1916 and the Decade of Commemoration
A special decade of commemoration has been organised by government. It is a decade of centenaries that is there to remember the historic events that influenced Ireland from 1912 to 1923 and it is already underway. The highlights for this year are the Rising and the Battle of the Somme to recognise the different traditions that exist on the island then and at the present.
1916 was the year when the IRB and the Irish Volunteers rose up to overcome British rule in Ireland and to create a 32 county United Ireland but of course it was a mere gesture of resistance that had no real hope of military success because there were not enough arms for such a gesture as they had been captured at Banna Strand on the Good Friday before the Rising took place – the rising took place between the 24 and 29th April 1916 during Easter Week and also of course there were the countermanding order from the Volunteers Chief of Staff Eoin MAcNeill that meant large parts of the country including Mayo never played an active part in the fight for freedom that week even if there were plans in places like Newport and Westport for fighting.
Michael Kilroy of Newport – a hero of 1921 – made an armoured car from a sunbeam motor and barricaded himself and his men in his workshop in preparation for the fight but no orders came through. Apart from Dublin city and county there was little fighting except for East Galway, the Meath – Dublin Border and Wexford. The most successful operation was at Ashbourne but the fighting in the other counties was short – lived and easily overcome due to lack of arms and the supplies and logistics need to keep an army in the field for any significant period of time.
It was left then to the members of the Supreme Council of the IRB in Dublin to mobilise as many volunteers as possible at the shortest notice to come out and carry on with the fight despite MacNeill’s orders and this was the group that fought the Rising. There were seven signatories to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic including Padraig Pearse and James Connolly and of course one of the other leading figures but not a signatory was the Westport man who had earlier fought in the Boer War John MacBride who was executed for his part in the Rebellion in May 1916. There were the Shouldice Brothers from Ballaghdereen also and Newport – Born Michael Staines who was later the Commissioner of the Guards who fought in the GPO – all Mayo men who distinguished themselves during Easter Week. PJ Ruttledge from Ardagh, no stranger to these areas was a dispatch carrier for Sean MacDermott during Easter week too. Neither were the Mayo women to be outdone and Dr. Kathleen Lynn from Mullafarry, Killala played a leading part in the events of the week also.
But 1916 was the catalyst for 1920 – 21 and the Attymass and Bonniconlon areas played their parts in this with an Ambush being held at Bonniconlon in April 1921 five years after the Rising but this is for another article.
But now to another question now that we got our freedom how well did we use it?
How Far Have we come since the events of a century ago and what is there to commemorate?
1966 was the last major year of commemoration for the 50th anniversary of 1916 Rising and this was celebrated by the new or newish television Teilifis Eireann and also by a number of commemorative events around the country and the graveside orations and visits to the republican plots etc. There was a wave of euphoria and nostalgia and of course a number of the veterans from that time were alive to parade down the main streets of every town and village sporting their medals proud of the part they had played from 1916 to 1923 in the fight for the Irish republic even if the 32 county republic was never a reality.
Now in 2016 fifty years on we must engage in a deeper debate to see what socio-economic benefits accrued from independence and what happened in the decades after the revolution just think of the joy that followed the truce in 1921 the papers like this one the western reported on the reaction to the truce around the country and also the reaction to the treaty from both the people and the British forces also. They were delighted and saw it as the dawning of a new day but it was a false dawn and the Civil War followed with terrible loss of life and divisions that were to dog Irish life for generations and the country was far from happy as it was in the summer of 1921 when there was some hope of peace and complete freedom.
How will we commemorate the Civil War or indeed the war of independence? They were violent times. Yet there is a basis for celebration and more importantly reflection to bring about a national conversation and the future fortunes of the state and the island as a whole. What about a discussion and study of the path to freedom by Michael Collins his one book published in august 1922 shortly before his untimely death one of the greatest tragedies to befall the country since the death of Parnell in 1891. There were some very interesting and creative thoughts in the book or pamphlet that would do much to direct our thought and vision and see what could be learned about social and economic development in post-independence Ireland.
The rising was a rising of intellectuals and poets with their own visions and ideas on how to reform and develop the education system for example and the poet has his her place in society for the development and nurturing of thought and ideas and the nurturing of intellectual life and the education system and these poets Pearse among them must be brought back into currency to generate ideas and values that will serve the current nation well.
We got our independence in 1922 they tell us but now you have your freedom but what do you do with it that is what counts the problems of the Dublin and Ireland of the year 1913 are still with us and the real commemoration of the rising and the decade lies in how we reflect and act on the ideals of the decade.