1916 Centenary – Cherishing All the Children Equally?

Yesterday we saw the government reveal more detailed plans regarding the official commemoration of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Plans to mark this key event in the history of the state include a major exhibition of 1916 archival material at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks and series of commemorative events, including a parade from Dublin Castle to Parnell Square on Easter Sunday 2016 and a special state reception for the 1916 relatives.

In order to engage children and young people, ‘Proclamation Day’, which will be held in all schools on 15 March 2016 and a tricolour and a copy of the Proclamation will be delivered to every school in the country.

A number of new public projects will also be put in place at locations such as the GPO, Kilmainham Gaol and the Military Archives and other sites.

One of the most interesting events potentially is what is being billed as “a multi-location public event, to be broadcast on television on Easter Monday 2016, telling the story of Ireland through music, dance, drama and song.” Having witnessed a similar series of events in Guernica to mark the 75th anniversary of the bombing of the city, such a multi-site series of events has a huge potential to engage a wide range of participants as well as spectators and viewers. It could indeed be the pièce de résistance of the entire series of commemorative events, precisely because it has the capacity to engage so many people in creative and thoughtful ways.

All in all, if it’s done right, it’s a good programme of events.

And now for the but…

The announcement in tandem with the programme of events that the Government is to purchase the site at 16 Moore Street is the one that will have the longest term impact after the pomp and pageantry of the Centenary events. It is the space and place where the story of the Easter Rising can be told from so many perspectives. It has to be done with the support and consultation of the 1916 Relatives. Remember the fiasco that renowned historian Diarmuid Ferriter described as “embarrassing unhistorical sh*t” last November? No buy-in from relatives equals no public support and no credible long-term legacy. The Centenary of the Easter Rising, probably the key event in the foundation of the state, can’t be let slide into becoming “The Gathering” uimhir a dó.

The sound bite of the day was the one that made me think how ridiculous would it sound if David Cameron pledged to re-write the Magna Carta or Barack Obama said that the USA would be drafting a new Bill of Rights. Thankfully since his initial ill-judged comments on the “drafting of a new Proclamation” the Taoiseach Enda Kenny has sought to clarify by saying that this is a project to engage young people on drafting a new proclamation based on the original. Based on the ideals of the original, based on the circumstances of today? With all these things the devil will be in the detail.

I had a chat about it, though, with my two young people last night over a copy and they were of the view that enacting what’s in the original Proclamation might be a better approach. Concrete steps that cherish all the children of the Nation equally (same-sex marriage, voting rights for all citizens were mentioned). What about resolving to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation, they said? “The Troika insisting on water charges is hardly the ‘unfettered control of Irish destinies'” says the daughter. She’s not wrong either.

The key issue though is how the government deals with the vexing issue of the north during the Centenary events. There’s a view that’s gone mainly unchallenged that those of us who live in the six counties of Northern Ireland are part of the Great Irish Diaspora – that generic catch-all classification of Irish citizens living outside the 26 counties of the Republic. We’re not.

If you live in Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh or Down you’re as likely to shop in Letterkenny, Monaghan, Sligo or Dundalk as in any other big town close by. You’ll be up and down to Dublin for work meetings, the weekend, the match (whether it be football, hurling or rugby) as if you lived in Tralee or Cork or Galway. You’re as likely to watch Ryan Tubridy as Johnathan Ross on a Friday night.

The Easter Rising of 1916 took place before partition and so its commemoration, perhaps more so than most events of this decade of centenaries, belongs to the whole island. We were all impacted. My grandmother and her sisters at UCD where Thomas McDonagh was their professor. My father’s parents who saw 5 neighbours’ sons murdered in cold blood in the aftermath.

Irish citizens in the north occupy an uneasy space for Ireland’s politicians and the 1916 Centenary is an opportunity to change that. Why not extend the offer of sending a national flag and a copy of the Proclamation to all schools in the north who wish to receive it? Why not also include those schools in “Proclamation Day” on the 15th March 2016?

Use the pledges of Pearse, Connolly et al to value all parts of the nation by developing meaningful mechanisms for northern representation in the Oireachtas. (Clue – the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement isn’t it.)

Most importantly, those “differences carefully fostered by an alien government which have divided a minority from a majority in the past” have been perpetuated in the sense that Irish citizens who live in the north, who are in a minority on the island, are regarded in many instances as somehow less Irish than those living in the State.  The examples of when that’s happened just to me would fill another column in their own right.

The Centenary of the Easter Rising presents a huge opportunity to put that right.  After all, I can’t do any better than my fellow citizen of South Derry and Ireland, Seamus Heaney who said:
“Be advised my passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
to toast the Queen.”