One hundred years ago, Easter Monday 1916 in case maths is not your strong point, Ireland changed forever. A group of approximately 1,200 Irishmen and women, led by seven leaders, took over various buildings in Dublin city. Outside the GPO they read the Irish Proclamation, flew the tri colour (the flag we still use today) and declared an Irish Republic. So began the Easter Rising as we know it. It led to intense fighting, before the British bombed the city and eventually forced the rebels to surrender. The Rising lasted all of six days. By the time it ended there were 12,000 British soldiers in Dublin. Over 500 dead, most of them civilians killed in the bombings. The leaders were executed over a period of nine days, along with others involved but the tide had turned. Republicanism was on the rise and within three years the first Dáil (Irish government) sat in Ireland, not London.
As a direct result of 1916 I live in an independent country, the Republic of Ireland. Also as a direct result of 1916 the North of Ireland was divided and it was decided that six counties would continue to be ruled by Britain.
1916 was always a part of Irish history that fascinated me. Growing up I had relatives living in the six counties and traveling to visit my grandparents I crossed the border a number of times a year. Despite my parents lack of obvious bias, I admit I had strong republican tendencies, especially in my teens. These feelings have tempered over the years. Since having children of my own, and a semblance of peace in the North, I’ve tried to keep them very much under wraps.
I have been very successful in achieving that, perhaps a little too successful!
As a result my children do not really seem to appreciate our history. They have no clue, no interest and no respect for those men and women who effectively set those of us in the 26 counties free. As long as they have Wifi their world is complete. It saddens me hugely. Growing up I knew every rebel song and enjoyed blasting them out on occasions. Some of those songs were from a more recent time, but most were over a hundred years old. They were part of our heritage, a reaction to what had gone on at the time. They were poignant and bias, but singing them gave me a sense of my Irishness and the years of occupation. Ultimately they helped me remember, to never forget.
For my children there is peace. They have no memory of anything else. They will grow up with no animosity towards our neighbours England. I know in my head that is the way it should be, but I can’t help but wish they cared more.
I do have one ace up my sleeve though. I do tend to sing around the house an awful lot (awful is the correct word). Over the years I have made it my mission in life to sing as many rebel songs daily as I can. I am hoping that subconsciously they have assimilated the words and some day will surprise themselves by breaking into song. Perhaps, some day in the future, their children will say, ‘tell us about that song’ and maybe the next generation will be given the chance to appreciate the sacrifice others made so they could be free.
Padraig Pearse was one of the leaders. He was not a soldier, but a teacher and poet. At his court martial this is part of what he said,
‘I assume that I am speaking to Englishmen who value their freedom, and who profess to be fighting for the freedom of Belgium and Serbia. Believe that we too love freedom and desire it. To us it is more than anything else in the world. If you strike us down now, we shall rise again, and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.”
On giving the order to condemn him to death, British officer Charles Blackadder said, ‘I have just done one of the hardest tasks I have ever had to do. I have had to condemn to death one of the finest characters I have ever come across. There must be something very wrong in the state of things that makes a man like that a rebel. I don’t wonder that his pupils adored him’.
photo credit: Tricolour – the Irish flag via photopin (license)