1916 centenary: Hard to find fault with dignified and respectful commemorations

IT was an imperfect rebellion, inexpertly planned and poorly supported, and it had an imperfect outcome with unfinished ambitions and ideals yet to be fully honoured.

But if a commemoration can be judged on tone alone, it was hard to find fault with the ceremonies recalling the Easter Rising of 1916.

Quiet, despite the march of almost 8,000 feet and the applause of hundreds of thousands of hands.

Dignified, even with the weight of a hundred years of history that was often bloody, brutal and degrading.

Respectful, although the arguments over legacy and divisions over revisions still linger and flare.

It was flag-raising without flag-waving, pride without chest-thumping, reflective and restrained in a manner that defied its scale and scope.

There were stirring moments, of course. The sight of four small children from each of the four provinces adorning the GPO with vivid yellow daffodils in a symbol of unity and hope was deeply poignant.

Some 40 of their own age lost their lives in the chaos and carnage of the rebellion, children who would not see their own lives played out never mind the maturing of their nation.

The sounds of ‘Mise Éire’, ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’ and the ‘National Anthem’ being played to the hushed thousands by the combined Military Band had many blaming their moistening eyes on the glare of the unexpected sun.

The reference by Defence Forces chaplain Fr Seamus Madigan to the dead and their “short lives and big dreams that extended the horizon of our hopes” brought home with moving clarity the essence of the events of one hundred years ago.

There were challenging moments too. While the members of the Defence Forces who paraded in formation along the 4.5km route were fathers, siblings, friends, and neighbours who help rural communities through floods, pull desperate migrants from the sea, and perform daring rescues from the sky, they carried assault rifles with glistening bayonets and drove tanks with frightening firepower and crush capability.

Their motto, ‘Defend, Protect, Support’, flashed frequently on the large screens dotted around the streets and the wish must surely have been from all who watched them pass that their duties never have to extend beyond those core principles.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s words also prompted some soul-searching, as he paid tribute to the rebels and what they sought to achieve with their declaration of resolve to cherish all of the children of the nation equally.

“We cherish 100 years later the principles and ideals contained in our proclamation for which they fought,” the acting Taoiseach said solemnly.

Cherishing is the easy part, however. Realising is more difficult and the crumpled sleeping bags in the doorways that many of the crowd passed on their way to the ceremonies will have been an uncomfortable reminder that equality for all the nation’s children is a battle yet to be won.

For the most part though, the commemorations were very well received by the crowd, many of whom stood for hours to secure a place with a clear view along the parade route and stood several hours more to watch the last of the 3,700 participants pass.

They included not only the Army, Navy and Air Corps, both serving and retired, numerous of their members having direct links to those who fought in 1916, but also representatives of the ‘blue light’ services.

Along with the emergency and law enforcement agencies, the gardaí, Dublin Fire Brigade, the National Ambulance Service, the Irish Coast Guard, the Irish Prison Service and Customs, there were also members of the Red Cross, the RNLI, the Civil Defence and St John’s Ambulance.

They were watched and applauded on the streets by a crowd of hundreds of thousands, and received at the GPO by a select group of politicians, dignatories, past presidents, diplomats and relatives of the Rising participants.

For the majority who didn’t get behind the tightly secured cordons, President Michael D Higgins was our man on the ground, the chief representative of the Irish people.

As he laid a wreath on our behalf, his small stature accentuated by the sizeable circle of lush greenery, it seemed to say that history is bigger than any one of us but occasionally we get to hold it in our hands and influence the path it takes.

When the rebels rose up in Easter 1916, the path they attempted to lay before the country was far from certain as the public they sought to inspire stood on the sidelines, bemused, disbelieving and disapproving.

When they surrendered and the majority were rounded up for internment in Wales, crowds jeered them as they were marched in their bedraggled state to the waiting boats.

It took weeks and months for sentiment to turn in their favour and it has taken a century for that sentiment to be expressed as comfortably as it was by the crowds who lined the streets of Dublin yesterday.

The ghosts of 1916 may chide that Ireland is still some way from achieving the “august destiny” they dreamed of, but if enabling the country to both embrace its past and evolve from it was part of their plan, then the commemorations showed that at least this part of their mission was accomplished.


Related Articles


Breaking Stories

Irish Examiner launches new brand campaign - Whatever else changes, we’re always here

Micheál Martin: Cannot be a time limit on Confidence and Supply talks

200 students affected by closure of school building due to 'significant structural issues'

Man dies after car struck a ditch in Co Wicklow

Breaking Stories

Appliance of Science: Why do bees makes hexagonal honeycombs?

Why you won't forget this new typeface

Online Lives: On the wild side with Emily Culhane

How Paddy McGurgan is using his art form to make a difference

More From The Irish Examiner