After Friday’s Newsletter frontpage I was prompted to purchase a copy of Peter Lynas’ recently published “100 Days 100 Years” – a magazine format read that contains prayerful reflections on 1916 from a diverse range of personalities with a public presence in the main in Northern Ireland.
The striking thing for me so far is the almost understanding each participant has to the concept of the ‘other’ – those parallel chronologies whose intersections and tangents together form the totality of our truth in some form.
Dr Trevor Morrow, a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church here, speaks of ‘functioning within both narratives’ – a reference to his life in both unionist NI and 32 years of working in what he terms a ‘post-Easter Rising’ narrative in southern Ireland.
The First & Deputy First Ministers speak undoubtedly with their own particular emphasis although Foster acknowledges ‘it is important to reflect and look back at what happened in 1916’ while McGuinness hopes the various events will be commemorated ‘in a way that is not offensive to anybody’.
A book encouraging prayer and promoting reconciliation may well be judged the gold standard in terms of acknowledging narratives wider than our individual – or party political – experience.
Then yesterday, the Republic’s current huge programme of commemoration for the Dublin rebels was put under examination by justice minister David Ford:
“There is a real difficulty if the state is putting a very significant part of its effort into marking the efforts of those who engaged in violence, when there was a democratic way available”
The Alliance leader frankly pointed out that like the First Minister he would not attend any celebration of an armed insurrection and this included the Dublin government’s state event on Easter Sunday next week.
It is important to note that Ford plans to attend other events which mark the centenary of the rebellion ‘in a more reflective way’.
So where does the Republic currently stand with regard to its own version of the multiple narrative story?
On Monday past, there was an insight into the level of popular nationalistic sentiment with regard to the rising commemorations when Dublin City Council placing prominent historical home rulers on a display outside the old Irish parliament came in for public criticism, comedy group the Rubber Bandits proclaiming
“Sickened that the official centenary celebration has managed to be more absurd than our 1916 documentary.”
To the point where the deputy city librarian had to refute it was part of any ‘revisionist’ conspiracy:
“It is not making a grand claim. It is not part of this revisionist stuff that’s going on”
What chance then of any Irish unionist figure being displayed, even though with 2 MPs for Trinity College they had more votes at the time than the rebels had over the whole island.
After the death of prison officer Adrian Ismay last week I pointed out an event that was happening in parallel in the south. The troubling image of kids dressed in oversized military uniforms and being read nationalistic rhetoric is not one of a multiple of narratives.
When President Higgins spoke of ‘No single narrative’ on 8th of March, only one day previous he had in front of 6000 secondary school children at Croke Park after opening in true Irish style with a reference to the ‘gloriously fine sunshine’ went on to claim:
“These rebels had concluded that the parliamentary path advocated by many others within the nationalist movement had little real prospect of delivering independence for Ireland, and they were willing to sacrifice their lives in an exemplary way for the greater cause of Irish freedom.”
Before closing with –
“The Easter Rising of 1916 can, in many ways, be described as a stunningly ambitious act of imagination. Today it is up to our young people to take charge of change and imagine what Ireland might yet become.”
Fast forward to Proclamation Day.
The Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork Dr Paul Colton contributed to a blog post in advance of the day, waxing lyrical about his recollection of the 1966 commemorations and included a ‘new proclamation’ which one of the schools under his patronage came up with, the first line of which reads:
“Thank you to the men and women of Ireland who lost their lives fighting courageously for our country, without you we would not have our identity or independence.”
Such gratuitous would, I am sure, raise alarm bells to those of us of an Irish Protestant disposition, the birth of whose sense of Irishness pre-dates somewhat the year 1916. And that’s before you consider what horrors befell Cork Protestants a few years following 1916.
But if that’s the view from southern protestant church leaders and schoolteachers, then there should be no problem, right? I will leave you with a quote from a conversation I had with one Protestant mother from Ulster’s outer three counties after the day’s events in her own children’s school.
I have to say this sentiment has been echoed throughout that particular section of southern Irish society. It was, in a view that has me recalling Gladys Glaniel’s January post, “an infringement of the cultural & religious beliefs of the protestant community”.
Low churchman and unreformed culchie living, working in leafy south Belfast.