By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)
Ninety years ago the British Empire held sway over a considerable part of the globe.
Shortly before 1pm on Easter Monday 1916, outside Dublin’s GPO, that empire started to crumble.
It did so in the face of a democratic Proclamation, backed by a small armed force of men and women.
It would take another 50 years before most of Britain’s colonies secured their independence.
The first step towards that freedom was taken by Patrick Pearse when he stepped from the GPO onto Dublin’s O’Connell Street and declared an Irish Republic.
His and the actions of those who followed him were inspirational here and abroad.
The rising was a daring enterprise. As a military venture unlikely to succeed, as a political gesture for a nation in waiting, it was unsurpassed.
Those who led the rising and signed the Proclamation were teachers, poets, trade unionists, dramatists, writers and workers.
They were nationalists, republicans, socialists, feminists and Gaelic speakers, united with a common purpose - Irish independence.
Patrick Pearse and James Connolly led the rising. They were two of the foremost thinkers and writers of their day; intellectuals and activists they knew well the power of the written word.
They were publicists and propagandists; produced their own newspapers, Pearse, An Claidheamh Soluis, to promote the Irish language and Connolly, The Worker’s Republic, to promote workers’ rights and socialism.
At a time when the people of Ireland were encouraged to fight an imperialist war the rising offered an alternative - a national democratic revolution.
A revolution which served the interests of the powerless, the marginalised - the majority of the Irish people.
The rising was anchored in the Irish people’s historical claim to nationhood. It provided certainty of political thought and direction.
Its architects were on the side of progressive forces across Europe who were challenging imperialism and capitalism and its class-ridden society. On the side of organisations in embryonic form like the trades unions, labour parties and women’s groups.
The bulk of those who fought in the rising came from the poorest classes. They had much to gain from a successful revolt.
There was another Ireland which existed alongside the future Republic declared in the 1916 Proclamation.
It was the Ireland run by a British administration. They recruited tens of thousands of young Irish men to fight in the First World War. Many thousands of them died in the belief they were helping to free small nations like Ireland. Others from Ireland died loyally serving an English king.
The British army ruthlessly suppressed the rising. Much of Dublin’s city centre was destroyed.
The insurgents valiantly fought. They held out for six days.
Initially public opinion was divided over supporting the rebels but quickly turned and rallied behind them when the British army began executing the 1916 leaders.
The rising was a pivotal point in 20th century Ireland. It shaped and continues to shape Irish politics.
Pearse and Connolly spent many years in the cultural and socialist movements of their time.
The Proclamation, the rising’s manifesto, reflected their seasoned political beliefs.
Therein you will find the republican vision for an independent Ireland.
The Proclamation declared the ownership of Ireland for its people; it guaranteed women and men voting rights, religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities to all. It pledged to cherish the children of the nation equally.
The execution of the leaders of the rising robbed the independence movement of key radical thinkers; visionaries with high ideals.
Immediately after the rising a tidal wave of support for independence took all before it except for unionists.
The war of independence followed.
The national movement so carefully built fractured in the face of the Treaty and the disastrous civil war.
When it was over the Republic lay in the ruins of a partitioned Ireland.
The best of a generation were dead.
Their dreams of freedom buried with them, so hoped the new class which emerged to run a partitioned Ireland.
But the spirit of the rising echoed beyond its time. Others rallied, to this day, to fulfil the aspirations of the men and women of Easter week who will be honoured all over Ireland this weekend.
That is the enduring nature of the 1916 rising.