Was the Easter Rising Blasphemous?

Patsy McGarry’s article in yesterday’s Irish Times, ‘Pádraig Pearse’s overtly Catholic Rising was immoral and anti-democratic,’ characterizes the 1916 Easter Rising as ‘quasi-blasphemous’. Readers familiar with so-called ‘revisionism’ in Irish history will not find much surprising in his critique. (I must confess I was convinced of the merits of much ‘revisionist’ thought when studying Irish politics with Tom Garvin at UCD). So I think I would go further than McGarry and say blasphemous rather than simply quasi-blasphemous!

From an Irish Christian perspective, one of the best books one might read to begin thinking about the relationship between religion and politics in 1916 is Overcoming Violence: Dismantling and Irish History and Theology, which I’ve previously reviewed on Slugger. McMaster demonstrates how the ‘Christendom’-inspired theologies of the time and the abuse of power by the island’s institutional churches justified and even contributed to violence.

McGarry also recommends a distancing of 1916 commemorations from the Easter holiday to the last weekend of April, which would mitigate its religious symbolism. This also seems sensible to me, and it would be interesting to hear how politicians and the leaders of our institutional churches would weigh in on such a proposal.

Here are the final few paragraphs of McGarry’s article:

Had constitutional politics prevailed in Ireland beyond the 1914 Home Rule Act, it is probable a southern state emerging from such legislation would have had a more easeful financial separation from Britain than that precipitated by 1916.

Then it might not have been necessary to reduce the old age pension in the new state by 10 per cent in 1924, two years after it came into being, while the penury and mass emigration of subsequent decades might have been avoided.

None of this is to ignore the 485 people killed in the Rising, most of them civilians, 40 of them children under 17, none of whom asked to die.

All were ignored at the Dublin Castle ceremonies last Sunday, except for the 78 volunteers killed, whose names were read out. They at least chose to be part in the Rising.

Singling them out simply continues the glorification of political violence sanctified by 1916 that has bedevilled the island of Ireland for most of the past 100 years.

Further, such 1916 commemorations should not take place at Easter but over the last weekend of April each year.

Marking the event at Easter is to concede to the quasi-blasphemous religious stance of Pearse and his colleagues.



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