Earlier this evening I went to the Mansion House in Dublin, the home of the first Dáil from 1919 to 1921, to listen to Gerry Adams speak on the Easter Rising at the start of a year marking the centenary of the Republican insurrection in Dublin. Pre-empting Adams’ address the Irish Times published on Tuesday an article by columnist Patsy McGarry describing the Pádraig Pearse led Rising as deeply undemocratic, sectarian, fanatical, and blasphemous in its quasi-Catholic mystical appeal to blood sacrifice and the Christian Easter mysteries. Sinn Fein’s answer to this, and indeed its take on the events of the Rising, could not be missed.
Ùr-Fhàsaidh (@UrFhasaidh) January 07, 2016
In fact anyone in attendance to hear the last remaining vestiges of revolutionary Republicanism in Ireland talk history was to be sorely disappointed. No one who took the stage, Adams included, went into any depth on the Rising. Other than the presence of an original Proclamation, images in sepia of the 1916 leaders, and a guard of honour by women and men in re-enactment 1916 Volunteer costumes, the Rising itself was roundly ignored. Irish Republicanism, for all its merits and problems, is a movement to which symbolism has always been more important than history; to the point that its presentation of history has forever been a fusion of mythology and memory through the lens of political ideology.
2016 – not 2013 and 2014 as the centenaries of the Dublin Lockout and the Home Rule Act – is a massively symbolic year for Sinn Fein as the Party sets out its very modern rebellion against the Irish political system it still routinely labels “traitors to the Republic.” Yet even in this, history and fact have been side-lined to make way for glorious myths. James Connolly Heron (the hereditary monarch of Republican activism) put out his case that the protection of the tumble-down buildings on Moore Street, which are of national historical value, was necessary because these are “the last extant 1916 battle sites.” Nonsense! There’s the GPO, Mount Street Bridge, Stephen’s Green, and James’s Hospital Chapel (which is also marked for demolition) – to name a few. Moore Street is merely the last existing set of structures which more extreme Republican activists can use to create a spectacle.
Whatever position we take, Easter 1916 is important in the story of modern Ireland, and like all historical events and movements it is essential that we understand it properly and in its proper context. One hundred years on, the events of April 1916 in Dublin are not written off as terrorism simply because the forces involved went on to play their part in the creation of an independent Ireland. It was not popular revolt, and nor was it a democratic insurgency. Few in Dublin, or around the country, supported an armed rebellion by people proclaiming their allegiance to Germany. By 1914 it may be argued that the tide of British rule on this island had already turned, and the Rising became a national myth precisely because it didn’t fight against the current of history. Through this particular centenary year I would like to see more honest and critical readings of this history for the sake of, as Gerry Adams said, all the communities and traditions of Ireland.