Last week a Muslim acquaintance of mine wished me Happy Easter. I try to remember to wish Muslims Happy Eid. I would submit this has parallels with how Unionists and other non Republicans should approach the Easter Rising celebrations.
Christians can and do invite those of other or no religion to Easter events as a form of evangelism: I believe Muslims do the same thing. At such events an attempt is often made to “convert” the invitees to the religion of the event’s organisers: in Northern Ireland we have a particular term for this: “To turn”. This may make the invited a bit uncomfortable but is a perfectly legitimate religious activity.
A different religious approach is to try to create a form of service which all can take part in. This sort of works in ecumenical Christian circles but becomes increasingly strained between say Muslims and Christians. It tends to end up a spiritually and intellectually unsatisfying mess designed, it often seems, more than anything to make its participants feel good about how tolerant they are.
Turning back to the Easter Rising commemorations. Unionists tend to regard the Rising in a very negative light: Quincey has an excellent blog below on the subject. If unionists were to attend these events they are very likely to feel uncomfortable and as if they were being co-opted into a nationalist / republican analysis: even persuaded “to turn”.
Alternatively if an attempt is made to make a rising commemoration that is acceptable to unionists, it is very likely to end up being a messy compromise dissatisfying to almost all. The only people likely to be satisfied would be the organisers who will self congratulate on their “tolerance”, “inclusivity” etc.
The events surrounding the Easter Rising are by their nature tribal in Northern Ireland or indeed the RoI. That does not make them wrong or bigoted: it just means that either unionists will feel unwelcome or else everyone will fell deeply dubious about the whole thing. Unless that is it descends into an utterly bland nonsense: a sort of historical blancmange.
Lest unionists complain let us remember that we value the Twelfth and do not really want it so diluted that nationalists and republicans want enthusiastically to embrace it. If that could be achieved it is very likely the event would be changed out of all recognition and no longer have any cultural significance at all.
Liberals might think they can take the high moral ground here but that is far from clear. If the assorted Gay Pride parades were to be made acceptable for most Evangelical Christians they would likely loose most of their attraction to their current adherents. I cannot really see the Pride marchers wanting to carry banners saying that the only acceptable sexual relationship is one within a monogamous marriage between different sex couples. Equally I cannot see Orange Lodges wanting to carry a banner celebrating Gerry Fitt or John Hume. As such we should not expect nor demand that republicans today major on the British soldiers, police officers or other opponents of the rising killed during it.
In Northern Ireland we need to learn tolerance. That tolerance should not necessarily, however, mean that we have to analyse to agreement every aspect of our history: even less so on days like today. Whilst analysis and a revisionist look at issues has much to commend it and we all have much to learn, on Our “Special Days” of all sides we should be ourselves.
Today let Republicans be Republicans and extend the same courtesy to all groups.
This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.