Irish Examiner view: Taoiseach to deliver oration at annual commemoration ceremony at Béal na Bláth

Michéal Martin will become the first leader of his party to speak at the event on August 21
Irish Examiner view: Taoiseach to deliver oration at annual commemoration ceremony at Béal na Bláth

Memorial cross to Michael Collins at Béal na Bláth placed there shortly after his death in August 1922; no leader of Fianna Fáil has addressed the annual commemoration ceremony since then.

It is 100 years since Michael Collins was killed in an ambush at Béal na Bláth on August 22, 1922, during the Civil War.

Since then, no leader of Fianna Fáil has addressed the annual commemoration ceremony, in what can only be seen as a sop to the so-called ‘civil war politics’ which have dominated this country’s political agenda for a century.

The announcement that Taoiseach Michéal Martin will become the first leader of his party to speak at the event on August 21 is welcome, if overdue. 

Sadly, the same was said when the late Brian Lenihan Jr, then finance minister, gave the oration at Béal na Bláth in 2010.

Even though we are a nation given to prevarication — the absence of any senior figure from Fianna Fáil at the commemoration ceremonies for a man who at the time of his death, was both chairman of the provisional government and the commander-in-chief of the national army, and so instrumental in forging our statehood — was a glaring act of defiance on behalf of those who carried a torch for either the Treaty or anti-Treaty side in that most grim of civil wars.

At the time, Mr Lenihan remarked on his honour at being asked to speak and said he was “acutely conscious” of delivering a speech at “one of Irish history’s sacred places”

As was noted in this newspaper at the time, the delivery of the oration by a member of Fianna Fáil was notable for the fact “the skies did not darken and no one was smote down”.

There will be those who maintain the absence of Fianna Fáil representatives down the years was only right and proper.

Even in light of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael finally shedding the dark veil of the Civil War and sharing power, it seems almost preposterous that it has taken until now for a Fianna Fáil leader — and Taoiseach — to address the gathering.

It is a very welcome decision by Mr Martin to further extend this olive branch and especially so at a time in a world where such gestures are so very rare. The only question is: Why did it take so long?

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