There is another side to Easter In Ireland.

What do you think of when you think of Easter? Chocolate, religious celebrations, fine weather? I do too, but each Easter I also spend a bit of time remembering the reason I live in freedom. It may not be the popular thing to do, but each year I remember the Easter rising of 1916.  I wonder, what would our lives be like if it had not taken place? Would we still be under British rule? Would we have become a modern day Scotland or would we have broken free in some other way?

Next year is the 100 year anniversary of the rising. In school it was a part of history I loved learning about. The patriotism and passion of those involved in the fight, fitted my rebellious nature growing up. My families link with Donegal meant we often entered the six counties, a part of Ireland which in case you are not aware remains a part of Britain to this day. It gave me an insight into what it was like to live in a country of red telephone boxes (in the south they were green), Union Jack flags, armoured cars, and British soldiers.

Personally, rightly or wrongly, I continue to appreciate what those rebels of 1916 did. I love to read about the leaders, and am especially taken by their own writings in particular the poetry of that time.  I grew up knowing  ‘rebel’ songs, all telling the tales of the wrongs of Britain, and the fighting nature of the Irish. Some of these songs dated back to the 1800s and others to more modern times. All glorified the ‘old’ IRA and vilified Britain.

Then I became a mother, and twenty years ago the Good Friday agreement was signed. There was ‘peace’ in the North of Ireland for the first time in my memory.  A new generation have grown up not knowing what it is to wake up and hear of murders, bombings, punishment beatings or retaliation. My own children do not know the words of any ‘rebel song’.photo credit: <a href="">Dublin Bread Company</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

As a mother what am I to do?

Do I speak to my children about a past they know nothing about? Do I sing songs of hate? Do I tell them stories about 1916 and what happened to the men and women who helped create the free south they live in; an Ireland they take for granted? Do I remind them of a time when Dublin was bombed by the British before being rebuilt?

To date I have remained quiet. Yes they know a little of the world I witnessed as a child in Northern Ireland, but for them that is almost as long ago as when dinosaurs walked the earth. It has no relevance in their lives. My children can tell me about World War One, a war we as a nation did not officially take part in, with greater clarity than events that took place in Ireland during that time.

I am ever mindful of instilling an anti British bias, but I can’t help but wonder are we Irish over doing the friendliness? Are we glossing over the past in order to be friends with our neighbours? I agree it is right to forgive the past and move on, but I cannot condone or accept that we should forget it. So I have decided, little by little over the next twelve months that I will begin to tell the stories to my children, of the people who gave their lives, so I and my family could call ourselves Irish, and live in the country of our birth, as free citizens.

I’m not sure they will listen, and less sure they will remember any of it, but I hope that by the time the anniversary celebrations come along next year they will not be wondering what on earth it is all about.

I think my first ‘hook’ for them will be the tragic story of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett.

She was a cartoonist, he a journalist, poet and Irish Nationalist. She was protestant, he Catholic. Despite her families disapproval these two were to marry on Easter Sunday 1916. Instead Joseph Plunkett took part in the Easter rising, was arrested and condemned to death. While in prison in Kilmainham Jail he and Grace were married, surrounded by soldiers, with no family present, after which they were granted ten minutes together, but not alone. Hours later Joseph Plunkett was taken out and shot.

This is a wonderful song written about their marriage. If this doesn’t hook my children nothing will. It’s a song I have always loved.  If you can’t listen to it, here are the lyrics.
As if this wasn’t tragic enough, Grace never remarried.

As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we’ve failed?
From our school days they have told us we must yearn for liberty
Yet all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me

Oh Grace just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love I place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won’t be time to share our love for we must say goodbye

Now I know it’s hard for you my love to ever understand
The love I bare for these brave men, the love for my dear land
But when Pádraic called me to his side down in the GPO
I had to leave my own sick bed, to him I had to go

Oh, Grace just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love I’ll place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won’t be time to share our love for we must say goodbye

Now as the dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too
On this May morn as I walk out, my thoughts will be of you
And I’ll write some words upon the wall so everyone will know
I loved so much that I could see his blood upon the rose.

photo credit: Dublin Bread Company via photopin (license)

22 thoughts on “There is another side to Easter In Ireland.

  1. First, all people should know their history – the good and bad. It also helps to remember that our religion and loyalties depend much on where we are born – a little line on a map. Last, you are the mother, you set the values for your children so weigh all that and do what your hear tells you.

  2. I thing forgiveness is important but to forget – never – You must always remember and your children’s children must remember – history has a way of repeating itself and we can never forget that nor can we forget the people who lost their lives for others freedoms..

    1. I agree but it is not the done thing to remember. Maybe it’s okay to go back hundreds of years but recent history… no. Hopefully with the centenary next year we can address this. Definitely it would be wrong to forget. Thank you for your comment.

  3. I too think our histories are important, the good and the bad as Jackie says. They add to our sense of identity, and as a part of you, they are important for your children to know. US history is full of evil deeds and great heroism. We can embrace the goodness and learn from the mistakes.

    1. I too think it is important, but after hundreds of years of fighting and occupation I think most of us here in Ireland have over reacted, and it is not the done thing to remember or speak about what is deemed to be ‘over’. It’s easier to remember hundreds of years ago rather than twenty, fifty or hundred. I suppose it’s a matter of balance. Thank you.

        1. A lot of bitterness and hate passed under the bridge and probably lies to this day under a rock. That is why so many are so reluctant to rock the boat I think.
          You are right though this is a beautiful country.

  4. .i think it is important to tell the stories of history to help the younger generation understand what happened so that history will not repeat itself and to give gratitude for living in freedom now.

    1. Yes and I desperately want them to understand how lucky they are to live in freedom, but not to sound desperate (or bitter) when I am telling them. 🙂

  5. For all of my trips to Ireland I had never planned on going to Dublin. I wanted to avoid the ‘big cities’ and travel the roads and small towns and villages. But always did I want to go to Kilmainham Gaol to pay homage to the men and women who so bravely sacrificed their lives. They knew going in that they would not come out alive. On Easter Sunday, on the 90th anniversary my husband and I stood at the gate as we were locked out. The only day it was closed to the public. I stood within inches of the President of Ireland and maybe Prime Minister??? walked right by me. I thought I was going to cry.

    I always think of “The Uprising” at Easter. Always. I have a wall in my house, full of shelves full of books-dedicated to the writings of the Irish, by the Irish, and of Ireland’s history.

    1. Wow you may be far away but you are definitely a patriot! It’s an amazing story of Samson and Goliath, a total disaster from start to finish, but what they did make a difference in the end. To my life anyway.
      What a pity you never got into the gaol I’d say you’d have loved it.
      Happy Easter. We’ll salute the tri colour together tonight. 🙂

      1. Absolutely ! I have read and read about it. Not to mention sung the songs and cried while singing them. It is heart breaking to read that they knew they would not survive, even if they ‘lived’, they knew they would be killed in just the manner they were. Which, of course, is what started the turn for the country. It was the only reason we went to Dublin. Not that Dublin doesn’t have other wonderful things to see. But I didn’t want to “do” the city. So if we ever get back….I will get myself in that gaol. Hopefully alone. And have the entire place to myself!

  6. The history is so powerful, and frightening that it could happen again if somehow the boat was to be rocked too much. I get that fear. Let sleeping dogs lie. But on the other hand it is an amazing truth and why your life is as it is now. I hope your children are receptive to listening to your stories.

    1. Thank you Deb. Since writing this I have thought about it more and it would be wrong not to tell my children of those who gave their lives for our right to be free. Knowing that, I will without doubt begin to share those stories, whether they listen or not is another matter. 🙂

  7. Refreshing question, tric. I imagine the potential for conversations on these issues with children is limitless, and as they move into adulthood, instilling political conscientiousness is a credible ambition. Because all politics are based on history, and the freedoms and rights they enjoy today are in a perpetual state of flux. Colonialism is not unique to Britain or Ireland, so there’s always a broader context that helps frame these things. And of course there is official Britain, and its people. It’s people can discern the ill-gotten gains of its elitist colonial government from the attitudes of ordinary folks, many would say there is a continuing form of poverty violence directed at the latter in recent years with the Conservatives, and of course they’re right. Having lived in all three jurisdictions on and off over the last 25 years, I find it incredibly patronising that any officials would claim credit for brokering ‘friendship and peace’ between our peoples. We have always lived among one another in relative harmony and respect ; it took our respective government years to catch up with the ordinary folk. Whatever about over-reaction of friendliness from the Irish, I think the biggest divisions and lack of understanding and respect exist between folk on this island. The Civil War was fairly brutal, and the consequence that hasn’t really be addressed head-on; partly because while it’s a century, we’re still a relatively young and grossly immature democracy. No more is this evident to me than when I speak with English people who understand that the Conflict in the North was not a religious based fall-out between two sets of irrational locals. I find it staggering that that narrow myth survives among most Southerners, and the indifference and disinterest towards the place is still prevalent. That’s not peace or respect, that’s convenient distancing and not having to deal with it; that task is still left to the internal communities to negotiate, and it’s a stalemate of coexistence and sectarianism. But as long as the violence is dumbed down, right? Successive Irish governments didn’t bathe themselves in glory either when it came to the criminal political impasse for decades. I’m hopeful understanding will evolve. I personally think we’re only at the outset, at best, of gaining some semblance of unity and respect between our peoples either side of the border. It’s an on-going tale of a number of struggles, including a few many don’t want to acknowledge other than the straight forward narrative. It’ll take generations, and investment in dialogue, as any movement does, so it’s good to hear parents taking these sort of responsibilities on board. Fair play. Couching our passions in the context of equality and human rights will always keep our biases on the straight and narrow. Apologies for waffling on, you might’ve guessed it’s one close to my heart (and spleen) also 🙂

    1. I knew this one would get you! I think the idea for this post grew over many years. Watching my children not knowing or caring about their past, listening to southerners distancing themselves from the Northerners of Ireland, and considering them to be ‘different’, and my inner voice shouting, “why are you not speaking out?”.
      I agree that we are a nation in its infancy, but I’m not sure burying our heads is going to help us grow up.
      Thanks for your comment. I was fascinated reading your take on it. We’ll see what the anniversary brings next year, who knows it may agitate the water.

  8. I have mixed feelings about this, tric

    I grew up listening to ‘rebel’ songs – every family party I went to, the aunties and uncles (catholics after all 😆 ), when asked to do a ‘turn’ to entertain the company, would belt out a Fenian song; every car journey or coach trip involved singing ‘rebel’ songs to pass the while (I still know the words of these songs even now)

    and at school, in Scotland, a large part of the History class featured the story of Ireland, the potato famine, the exodus from the land, the oppression by the British, Parnell, the ‘black and tans’, the struggle for Home Rule, and the Easter Rising

    looking back now, I can only guess that the Scottish Education system at the time covered Irish history in such depth because in many ways it mirrored Scotland’s experience under English rule ?

    it’s sad that your kids don’t share your knowledge of history

    as others have said before me, it is important to know your history because the past shapes the present, and the future

    I don’t know what they teach in History classes in England, but it certainly does not include much about Scotland or Ireland

    during the run up to the recent referendum on Scottish Independence, I was struck by the genuine mystification of my English co-workers as to why so many Scots want to be an independent nation again

    they were ignorant of the centuries of English oppression which to this day is a source of resentment and hatred for many Scots

    I think I have mentioned before that I used to live on an island off the west coast of Scotland

    there is a hotel called ‘Taigh na Bruaich’ (you have the gaelic so will know that translates as ‘house of the trousers’) just before you cross on to the mainland

    (it was named that because after the 1745 rebellion against the English, wearing the kilt was punishable by execution so Scots leaving the island for the mainland would change their kilts for trousers at this inn)

    like I said, I have mixed feelings about this subject

    not knowing history makes the English incapable of understanding why so many Scots so passionately want ‘independence’

    but on the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for the saying ‘let sleeping dogs lie’

    dwelling too much on the past can prevent forward movement

    you have a difficult task in hand – teaching your kids the history of their nation while not inculcating a hatred of the present day English who had bugger all to do with the ‘crimes’ of their forefathers

    good luck with that !

    1. If I’m honest Duncan I shuddered as I wrote about imagining being a modern day Scotland, free but not really. Voting with money in mind. Even though it’s not perfect at least the rising brought about real change, but I’m not sure if it is here to stay.
      Thanks for your comment. You gave me another perspective.
      I’ve thought a good bit since writing this and am very determined to ‘educate’ my kids, whether they want me to or not. 🙂

  9. I remember always hearing about the violence in Ireland. We assumed it was from all the drinking that I’d always heard about as well. lol. History is important, no matter how ugly. We have plenty of that over here too.

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