We, in Ireland, approach the centenary of the event which is credited as awakening the awareness in our citizens of our right to be an independent nation – the 1916 Easter Rising. History has shown, time and again, that it is the development of a widespread awareness which causes change to happen. A minority are at the forefront – hassling our awareness to awaken, prodding us to become involved, to commit. Usually we ignore them, castigate them or are amused by them until some event occurs which enables us, the usual silent majority, to recognize the sense this minority is speaking.
In Ireland, and for the Republic of Ireland, that event was the Easter Rising of 1916. The revolution itself was small, poorly co-ordinated, short-lived and resulted in some 500 casualties. Not that each death should not be remembered and mourned, not that we should not remember that each casualty represents an individual whose life was cut short, and a family left to mourn their passing. Parts of Dublin city were destroyed but life, for many, returned to normal relatively soon.
Lower Sackville Street
Except that is for the captured leaders, of whom sixteen were subsequently executed by the British Army. History, and folklore, tell us that it was this, this execution, rather than the revolution itself, which changed the opinions of Irish people and lead to the inevitable establishment of the Republic of Ireland some years later. The executions took place over nine days in early May 1916, ending with that of James Connolly on May 12, who was so badly injured during the revolution that he had to be executed sitting down.
Seven of the leaders had signed a proclamation of the Republic of Ireland setting out their demands, aims and ambitions.
Ireland will celebrate these men and women, their heroic dead and their deaths next year in a fanfare of nationalism – and this is only right.
But we should also consider what we have done with their legacy, how we have tarnished their vision, failed to live up to their expectations. We should look at how we have failed to provide equal rights and equal opportunities to all our citizens, how we have failed the needs of the elderly, the sick, the children, the homeless – the list goes on.
We need to look deep inside our psyche to examine why Irish men and women can work directly for this State of ours, as public representatives and politicians, as civil and public servants, as holders of authority and responsibility, as members of churches and national organisations and yet fail, fail utterly, to promote and protect the best interests and welfare of our Republic, its citizens and the dwellers of our lands. Why do we so regularly put private interest before public good?
How can we hold our heads up knowing that Padraig Pearse and his companions are looking over our shoulders; knowing that the history of Ireland and our ancestors judge us and our actions.
The green has faded, the flags are tattered, ideals are torn and strewn amongst the dreams of our founders, our impoverished lives are haunted by the ghosts of what could have been, what should have been.
Next year should be taken as an opportunity to start again, to embrace the republican ideals of our heroes, to create a country that we are all proud of.
Our heroes demand that of us.