THE seemingly interminable election campaign is over at last, thank heavens. It’s in the hands of the gods now, although, by Jove (head of the immortals) I’ve yet to vote.
But now we have another long endurance test ahead of us - the best part of a whole ‘decade of commemoration’ that began back in 2012. We’ll be withered by the time we get to the Treaty. But maybe that might be no bad thing seeing how excitable we can still get on the campaign trail when race memories are even stirred.
All this ‘commemorating’ began with the centenary of the 1913 Lockout, which could hardly be described as a seminal event in Irish history, seeing how we still insist on calling in the army every time there’s a bus strike. Even in the middle of the commemoration itself, we were ranting and raving over the many overworked, insecure and badly paid teachers who had the audacity to take to the picket line and deny the nation’s would be scholars access to the classroom for a whole day. The teachers themselves weren’t much better on industrial unrest. Although most of them were on contracts of definite duration as opposed to the lucky ones who had contracts of indefinite duration, the teachers insisted that they were protesting, neither for money nor better conditions, but on behalf of their students who were being faced with an apparently unworkable new Junior Cert curriculum.
The only good thing that has come out of the commemorating, as far as I can see, is that a new course ‘Politics and Society’ is to be added to the second level school curriculum – on top of the new Junior Cert. I can’t wait to see how trade unionism will be treated on the course. It should be a test, one way or the other, of whether the multi-nationals really have any influence on what is taught in our schools and colleges these days.
Anyhow, the decade of commemorating had scarcely begun, when I realised that it was more about the people who were doing the commemorating than it was about those who were being commemorated. In fairness to the former, however, they did manage admirably to rein in their more obvious William Martin Murphy inclinations for the occasion that was in it, in 2013.
1916 is, and was, different, of course. It wasn’t so much about dockers and labourers as about poets and teachers – teachers with enviable status who wouldn’t even dream of taking industrial action and inconveniencing their students. But seeing that there were so many teachers involved in the Easter Rising, you’d think we’d have treated all teachers much better in the decades that followed. Maybe the best tribute we could pay now to Padraig Pearse and Thomas McDonagh, and the other teachers who were in the GPO in 1916, would be to take young teachers off the poverty line, give them permanent jobs and dispense with all those ridiculous contracts and temporary teaching hours, which as far as I can see serve only to safeguard the salaries and pensions of those who are already well paid and secure.
As for the 1916 commemorations, I won’t be flying the tri-colour from the roof, as some of my friends are planning to do. I hope I won’t be court-martialled for treason but I have no time for triumphalism. Although it has to be said that the official programme of events to commemorate the Rising does appear to be surprisingly restrained, respectful and as inclusive as it could possibly be. You could hardly, for example, equate the planned Air Corps fly past, as the crowds gather at the GPO on Easter Sunday, with the spectacle of Pompey the Great who, to honour his African victory insisted for his triumphal march that his chariot be drawn through the streets of Rome by a whole herd of elephants. But you can never trust triumphalism not to turn into farce. The elephants got stuck under the triumphal arch and I don’t know how many of the spectators managed to maintain their patriotism and keep straight faces.
There is one item on the programme of events to commemorate the 1916 rebellion that interests me, and that is the big street party being planned for June 12. On that day we’re all expected to come out from behind our closed doors and electronic gates in our various communities and sit down to lunch with the neighbours, some of whom, let’s face it, we don’t even know. I don’t know who is going to cook the lunch in my community, but I’ll bring a bottle of wine anyway and high-five everyone I meet. I’ll even let bygones be bygones, if people will let me. It will be some consolation for not being ‘cherished’ enough to join the privileged 3,000 who will sit down to a much grander feast in Dublin Castle on Easter Sunday to remember 1916.
But even after this we still have six years of commemorating to complete, and if we had any sense at all, we’d quit while we’re ahead, and wait until we’re all far enough removed from the events we’re commemorating to put everything in context. Growing up, many of my neighbours and members of my own family, all of whom I remember with great affection, were participants in those events, with the Tipperary No 1 Brigade. Very few of them ever spoke about it afterwards, even when asked. It wasn’t that most of them wanted to draw a veil over the past: it was simply that they did what they felt they had to do in challenging times and circumstances, and even a muted triumphalism would have been alien to their nature.