I think that most people will accept that yesterday’s Commemoration in Dublin was a good day for the Irish Nation …the centre-piece being an ELECTED President and Defence Forces that have never been involved in a war except in their prevention or the maintenance of Peace thru the United Nations.
It was an opportunity to recognise that the Republic that the men and women of 1916 gave us…eventually a nation of which the citizens can be proud. On a personal note, the parents of one of the young cadets in the Guard of Honour are friends. And at least two of the Defence Forces parading yesterday are known to my family. It is a small world. It is a small country.
And it is a good one. Was the Commemoration too inclusive? I dont think so. The men and women who fought in the Easter Rising…especially those who lost their lives…did more than anyone else to create the Republic of Ireland. But they did not EXCLUSIVELY build it. Those who fought in the War of Independence, the creation of the Defence Forces and Garda, the democratic parties, the Emergency Services, the voluntary organisations, the Churches (YES…the Churches!).
Of course there were the orphanages, the Magdalene Women, the bankers, the Golden Circles but a Republic is always a work in progress.
Any unionist peeping over the garden wall into the Republic of Ireland has to conclude that it is a pretty decent place. LetsGetAlongerism obliges us to to say that being Irish and British are equally valid expressions of identity. But nations have an …ethos. And the ethos of the Irish Nation, born a century ago has frankly a better ethos than the so called “United Kingdom”, a hotch potch of spurious beliefs such as monarchy, a hereditary Head of State who is Supreme Governor of an established Church, an Empire and so called-Commonwealth and a Flag that has flown over prison yards in every continent and slave ships on every ocean. A war-like nation who built its capital on the plunder from five continents.
Britain creates its own legitimacy, casually ignoring the inconvenient in 1688 and 1936. Britain had the misfortune to win two World War Wars, avoiding the revolution that would have overthrown monarchies (as it had in Germany, Austria and Russia). And of course, United States of America and France established their own republics in blood.
Notwithstanding centuries of failed rebellion and British repression, the Easter Rising was comparatively bloodless. The Rebels wore no masks, they primed no car bombs, they targetted no civilians and the positions they occupied were largely defensive. The Surrender was based on the avoidance of civilian deaths. In the clean fight/dirty fight analysis, the balance is in the Rebels favour.
If I love just one thing about the Irish Nation, it is that we are a former colony which is part of the “First World” and suited to have an understanding of the “Third World”. The service to United Nations was usually in response to a colonial or post-colonial crisis.
We have no empire. We sought no Manifest Destiny but our own. In 1916 we were as despised as much in Woodrow Wilson’s White House as we were in Asquith’s Downing Street. The Easter Rising Was not about proclaiming our nation to be better than any other nation. Our “august destiny” is modestly to be as good as any other nation. Primarily thats the success of this nation…an Irish citizen can look anyone in the face.
I am of course disappointed but not surprised that SDLP for the most part avoided any northern organised events. As I wrote a few months ago, the SDLP can make History but is incapable of dealing with History…especially its own. I was involved in a SDLP meeting re Easter last September but it was pretty obvious to me that nothing would really happen.
Frankly the decision to not do much might actually be the right one. SDLP politicians were in attendance at the Dublin events and there is a certain dignity about that. As an Irish citizen, I would rather channel my respect thru the Irish Nation. Better to have no event in the north, than half-arsed compromises. Nothing could be better than the Dublin show-piece. And maybe the Easter Rising can only be celebrated in Freedom.
Of course I do understand repudiation of violence. I do understand Pacifism and a wariness about the notion of blood sacrifice or the lack of a mandate for Rebellion. I inderstand that some SDLP people, self-style progressives cannot fully throw themselves into the “militarism”.
But there has to be consistency. No point in talking about the importance of “shared history” and openly embracing the Somme Centenary but only the non-militaristic aspects. No point in agonising about the innocent lives lost in Dublin in 1916 and not agonising about the innocent lives lost during World War One.
Likewise no point in accepting an invitation to summer garden party at the French Consulate in Belfast, raise a glass to Liberty, Egality and Fraternity and not agonising about the thousands of innocent lives lost as a consequence of the French Revolution.
There was not much wrong with the Commemoration in Dublin yesterday. In the interests of balance, RTÉ gave too much air-time to the likes of Ruth Dudley-Edwards, Kevin Myers and Michael Portillo but for the most part, it seems the national broadcaster is having a good war.
A word of praise for the drama-documentary “Insurrection” an ambitious nightly half hour prhogramme first shown in 1966. At times, it looks dated and appears like a pageant rather than a drama….but depicting the Rising thru the prism of a modern news programme, with “reporters” present at the events and with “interviews” with the participants. And from a personal perspective, nice to see my fathers cousin (an actor and RTÉ continuity announcer) playing one of the parts.
So….Sinn Féin. Their own events in the north will play well with their core. Might even give them a pre-election boost. But ultimately their claim to be the direct descendants of the Spirit of 1916 looks weak in the face of the comparative might of the Irish State.
The event in Dublin was a State Occasion. The event in Milltown Cemetry was a farce. Street Theatre. Pantomime even. The sight of Sinn Féin members in uniform (of 1916 vintage) looked like Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj showing up in uniform at a Star Trek Convention. So this made the man on the platform, Gerry Adams come across as William Shatner being the guest of honour…I bet he signed autographs.