HOUSEBOUND by the lousy weather, I stayed indoors on Easter Sunday and watched the 1916 commemoration parade on the telly.
Now, you won’t believe it Willie Yeats, but as a result, all’s changed, changed utterly. A beautiful terror is born, and yikes, it’s me!
The cynic in me has been silenced. For a start I had no idea that we had such a huge armed force in the country, not to talk of the impressive military hardware on display. I didn’t know we had so many historians in the country either, but that’s beside the point. But I thought they had closed down half the military barracks during the recession and that at one stage we had more or less run out of ammunition. But this, as far as I’m concerned anyway, was spine-tingling.
Normally I’m a pacifist, a bit of a historical revisionist - if you haven’t already guessed - and I’d run a mile from a blood sacrifice. Actually when I was a child, I couldn’t even bear to look too closely at a rose in bloom for fear I’d see His blood upon it - after being forced in Primary School, to study Joseph Mary Plunkett’s verse. Violence appalled me and I even developed a phobia of thorns, which - because of the bloody rose in the poem - I irrationally associated with 1916.
Now, after watching what was billed as the biggest spectacle in the history of the State, I’m so puffed up with pride and patriotism that I’m scarcely able to contain myself. The whole country is on a high and I’m afraid I too have caught the mood. Wrap the green flag round me, boys, I’m ready to don a Sam Browne belt and a slouch hat at even the hint of a rising. That’s what happens when you try to see a reflection of yourself in the glories of the past and then you realise that you weren’t even there. It’s even worse when you have to admit that you never did have any affinity with the enforced nationalism which defined the new State that emerged from the ashes of 1916.
For weeks, I had been dreading the commemoration of the Easter Rising. I had no problem with the country marking the centenary of such a momentous event in our history, but the very thought of glorifying violence repelled me. And as time went on, I had a sinking feeling that we were going to go over the top with the commemoration and turn it into a bloody hooley, exacerbated by saturation coverage on RTE. Particularly disturbing, in the run up to the event, was the sight of young schoolchildren, in at least one over enthusiastic primary school, commemorating the Rising by donning insurgent uniforms and pointing fake rifles at the imaginary enemy in memory of those who fought and died for Ireland. Did nobody think of telling them in history class that the war was over? Anyway, what ever happened to political correctness, for heaven’s sake?
But I needn’t have worried. The state commemoration turned out to be a dignified and inclusive tribute not only to the brave insurgents, but to every one who died in what Sean O’Casey described as “that rare time of death in Ireland, Easter 1916.” Take a bow, Heather Humphreys. I’m not the only cynic you silenced, and why you didn’t get more credit for it, I’ll never know. Even the begrudgers had a field day when a member of the Defence Forces was caught on camera talking on his mobile phone during the Presidential wreath laying event, with his other hand in his pocket. The incident nearly sparked another revolution, despite the fact that the soldier was an army press officer, only doing his duty. And then Simon Coveney turned up in a light coloured raincoat and nearly sparked another revolution, indicating that we still take ourselves far too seriously. As far as I can see, the one lesson we don’t seem to have learned from the legacy of 1916 is the need to get over ourselves and control our preening tendencies.
Nevertheless, this has been an undoubted success. History will probably be back on the Leaving Cert curriculum and Plunkett’s poetry will see a new lease of life in primary schools. What worries me now is how we’re going to commemorate the remaining years of the revolutionary period without ruffling feathers, opening old sores and glorifying violence.
For a start, we’d do well to hold on to Heather. We’d do even better to remember the words of sociologist and historian, the late Fr Liam Ryan of Cappamore, when he spoke some years ago at the unveiling of a monument to the men who took part in the Dromkeen ambush during from the War of Independence.
It was proper, Fr Ryan said, to honour the men who struck an important blow for Irish freedom and to invoke God’s blessing on the monument. But, he added, it was also right to remember the 11 RIC men and Black and Tans who were killed at the scene, three of whom were Irish and four of whom were Catholics.
The men of the East and Mid Limerick Brigades, he went on, knew what they were fighting for and what they were willing to die for, but the 11 men who died did not know what they fought for or what they died for, which he said was “a sad, tragic and terrible waste of human life”.
What better tribute could any of us pay to the men and women who fought for Ireland than to embrace those sentiments now?