Since independence, Ireland or more importantly Irish nationalism, has struggled to find a way properly remember those who died during the First World War. This is largely due to how we have chosen to interpret the 1916 Easter rising.
It has been written into Irish folklore that those who took part in the rising were no less than patriots of the highest order while those who fought in the trenches in France and Belgium were considered at best misguided or at worst traitors to the cause of Irish freedom.
The failure to conduct any kind of serious analysis of the actions of men and women on both sides had led us to almost totally ignore one side of the argument. To this day, Ireland still does not have any symbol to commemorate a war which claimed thousands of its citizens. A century after famous battles such as the Somme, should we not begin to have as part of our yearly commemorative calendar alongside the Easter rising a day were we remember those Irishmen who gave their lives during the First World War?
In our modern discourse the name of the then Irish Parliamentary Party leader, John Redmond is still used a mark of failure in Irish politics. Since independence only one Taoiseach, John Bruton has made any mention of Redmonds role in the home rule movement. We forget that Redmond saw the war as an opportunity to gain home rule from the British government and also go to the aid of another small Catholic nation in Belguim.
The lack of any mention about Redmond in our history only mirrors the lack of acknowledgement for the thirty thousand plus who died during World War One. It should be remembered that most these men signed up to fight for an independent Ireland that they would never live to see.
As we approach 2016, we should take a more balanced approach and shift away from this hierarchy of hero’s complex we have gotten ourselves into over this issue.
I am not arguing that we should either belittle the importance of the rising of break into a mass of celebration about World War One. Rather, we could just pause for a moment to remember those who gave their lives for this island. The simple fact is World War One and the 1916 rising are part of this country’s history and for better or worse have shaped the Ireland we live in today. I can’t forget these events nor do I want to. This is my history, my legacy and I can quite easily commemorate both.
We should drop our reticence in commemorating and debating the motives of those who fought for Irish independence during this period in Irish history and attempt to strike a fairer balance in remembering all those who took part in the war and the Easter rising.