“The centenary [of 1916] is surely a time for reflection, not celebration”

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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not a Christian, nor an Orangeman.

    A lot unionists aren’t that big on the whole Boyne thing, me included.

    At the same time, anthropologically speaking you can see there is a need for a communal coming together once a year to reaffirm the continued existence of the tribe. The more denigrated we are as a people, the more dehumanised and patronised for being the ‘wrong’ nationality and the ‘wrong’ religion, the more relevant the annual shindig is and the more it is needed. If it wasn’t about the Boyne and the Glorious Revolution, there would be some other pretext. We are a people who face hostility for being who we are and as such, you’re going to get shows of defiance and rededication like the Twelfth. It comes with the territory. The OO and the bands become less problematic when there is proper detente.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Surely the era of ‘tribes’ and clans is well over. Nation-states have been the norm in Europe for six or seven hundred years now. All this stuff about the ‘wrong religion’ is also passe. Religion (except in Africa) is now a minority affair – no-one over here in Scotland cares what religion anyone is, or isn’t – so it is not a problem for anyone. Continuing to emphasise a religious identity as important is both reactionary and counter-productive.

    The only reason NI ‘faces hostility’ is that they insist on emphasising parts of an identity which are now obsolete. If Ireland was unified, no-one would try to change anyone else’s religion or practices. And as I said before, the Westminster government would jump at any chance of a pain-free way to get rid of the burden of NI. Given the belt-tightening which will take place in the UK for the next decade, they might just do it anyway.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ethnic identity is alive and well as a live issue in many places, not least N Ireland. Religion is not so important per se, I was referring to it as one of several ethnic markers in NI. If you don’t believe that, ask yourself honestly whether in reading my posts the question of whether I was raised Catholic or Protestant has crossed your mind.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Yep – it had crossed my mind, but maybe that’s just me. Although I wonder if your fellow Ulstermen agree with you.