On the face of it the events of Easter Week 1916 in Dublin were a dismal failure. Under the command of the Irish Republican Brotherhood the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, and Cumann na mBan were brought together in the formation of the Army of the Republic of Ireland. Exactly one hundred years ago today members of this anti-imperialist, revolutionary force took up positions around the city of Dublin and prepared to take on the might of the British Empire. Before the week was out the rising had been crushed, the centre of Dublin was in ruins, and the rebel Commander-in-Chief Pádraig Pearse penned the painful order of surrender. By 12 May all of the leaders of the Rising in Dublin had been executed.
One hundred years to the day, after delivering a week-long series of talks on the part women played in the revolt, I was walking past the GPO – the headquarters of the Rising in 1916 – only to see another type of volunteer out in the cold with tea and sandwiches feeding the homeless of the inner city. James Connolly, the Commander of the Dublin division of the Army of the Republic of Ireland, together with so many of the other rebels, had fed the starving of the city during the Lockout and from then to the Rising from the soup kitchens at Liberty Hall. Among so many other things he took up arms against an empire to end the hunger and the misery of destitution in this city, and this scene tonight – like the Easter Rising itself – has to be counted as yet another failure.
A century after these events twenty-six of the thirty-two counties of this island have become the Republic of Ireland, free from the brutality and indifference of the Westminster régime that is presently bleeding its own people dry. Our Republic, however, is a far cry from the Republic that declared “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland.” Something has gone wrong. This is not the Republic proclaimed a century ago today. No one fought and died for this, and no one stood before a firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol for this – this travesty. Can we now all accept that Easter 1916, such a glorious moment as it was, was a failure?
Seeing the neoliberal desert Ireland has become; the evictions, the poverty and unemployment, the emigration and suicide figures, the rising numbers of homeless people, yes, yes it is a failure. Still, only this Republic of Ireland is a failure, not the Republic that never became. 1916 is still a revolution in the making, an as yet incomplete revolution. Today’s Ireland was always a sham; the replacement of one bourgeois kleptocracy by another. It never became the Workers Republic that existed in full flower for a single week in Dublin in 1916, but that is not to say that it cannot be born again. What I saw at the GPO tonight only informed me of the urgency of the need for its rebirth.