Thoughts on 1916 and all that …

I admire the bravery of the rebels. I think things would probably have turned out the same (partition and an independent 26-county state) without the Easter Rising, except that there would have been less bloodshed in Ireland over the following seven years, and the new state would have benefited from the contribution of the likes of Connolly, MacDonagh, Plunkett and Collins, and might have taken a road that would have offered better lives to its citizens.

I don’t like to see history simplified and reduced to black/white, good/bad, them/us. I don’t like tribalism or wallowing in victimhood, or a belief that the Irish are somehow special. Perhaps the two most important words in any language are ‘Yes, but …’ We should question orthodoxies, including the orthodoxy of Easter 1916, in my opinion. We should challenge the idea that nobody was ever an Irish patriot unless they shot someone or blew someone up.

I’ve seen an event advertised for next weekend to commemorate ‘the men and women of 1916’. Mention of women is a welcome innovation, but the Easter Rising isn’t mentioned at all: it is taken for granted that ‘the men and women of 1916’ are the rebels alone. Others – the vast majority – don’t matter. Irishmen who fought and died in the First World War don’t count. The belated trend of inclusion of those men in the national narrative, seen in the past 25 years with the laying of wreaths by the President in Flanders and so forth, has been suspended for now. Now it’s all about the Rising – a minority enterprise that was unpopular at the time and became popular only because the British behaved badly and stupidly in response to it.

Maybe the saddest aspect is that they executed progressives and visionaries while sparing de Valera, unwittingly setting the scene for a theocratic ‘republic in name only’ that persisted for many decades, and in some respects persists still. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Irish women and girls would arguably have been better off under British rule for the past 100 years (in fact I think there can be little argument on that point). The same can be said for boys abused in institutions of church and state. The post-boxes being painted green instead of red is little compensation, in my opinion.

Given that the 1916 proclamation is unfinished business a century later, I don’t see that there’s an awful lot to celebrate, but if we’re going to celebrate ‘the men and women of 1916’, let’s celebrate them all – or at least all of them who did what they thought was right, and did their best.

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