1916 means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Like any historical event it is open to interpretation by those viewing it from the safe distance time provides. People will use it to justify their actions and people will denigrate it to advance their personal views. I have no doubt that those who fought in 1916 were acutely aware of that and aware of their place in history. In the end it has become something that defines us in our own way. It is not about what we think of 1916 that matters so much as what we think of our role and our place in history. What are we doing with our time and our country?
History takes many twists and turns as we work through these questions. I was raised on the belief that 1916 was a heroic and selfless act. I was taught to respect and honour it. I know former Junior Minister Sean Haughey was taught this too. I also know another former Junior Minister, Aodhain O’Riordain was raised in this tradition. O’Riordain took his seat in 2011 while Sean Haughey lost his only to regain it again in 2016 at O’Riordain’s expense. These are two pedigree Dubliners. I, on the other hand am a culchie to my core who enjoys nothing more than seeing the Dub’ on the losing end of anything. A good humoured traditional rivalry. I was also brought up in a strong FF household but as a diehard partisan of Albert Reynolds. These days my active service is behind me and I either just commentate on the game or give advice to all comers regardless of party or background.
Now that the two lads have finished knocking lumps out of each other in the election and I have finished commenting on them doing it I’d like to tell a story of what binds this unlikely trio together. A heroic ideal. A connection rooted at the heart of all we say and do. A root of activism that starts in 1916.
Two 17 year olds took up arms that Easter Monday and waded into a revolution. Two youngsters who would not even have a vote today. Yet they knew what they wanted and believed. It might be easy for some to mock that but I don’t. I had a clearer view of things when I was 17 than I did at 27 and it took me a few more years to finally get back to realizing I might have been right when I was younger.
Micheál O’Reardon served in the Four Courts during the rising. Sean Lemass was his commanding officer. Both just 17 and both ready to face life and death for a cause. Years later when O’Reardon applied for his military pension it was Lemass who vouched for him and his service in 1916. Lemass of course is the Grandfather of Sean Haughey. O’Reardon is the Granduncle of both Aodhain O’Riordain and me.
Their actions sparked something in a family line that would be forever talked about. Their actions led to an involvement in politics, an obsession with issues and a desire to change things. I think all three of us today would vouch for this. Yet here we are, 3 men a lot older than 17. One a former Fianna Fail Junior Minister, current TD and member of a powerful political dynasty. One a former minister, former TD and current Seanad Candidate for the Labour party. I, a communications adviser for hire and Reynolds die hard. Two hardened Dubs and one committed Culchie. Families that have crossed political parties in a search for answers, and followed different leaders and heroes along the way. I for one am proud of both men and their efforts and opinions even though we often disagreed while on this journey.
The roots of 1916 among all families run wide and deep. It is dangerous to ever claim that anyone has monopoly on it. It is dangerous to ever suggest there is one interpretation. It is even more dangerous to start trying to superimpose those men and women on current times and say what they would think. The truth is we are all inheritors of it in one way or another. We all share one common goal, to make this a better place for everyone. We just disagree on how to get there. Perhaps if there is one lesson it could be that after 100 years we might admit that and respect each other just a little bit more.