Before the year’s out it is notable of just how discretely all the centenaries of this year – so much looked forward to as a numinous year within Republicanism, and revered within unionism – were ‘celebrated’.
It falls to that perennially awkward soul Denis Kennedy to ask some usefully difficult questions about the southern celebrations of the Easter Rising…
Here’s two worth noting…
Should, 100 years on, a modern parliamentary democracy, committed to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of all disputes, celebrate as the seminal event in its history an armed insurrection by a small minority with no mandate?
Should a state with a long history of sporadic armed challenge to its authority be celebrating such an event? Should it do so when there are still organisations and individuals who believe their political aspirations are such that they entitle them to kill and destroy in pursuit of them?
Kennedy himself gives provides something of an answer to his own far from purely rhetorical question…
The Rising ensured independence was secured by violent struggle, in which most of those killed were Irish. That violent legacy was evidenced even more tragically in the fratricidal Civil War, when once again the ideologues believed the virtue of their ideals counted for more than the will of the majority. The long shadow of the gunmen of 1916 has helped inspire IRA campaigns in practically every decade since 1922, and still does so today.
The Rising, it could be argued, was a catalyst to partition, in that it did not deliver an independent united island. Partition was on the agenda before 1916, but the insurrection made it inevitable. It was the men of 1916, five years on in the treaty negotiations, who maximised their demands for a degree of independence that ensured that partition would be both a physical border and a greater border between minds.
Much is written of the failure of post-independence politicians to live up to the ideals of the men of 1916, but those politicians were themselves “men of 1916”. Some were veterans of the event, almost all, in both major parties, claimed its mantle. They still do. Now Sinn Féin is again a major party, with, in many ways, a stronger claim to that mantle.
The centenary is surely a time for reflection, not celebration.