Easter Rising 2016: Live and let celebrate

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.

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  • Nevin

    “In Northern Ireland we need to learn tolerance.”

    Why not just practise it? Here are two fine quotes which are worthy of repetition:

    Ray Davey (1965): “We hope that Corrymeela will come to be known as ‘the Open Village’, open to all people of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and work together for the good of all.”

    Sr Souboris (1973): “Thank you for directing to us young people of such unselfishness and reliability. Each in his own way made a valuable contribution to the holiday. I personally learned a tremendous amount from their unselfishness. I only wish more people in our divided communities could experience how easy it is to love and live together once the will to do so is there”

    I’d adjust ‘live and let celebrate’ to ‘celebrate or commemorate but, where possible or desirable, show some consideration for the feelings of others’.

    I don’t know what Martha Craig [1866-1950], a native of south-east Antrim, thought of the 1916 Easter Rising and its leaders but here is a reflection from 1898, following her visit to the White House [she was living in Paris and had recently returned from a lecture tour in Spain]:

    Miss Craig is a business-like little woman, about thirty years old. She has come to America to lecture about Ireland, and she has brought stereopticon views with her to illustrate what she has to say. In the Crystal Palace during the jubilee last year she lectured to more than 5000 people at one time. The idea that an Irish lecturer should visit England with a view to education and not agitation about Ireland appealed to the Londoners so strongly that they supported her beyond her expectations.

    “That’s my idea of doing the best work for Ireland,” said Miss Craig. “I don’t want to say a word against the methods of Maud Gonne. She is my friend, and I have a great admiration for her ability. She believes in agitation. I believe in education.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Nevin, another excellent posting pointing to the real issue, “education” is what is needed, not confirmation of our self imposed apartheids. I look forward to further mentions of Martha and her significance, she was another of those local exponents of “Irish Ireland” with all the contrarian verve the best of us in the north will ever bring to deconstruct any homogenised approach to virtually anything, rather like yourself.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I agree with the general thrust of the post but it comes across as a bit over-simplified (such is my interpretation).

    There is a tendency in NI politics (and in particular within unionist stances) to mis-frame arguments e.g. the debate on the need for a Northern Irish flag is quickly moved from the frame of ‘filling a flag shaped hole’ to ‘why should we surrender something to please Sinn fein’ to even ‘well, will the republic change it’s flag? No-it-ruddy-well-won’t-so-why-should-we?’ as if somehow all three topics are the same (which they’re not).

    In the case of the 12th, bonfires and other parades there is also a tendency to mis-frame the criticisms.

    I don’t think many people (at least in my experience) are arguing to have the 12th parades as nationalist or Catholic friendly events per se or indeed to even appeal to people from those backgrounds.

    There are however arguments galore to appeal for certain changes that whilst not making the parades ‘nationalist or Catholic appealing’ would nonetheless remove the fear factor from them and I can’t see why these arguments are treated with such hostility:

    * Removing paramilitary banners and paramilitary-esque banners (e.g. Cloughfern Young Conquerors FB) will not make the parade more ‘nationalist friendly’ per se, but, it would remove an element of hostility that exists.

    * Respecting Roman Catholic chapels by not playing music outside them or making them the point for a break (which most parades have to have for the sake of stamina and order) will not have Catholics or nationalists giving the ‘thumbs-up’ to parades but will again remove a point for contention and the projection (unfair or not) of some sort of malice from the band procession.

    Banners of a religious and/or religious nature certainly do not have to carry token emblems that would appeal to other religious or political groups BUT they certainly do not (at least in the case of loyalist bands) HAVE TO HAVE offensive imagery, music or actions that could be mistaken as acrimonious (to say the least).

    So while I agree with the author’s point about not having to be disingenuous by carrying e.g. SDLP banners et al I would go further and say that there is not, by any stretch of the imagination or historical precedent the obligation to go out of one’s way and carry paramilitary paraphernalia, tolerate drunken behaviour or provocative music which is what we have now in some parades.

    By lancing these undesirable and (more importantly) unnecessary traits from unionist culture (paramilitary banners, paraphernalia and offensive songs are not essential pillars of unionist or Protestant culture) we will see the playing field as somewhat levelled and indeed fairer.

    This will not make Catholics or nationalists come to band parades but that shouldn’t be (and isn’t) the aim.

    But, it will allow for a full and unimpeded display of unionist and Protestant culture with minimal offence to the bulk of the Catholic and nationalist communities.

    There are those who will always be offended at any exhibition of such displays but tough-titty, we can only hope to reason with those open to reason and to appeal to their sense of reason with, well, measures of an equal magnitude e.g. reasonable ones.

    It’s simple, remove the unnecessary, offensive guff and start from a level playing field.

    There are something like 3 – 3500 (?) unionist, Protestant or Orange parades per year yet only a handful of protests e.g. something like 0.1% (or thereabouts), that surely is a sign that this issue can be resolved?

    For some reason some commentators are unable to see the criticism of these aspects of some parades for what they are and instead prefer to mis-frame them as an attack on the entire culture which ironically in a manner of speaking is surely insulting to the culture itself?

    So yes, ‘let republicans be republicans and extend the same courtesy to all groups’ but with the exception of overtly offensive displays, particularly the ones that aren’t essential to the fabric of the groups in question.

  • Saint Etienne

    There is another aspect Turgon when comparing “our special days” – and that’s the extent of state involvement. For example this Dublin rebellion commemoration has seen unprecedented intrusion of single narrative into schools in both nationalist NI and all over the Republic. That is – rightly – conspicuously absent in the mythologies of those of other political ideals and none.

  • kensei

    Wow, we actually agree for once. There is some stuff in all our traditions we need to get rid off but those are things where it should be readily apparent to your own side it’s wrong.

    The insistence that we remove stuff is failure. Success is one neighbour can raise a tricolour and one neighbour a Union Jack and another some mad mash up and everyone just gets on.

  • On the fence!

    Good article, don’t be afraid to be what you are but also be tolerant of others doing likewise.

    I’d also like it to apply to politicians and political parties. Instead of pretending to stand for what you think is popular, stand for what you believe and then the members of the electorate who like it will vote for you, those who don’t, won’t.

    I’d also like it to apply to free speech. Have proper uninhibited free speech, let’s hear whatever anyone wants to say about any thing. If it’s truly obnoxious, well then it’s easier to judge the person is it not!

  • Redstar

    Excellent post Turgon and whilst I do not usually find a lot in your contributions with which I agree -in this one you really have hit the nail.

    However, I must confess there are certain events/ views etc to which I feel I cannot show tolerance. I don’t think I am unique in that position. Indeed I would suggest that tolerance can be a cop out

  • Jag

    “we value the Twelfth and do not really want it so diluted that nationalists and republicans want enthusiastically to embrace it”

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful though if nationalists and republicans did enthusiastically embrace it.

    In my mind, this is what a typical 12th would look like, remembering (1) it’s a public holiday so people are mostly off from work and (2) takes place in the middle of summer so the weather should be better.

    12th Morning – sports & activity, local soccer matches, rounders, mini-marathons, tennis, a cycle race.
    12th Afternoon – street parties where tuna and cucumber sandwiches are served with tea and scones. I can see a long trestle table extending down the middle of the Falls Road where locals come out to share food and have a natter. The place would be festooned with mini Union Jacks for two reasons, one out of respect with neighbours from the British tradition, and two to celebrate the good things from Britain (and there are a lot if you look).
    12th Evening – music and entertainment and the odd glass of whatever you’re imbibing yourself.

    If there was true leadership in the Republican movement, they’d make it so.

    Instead, the 12th is a day which many Republicans dread (as do some in the Unionist tradition as is evident by the many middle class people who “go on holiday” for that week).

    A true Republican leader would establish the day to define themselves, and not be defined in the negative of the other. A true Republican leader would be able to hold a Union Jack in their hands and see the many positives, not least how it would defuse the potency of unwanted flags. A true Republican leader would take the sting out of the annual holiday. A true Republican would see it as an opportunity to join with their neighbours which is exactly what they want and need in the long term anyway. Is there such a Republican leader out there? How about giving it a lash in 2016, Gezzers?

  • John Collins

    I think this ‘intrusion of single narrative’ only takes place once in fifty years, as do all the marching and other ballyhoo. We do not feel the need to march every year to reaffirm our identity, or whatever. I celebrated the Easter Rising over the weekend as I did fifty years ago, as a sixteen year old. I shall not be involved in the next celebration.

  • Saint Etienne

    The Republic’s “proclamation day” in all it’s schools is intended to be an annual event.

  • John Collins

    I honestly did not know that. Well maybe if it subjected to reasonably critical analysis and the pupils are asked to visualise a new proclamation every year it may not be a bad thing. Remember many IRA men in the South joined in the forties and fifties who were not taught about 1916 at all going to school.
    Although I am a trained historian, I often come with the occasional historical howler here, just to liven up the debate. However, if I was teaching History to Primary School Pupils I would be very careful in how I conveyed the message and I think most teachers would apply the same principals. After all who would want any words of theirs to be responsible for some person’s death or disablement. BTW I never was a teacher

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Excellent points. Is tolerance acquired or innate? If the latter then it’s ‘natural’ to practise it. Now the same question about intolerance, enmity, division etc. That’s where education (and maybe indoctrination) comes in depending on whether you want to treat it or cause it.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    While not disagreeing with you, you are overlooking how we got to be here and not challenging the many assumptions that the OP asserts. Given the week that’s in it etc. a simple undoing should be seen as more necessary than mere tolerance, i.e. putting up with.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Note that it’s to be called ‘Proclamation Day’ and not ‘Rising Day’ or anything else. It is possible to make a distinction between intent (idea, message etc.) and action. A certain suppleness of thinking is all that’s required. Oh and resist your automatic tendency to throw all new born terrible beauties out with the bathwater. You might end up losing a great deal all in the name of holding dear.

  • Nevin

    I would have thought that tolerance would have been influenced by elements of each; a change of environment could effect a change, whether positive or negative. Role-models can also have a significant impact on how our lives develop.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    In fact what harm can it possibly do, except inflame the feverish imaginations at the deranged end of the Pavlovian? But sure that’s unavoidable.

  • Saint Etienne

    Sorry but I’m not buying that. The kids get dressed up in rebel uniforms and are generally taught to thank them for their freedom. The government ‘encourages’ reading them Pearse’s proclamation and raising the tricolour, all in the context of the Dublin rebellion as the ‘birth’ of the state.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You seem to have done your research. Will it be education or indoctrination? Will there be a wider context? Can you send some links to substantiate the above?

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    During BBCNI’s coverage of the Dublin events their correspondent, who lives in the city, was telling of seeing a neighbour’s children going off to a ‘Rising’ event dressed up in period clothing. When he asked them where they were going the children replied “we’re going to fight the English”. Cue embarrassed laughter from the children’s mother.

  • John Collins

    Spot on. I was in school in the ROI from 1956 to 1969 and I was never even thought the Irish National Anthem in Irish or in English. Southern schools are not all hotbeds of indoctrination. As far as being dressed up in period costume do not make me laugh.
    As regards the Birth of the State that is what it was. No more than Scotland, we would in all probability have no independent state but for the men of 16. Our population in what is now the ROI had dropped at every single census since 1841 and though HR had been granted, the GB Government were in no hurry to implement it, as they were afraid of the reactions from Unionists. Churchill had even said, when speaking at Dundee in Sept 1913, that the legislation could be repealed by a Tory Government if they were returned at the next election. That was how tenuous it was. When the Anglo Irish Treaty was signed by Lord Beaverbrook he said ‘I have signed my political death warrant’. Well he was right, he and his party promptly went into being the nonentities of English Politics. That was how unpopular the break up of the UK, as they saw it, was to the electorate in Mainland Britain in 1922
    Furthermore, we saw what happened in the Scottish Independence Referendum last year. and see what would have happened, if we sought independence by the so called normal channels. We would have foreign investors, well the few we would have if we stayed under GB Rule, coming on threatening to pull out of the country, banks telling investors their savings would suffer, pensioners being told their pensions would disappear and politicians saying investors would not invest here, among other baleful warnings. Of course we would also be warned by our English betters that we could not negotiate separate membership of the EU. We saw Gordon Brown, the most rejected PM GB ever had, wrapping himself in the Saltaire and going on about the Flower of Scotland etc. Since the election he has done the disappearing act so adroitly performed by the village magician, in the Ball of Inverness.
    The fact is under HR, which Michael McDowell called ‘a little puppet Government’, the 26 counties would have been the very poor relation of GB it always was, under the Act of Union. The HR Party would have no power to give grants to foreign companies to set up here and certainly no power to set their own corporation tax or give favourable treatment to the equine industry or give special treatment to the arts.
    Would they have allowed us build the Ardnacrusha hydro -electric Power Station, the largest of its type in the World, until the Hoover Dam facility superseded it six years later in 1935. This had been proposed since the 1880s but the Brits did SFA to get it built
    Would Shannon Airport, the first port of call for transatlantic Aircrafts in NW Europe for many years and the first duty free airport in the World, be built if John Bull was still here. Well Derry which was only a few Kilometres further away from Gander,and the most westerly city in the UK, certainly did not get one. Does anybody, with even a scintilla of their senses, believe there would be 27,500 third level students in Limerick, if our bovine friend was still in charge. Well Derry was the same size as Limerick at partition time and I understand it has the highly impressive sum of 3,500 third level students.The Financial Sevices Centre would certainly not have been located in Dublin either, the brain child of the much maligned Charles J Haughey.
    Just go figure why we celebrated GBs departure, loud and proud, over the weekend. Erin go bragh

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Whatcha mean by ‘undoing’, Ben?

  • Gingray

    In Northern Ireland we have 2 public holidays each year to “celebrate” the Protestant victory over Catholics that resulted in 100 years of Catholics being treated as second class citizens, without a vote, without rights to own land and without a right to practice their religion.

    Conversely the Easter Rising is being officially celebrated for a second, and most likely, last time by the state, much in the same way other republics such as the USA and France celebrate their own violent revolutions.

  • Gingray


    Excellent! Good to remember that some people will always stand up to oppressive systems – in this case one the Irish people had rebelled against time after time, and one which the Irish people had voted against time after time.

  • Saint Etienne

    And who is standing up for those in the Republic who do not believe armed violence against the will of the people is a suitable part of the curriculum?

    I know of several teaching staff who felt under pressure to acquiesce in the direction of the state’s chosen narrative.

  • Gingray

    Saint Etienne
    I am sure you do know several teaching staff in the South 😉

    Not sure why you are saying armed violence was against the will of the people – in the first election after the Easter Rising, Sinn Fein, a party which may or may not have supported it at the time, won more votes and seats across Ireland.

    Much like the French Resistance and American revolutionaries, when you are going to use violence against the occupying state, best not to advertise it first.

    In all 3 instances, the voting public endorsed the actions of the revolutionaries by electing them at the first available opportunity.

  • Saint Etienne

    I don’t believe in retrospective mandates. You’re elected for the following term not the previous one. Your logic is dissident republican logic.

    Either way, you haven’t explained why the Republic is justified in leaving out the necessary multi narrative context in it’s schools.

  • Gingray

    Well Saint Etienne, just because you don’t believe in it, does not make it false. Thankfully the mandate of the Irish people to rebel against British rule was long established, and well supported. If electing MPs to be ignored at Westminster is your form of mandate then so be it 🙂

    In terms of what was and was not conducted in schools, strangely any teachers I have spoken with in Ireland, North and South, who took part in the 1916 stuff, seem quite happy with the level of discussion that went on within their schools. As with RTE and media across the island, there has been a lot of discussion around the legitimacy of the event.

    You are not a light shining in the corner – much more informed individuals have written and spoken at great length on this.

  • Gingray

    Well said

  • Saint Etienne

    Saying one set of teachers matters more than the other whilst using similar majorities at Westminster to justify violence against the government is clearly hypocritical.

    Never mind the fact it doesn’t stand up; it was the Irish parliamentary party combining with mainlanders to reduce the Lord’s power in 1909 that had paved the way for democratic change. But Irish republicans tend to dismiss that as John Bruton style West Brit carry on given it takes away from their idea of the primacy of armed resistance.

  • Gingray

    Saint Etienne
    I am afraid you are not making any sense in your first paragraph? To be honest, I think you have made up all contact with teachers in the south, and reckon you are just stirring to fit with a, shall we say, narrow political perspective?

    In regards the IPP aligning with the Liberal party in GB, well yes, that was the case. What a fantastic job they had done. First winning a majority of Irish seats in 1874, by 1916 (42 years later) they had a “Promise” that home rule would be implemented.

    42 years of Irish political reps being treated like sh!te. Is it any wonder that the Irish people largely supported armed violence against the most powerful colonial power in the world, to regain its freedom?

  • Sharpie

    The celebration happened. The population of the State participated. Lots of smiles. Lots of reflection. Lots of room for acolytes, malcontents, and all in between to be themselves according to their daily routine of polemicise, compromise, or endorse the narrative.

    In the bigger picture – people don’t seem to care if 1916 was as impactful as some people say it was or wasn’t. That’s academic and a fun discussion. What is important and significant is that it is now part of the national narrative, it has legendary status – that is unlikely to ever change.

    Be free to worry though – the right of every citizen.

  • John Collins

    The Celebrations for the twelfth goes on all Summer every year, even after 326 years, and we have a celebration for a couple weeks, once every fifty years and we are supposed to apologise.
    Croppy lie down days are over.
    It should be noted that the Bomber Harris has not one but huge monuments erected to him in London, and indeed I do not hear the GB authorities endlessly apologising for atrocities committed by their armies, on Remembrance Day.

  • Gingray

    Saint Etienne prefers to just attack all things Irish, rather than looking it in the context of its time, and in relation to the actions caused by English colonialism and unwillingness to listen to the democratic mandate of Ireland.

  • John Collins

    St Etienne
    The Lords power was reduced in order to allow the Old Age Pension Act to be passed and had nothing to do with HR. Those old landed farts would never have allowed the OAP Act through.. Dont talk rubbish.

  • John Collins

    Maybe they will give the pupils a balanced interpretation of what happened in 1916. Which might be much better than young people from the uneducated and bigoted Dissident sympathiser. At least the youth down here are not subjected to a display of Loyalist triumphalism every year like they are in NI.

  • Barneyt

    But surely that is ok?

  • Barneyt

    The state’s chosen narrative is a new thing. They have not consistently aligned with 1916….particuarly from 1966 and the 40 years after that. They only started to embrace it more recently, realising its significance and how it was the catalyst for the birth of the free state and latterly the republic.

    Many countries secure freedom through violent means. US, Kenya. They also celebrate it. France do the same? Its not widely accepted that this insurrection was “against the will” of the people in reality. It was well supported in many quarters and the support grew after the executions. People woke up and stopped sleepwalking.

    Its a disgrance that 1916 has become such a yo yo event with successive Irish governments since the 1960s. As 2016 approached, clearly there was some navel gazing and political opportunism most likely. They feared SF may take the initiative. 1916 and what it meant should have formed part of the nations narrative as soon as the freestate formed. Perhaps in 2020 it will be reconfigured as an act of violence and neo-terrorism and once more be rejected as an event of significance. This will depend on how successful SF are.

    Personally I think British unionist parties and Sinn Fein are the only parties on the island who have been consistent in their view of those events. FF and FG cannot choose to support the revolutionaryguerilla acts between 1916 and 1922 and then cry foul when referring to some of the deeds committed by the PIRA in the NI troubles. Had the then IRA of 1918 had the ability to blow the shite out of Londons financial district, they would have taken it and it would have entered into Irish fokelore. I am attacking inconsistencies here, not justifying deeds.