In a remarkable weekend of events to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, Irish president Michael D Higgins called for Irish people to take responsibility for building ‘a true Republic’. However, republican commemorations heard condemnations of the 26 County state for continuing to ‘turn its back’ on the people of the Six Counties.
The President’s speech at a reception for the descendants of the 1916 rebels in the RDS in Dublin followed the opening day of centenary celebrations, which was dominated by a show of strength by the 26 County Army in Dublin city centre.
In his keynote address and at other events over the weekend, Mr Higgins said the ideals of the Proclamation can still inspire, but noticeably avoided any mention of the conflict in the Six Counties.
“Our nation has journeyed many miles from the shell shocked and burning Dublin of 1916,” he said. “We can see that in many respects we have not fully achieved the dreams and ideals for which our forebears gave so much,” he said.
“We must ensure that our journey into the future is a collective one; one in which the homeless, the migrant, the disadvantaged, the marginalised and each and every citizen can find homes, are fellow travellers; a journey which includes all of the multitude of voices that together speak of, and for, a new Ireland born out of contemporary imagination and challenges.”
The 100 year anniversary began on Saturday with the laying of a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square in honour of all those who fought and died for Irish freedom.
At another event on Monday, Mr Higgins condemned revisionism the failure of the media and academics to examine the “supremacist and militarist imperialism” of Britain with “the same fault-finding edge” as had been applied to Irish rebel leaders.
And speaking at a state ceremony to honour James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army on Tuesday, he again admitted that the dream of some of the 1916 rebels ha not been achieved, again focusing on the social dimension.
“The women and men of the Irish Citizen Army were committed to achieving much more than just a national political independence: the Republic of which they dreamt - the Republic which is yet to be realised - was one that would enable a more equal redistribution of the fruits of prosperity among all of its children,” Mr Higgins said.
The president made his remarks on Tuesday at the special commemoration at Liberty Hall in Dublin, headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army, a socialist militia set up by Connolly in the wake of the 1913 Lockout, and where the Proclamation was printed.
It is one of the last official events of the 1916 centenary commemorations and President Higgins used it to reflect on a revolution he accepted was incomplete.
“The republic for which they hoped remains unfulfilled, yet those same aspirations for true equality, for real independence, can still sustain us today in the task of rebuilding our society and our economy.”
After months of hand-wringing anxiety, the Irish media heaped praise on the highly stage-managed state commemorations, as did the British government for their “inclusivity”. However, there were a few dissonant voices who continued to protest against efforts to erode the republican content of the Rising and its legacy.
Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys was criticised by members of the public during a ceremony at Moore Street in Dublin to commemorate the firing of the first shots during the 1916 Rising.
Shouts of “shame on you” and “out, out, out” came from the crowd over her department’s failure to protect buildings linked to the Rising on Moore Street, recently designated a national monument. Her department had argued the buildings were “not historically important”.
And Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan pointed out that daffodils had mysteriously replaced lilies traditionally associated with Irish republicanism during the Easter Sunday commemoration, when four children laid flowers at the GPO in one part of the event. In his Easter commemoration speech, Sinn Fein MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, said that we have not yet achieved the Republic declared on Easter Monday 1916.
Speaking at the Easter Rising commemoration in the South Monaghan village of Inniskeen, Mr Carthy said that the objective of a United Irish Republic remained the goal of all Irish Republicans.
“The very notions that the leaders of 1916 would have been satisfied with a partitioned island - That Thomas Clarke, the first signatory of the proclamation, would have accepted his native Tyrone being annexed into a sectarian state - that the large numbers of northern volunteers involved in the rising were fighting for other people’s freedom - that the provisional government would chose the strongest symbol of Irish Unity, the tricolour of Green, White and Orange, as the National flag yet have settled for a divided Ireland - are notions as ludicrous as they are laughable”.
The relatively hardline comments of the Sinn Fein MEPs drew predictable criticism from the mainstream media. There was also some controversy over a Sinn Fein event in the border village of Pettigo on the Donegal-Fermanagh border.
Sean Lynch spent more than a decade in Long Kesh Prison recounting the actions of James Connolly and Patrick Pearse to other prisoners. Sometimes, he read the Proclamation aloud.
On Monday he spoke at Sinn Fein’s Easter commemoration in the small rural village.
A former Provisional IRA commander from Rosslea, Co Fermanagh, and now a member of the Stormont Assembly, Mr Lynch said 1916 was one of the reasons he joined the IRA.
“The British empire was built on oppression, discrimination, torture and death. Ireland, which had endured centuries of occupation, was no different,” he told supporters.
However, 1916 was followed by a counter-revolution, he claimed. “The rights of citizens have been secondary to the needs of the elite. Their Irish nation stops in places like Pettigo.”
In May, 1922, Pettigo and Belleek saw one of the largest engagements of the War of Independence - the only occasion on which artillery was used against the IRA.
Four IRA volunteers were killed. “They fought and died to prevent partition along the Donegal-Fermanagh border,” Mr Lynch told the crowd. Pettigo and the lands surrounding it bear the marks of later troubles.
The Provisional IRA had the same legitimacy as the men of 1916, he claimed. “There are those who would have us believe that these men and women cannot be equated with those of 1916.
“They are hypocrites. Bobby Sands was a revolutionary and visionary in the same vein as James Connolly and Padraig Pearse,” he added.
But there was a different order of controversy on Saturday, when a military-style colour guard led a parade by the Irish Republican Socialist Party through Dublin.
Dozens of uniformed and masked men and women marched near the city’s Liberty Hall on Saturday afternoon. Some also stood alongside others dressed in Irish Citizen Army-type attire in a colour party as part of the procession towards the GPO on O’Connell Street.
Hundreds of people were involved in the march, which the IRSP said it was held to “retrace the steps of our ideological forebearers” and to honour “all those who gave their lives for Irish freedom and socialism”.
The IRSP’s Martin McGonagle said during the event: “We exist to bring the pillars of the free state and the sectarian northern state tumbling down, to be replaced by a sovereign, socialist Republic.”