.”

The challenge of helping tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens needing our assistance and hospitality must be met. The knock-on cost-of-living and energy-price spiral must also be coped with by giving maximum supports to the most vulnerable in our society.

All of this is daunting. But over many Easters past, Irish people have faced bigger challenges and survived and prospered. We shall do so again.