Monday, April 10, 2006

Nineteen sixteen

1916. What does it mean? What does it matter?

A bunch of mostly well-off men and women with too much time on their hands convinced an army of ignorants to take on a fight that they couldn't possibly win. Worse than that, they knew they wouldn't succeed but hoped that their sacrifice would compel a nation to rise and take up the struggle. The glorious revolution was a disaster with no winners and only one loser. The 'ordinary' men and women on the street who got caught in the crossfire. They made the true sacrifice, despite never having been asked to serve.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Rising was the inevitable result of the careless actions and inactions of a British Empire too oblivious and too ignorant of a subjugated race. A race who had been dealt no favours, been granted no freedoms and had been treated as little more than slaves for hundreds of years. A race, now a nation, who had had enough of their masters and who only wanted the God-given right to determine their own destiny. A people willing to take up arms against their oppressors because every other avenue of protest had been taken from them.

So, which was it? Was the Rising the careless work of mad poets and priests and warrior-wannabes – the early nineteen-hundreds equivalent of today's anti-globalisation students? Or was it the legitimate rebellion of an army of men and women, trying bravely to overthrow the yoke of foreign occupation. The truth, as always, can be found somewhere in between.

But back to my second question. What does it matter? This happened ninety years ago. It may well have helped to divide the country and celebrating it now will only widen that divide. So, forget about it. Move on. Build a bridge and get over it.

The government wants to celebrate 1916. Come next weekend, we will have a military parade in Dublin. We will have a re-enactment of the Declaration of Independence – a document I find hard to fault. We will have a laying of a wreath and a minute’s silence.

Bob feels that the government is trying to reclaim 1916 and that this, at least, is a good thing. I agree with him. For too long, the Easter rising was the property of Sein Fein and no-one else. Why? Well, no-one else wanted it. Harping on about the brave boys and girls of the GPO while bombs of the same colour were slaughtering men, women and children in the North was something considered too indelicate by the other parties. Now that the IRA has retired and the brave volunteers are off playing golf, it's safe again to shout about 1916. It's ok again to celebrate and throw revolution-themed fancy dress parties. And party we will.

I guess that's where my problem with the 1916 celebrations comes in. I don't think it should be a celebration. Neither do I think we should brush it under the carpet. For too long, we were ashamed of the Rising and the thought of honouring it was abhorrent. Now, we feel free to not only acknowledge Pearse, Connolly and Co., but to celebrate their heroics. This bi-polar approach to our history is not healthy. We need to understand what 1916 means. We need to talk about it and examine it and debate it and we need to do all this calmly.

We should celebrate. We should celebrate that we, as a nation, have survived our birth of blood and fire and have grown into a thriving land of opportunity. We should mourn. We should mourn the fact that the British treated us so badly that we felt we had no recourse but to rise and fight and slaughter and get slaughtered. We should mourn the dead, whatever side they were on – and there were more than two sides. And we should remember. We should remember the cost of hatred and the consequences of force. Let us remember the words of the declaration.

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.

Let us reclaim the words and wash away the blood that stains the words. Let us put the words to heart as we face the future, the unwritten history, the undiscovered Ireland.

I am proud of my country. I am ashamed of my country. And I can be both at once. Just as I should be proud of myself and I what I've done. Just as I should be ashamed of what I haven't done. Just as I should allow myself to live with both.


Sinisilma said...

Well said... interesting chat on this on Questions and Answers tonight if anyone was watching, although they didn't dig too deep. Not too sure about the anti-globalisation students analogy! First off because the anti-globalisation movement is far more than a bunch of students, and I don't think it even relies that heavily on them; hell, most of the students I know couldn't spell globalisation. But also because the vast majority of them don't support violence; but also blah but also blah but also this is a little off the point.

As to 1916, I don't feel qualimafied to comment. That doesn't usually stop an Irishman...

John The Bad said...

I wasn't having a go at anti-globalisation per se, just having a dig at anti-globalistaion students.