This weekend Ireland will witness one of the biggest official commemorations of any historic event since partition.
On Sunday, the 26-County government, state forces, church officials and civil leaders will march from Dublin Castle to the headquarter of the Easter Rising, the General Post Office (GPO), to remember those who died in the 1916 rebellion.
In an almost unprecedented display of the South’s military equipment, the Aer Corps will fly over head, the 26-County army will accompany the parade in tanks and armoured personnel carriers, Gardaí police will march in military formation and the 26-County navy will send a warship up the River Liffey.
At noon the tricolour will be lowered on the roof of the GPO. An army officer will read the Proclamation. President Mary McAleese will lay a wreath, followed by a minute’s silence. The flag will then be raised again and the commemoration will reach its climax with a rendition of the national anthem.
Despite the Dublin government’s failure to mark previous anniversaries of the Rising, most notably the 75th in 1991, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern declared the existence of a “continuous thread” in Irish history since 1916. The 1916 Proclamation, he said, accounted for one of four cornerstones of an “independent Ireland in the twentieth century”.
The other three, he claimed, were the 1937 Constitution, the 1972 ratification of the Treaty of Rome and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
“The freedom to plan, decide and implement the policies that are transforming our country today cannot be taken for granted,” he warned. “Just as nobody should seek to own Irish history, nobody should seek to disown it either. Our history is a shared legacy and a continuous thread.”
Some politicians were critical and cynical of Fianna Fail’s very recent project to claim the spirit of 1916.
“Although I welcome that fact that we are now celebrating our independence, it is a unfortunate that 1916 had been ignored for years,” said former Green Party Dublin MEP, Patricia McKenna.
She said: “For years we were the only nation in Europe ashamed of our independence. I can’t understand why there is so much enthusiasm for it now. Why is it now acceptable?”
Mrs McKenna said she found the militaristic trappings of this weekend’s commemoration “offensive”.
She said the event itself was “total hypocrisy”.
“The glorification of militarism at Sunday’s events flies in the face of an attempt to promote peace in a global environment torn apart of war and strife, particularly now evident in Iraq.
“We also have situation where the government is ceding hard-fought national powers to the European Union.
She added: “If the current support for 1916 among the big parties is motivated by a desire to stave off a perceived electoral threat from Sinn Féin, then Sunday’s event is a mere political stunt and an insult to those who died in 1916.”
Sinn Féin’s Dublin South Central TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said it was important to hold a separate commemoration. In reference to the contrast of those who died in the Rising and the military state forces taking part in the official commemoration, he said: “The main difference between these two groups of armed forces are stark. The people of in 1916 risked life and limb, motivated by an unbending political idealism.
“There were no financial benefits in doing so. They set about the task of changing society totally, as opposed to defending the interests of those in power.”
Commemorating the 1916 Rising was “not enough”, Sinn Féin’s Pat Doherty said yesterday. Irish reunification needed to be placed top of the political agenda and a programme of measures adopted to achieve unity, he said.
Speaking at the announcement of plans for Sinn Féin commemorations at more than 40 locations throughout Ireland, Mr Doherty called for a renewed drive to end partition.
“Simply commemorating the events of Easter 1916 is not enough,” he said. “Learning the lessons of 1916 means putting the issue of Irish unity at the top of the political agenda. It means the Irish Government driving forward a process which will deliver national reunification.”
Mr Doherty said this weekend’s 90th anniversary was an important time for Irish republicans, when they would “remember friends and colleagues who have given their lives in pursuit of our republican ideals and goals”.
He cited the Proclamation as one of the most progressive documents ever written and one which spelled out the demand for social and economic justice and democracy, of cherishing the children of the nation equally.
“Easter is also a time of renewal - a time when we as Irish republicans rededicate ourselves to the legitimate and achievable goals of independence and unity for the people of this island.”
He confirmed that party president Gerry Adams will speak at events in Dublin on Saturday and in Belfast on Sunday.
Among scores of republican events across the country, Martin McGuinness will address a commemoration in Cork on Sunday; Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, will speak in Drumboe, County Donegal.
PATRIOTS ‘NOT CONSUMERS’
Two members of Ogra Shinn Féin, the party’s youth wing, were arrested in Dublin after disrupting an auction of Irish historical artifacts and papers yesterday.
Two members of the party’s youth wing entered the auction venue and distributed leaflets protesting against what was described as the ‘sale of the century’, before being evicted and arrested.
“Today’s protest was to draw attention to the government’s failure to intervene to secure historic documents,” Sinn Féin youth wing spokesman Daithi O’Riain said in a statement. “The government should not allow such artifacts to be sold on the open market to wealthy individuals, either in Ireland or abroad.”
Dublin-based James Adam and Sons sold around 400 items, mostly to unknown bidders, including an original of the Proclamation of Independence that was read by Padraig Pearse, and the original handwritten text of the Irish national anthem.
Sinn Féin TD Sean Crowe said the sale amounted to “nothing more than the vulgar prostitution of our collective history. I have no doubt that much of this material will be bought up by private speculators with an eye to the 100th anniversary of the Rising in ten years time.”
“This material should be on display in our museums for all to see. It should not become the personal trophies of a select few or worse still viewed by profiteers as an item that will increase in value as we approach the 100th anniversary.”
The items were viewed by 26-County Taoiseach, but he rejected public appeals to secure the treasures for the nation.
In advance of the anniversary, Ahern used a keynote speech to call for “a new culture of active citizenship” in Irish society.
He urged a renewal of republicanism “by marrying new ideas to steadfast values”, and said there was a need for “a great national conversation” on what it means to be Irish.
Speaking at the launch of a new 1916 exhibition in the National Museum in Collins Barracks, Dublin, yesterday, Mr Ahern asked people to look “beyond our purely private roles and rights as consumers”.
“Patriots today are people who are at least as fully aware of the needs of their community as they are of their own individual rights,” he said. “Ireland now needs to develop a strong and corresponding sense of duty and community.”