Easter echo of distant drums

PERHAPS the key date in the history of ancient Ireland is that of Good Friday, April 23, 1014, the day of Brian Boru’s victory over the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf.

The key date for modern Ireland is no doubt Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, the date of the Easter Rising.

But Easter is a moveable feast, and this year we shall be commemorating the Easter Rising on March 24, fully a month too soon.

This fact may enable us to see that the rising and Easter are only incidentally, if fortuitously, connected.

Indeed, we may think the Christian festival of Easter and an armed insurrection against the British sit oddly with one another. The rising was provoked, in my view, by the failure of the British to respect the democratic mandate for Irish Home Rule won by the English Liberals and the Irish Parliamentary \

Party in the general election of 1914.

Palm Sunday teaches us that the ways of Christ are those of humiliation, suffering and love, and Good Friday is the day of Christ’s supreme sacrifice for the redemption of mankind.

The religious devotion of the Irish must have made many patriotic men and women uneasy at the thought of an armed insurrection — however justified — at that time of the year.

As is well known, Eoin MacNeill, commander-in-chief of the Irish Volunteers, countermanded the order for a rising on April 22, 1916 on news of the capture and scuttling of the Aud. But his leadership was set aside at this crucial time and, in my view, unwisely so for the unity of Irish nationalism in the tragic years for Ireland that were to follow.

The rising had to take place on April 24, I believe, since on the following day the Irish nation would commemorate the first anniversary of the heroism of the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers on V Beach at Gallipoli.

The immediate effect of the rising was to expunge that great act of heroism from our history books and it led soon after to the destruction of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Such fragmentation in Ireland could only weaken the voice of Irish nationalism in the counsels of Europe in those momentous days at the end of the First World War and British unionists were not slow to take advantage of that fact. (I think in particular of Willie Redmond’s passionate address to the Commons on March 7, 1917, shortly before his own death at Messines in June of that year).

It still remains our task to understand the complex nature of Irish nationalism and to pay lasting and proper tribute to the struggle for a united and independent Ireland associated with the great names of Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond.

Dr Gerald Morgan

School of English

Trinity College

Dublin 2

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