Sunday, April 24th, 2016
A great crowd gathered in front of Dublin’s General Post Office. When the ceremonies began at 10:00 there were already thousands. By mid-day, tens of thousands. All were coming to express opposition to the government’s “official” commemoration, held a month earlier on Easter, not the actual anniversary of the Rising-April 24, 1916. The “official” commemoration was a blatant attempt to rewrite history, to “airbrush” away the revolutionary socialist aspirations of James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army and, above all, to bury the memory of ordinary men and women rising to liberate themselves from foreign tyranny. These unpleasant facts were to be replaced by words of reconciliation between those Irishmen who fought for the British Empire and those who fought against it, for those who partitioned Ireland and those who attempted to unite it in a secular, independent republic. Of course, this is both absurd and a travesty, yet it was the determination of ruling elites that since they could not suppress memory of the Easter Rising completely, it was better to commandeer its celebration, directing any and all commemoration up a blind alley. To start with, make Easter-a religious holiday-the date of commemoration, not the actual date, which marks a circuit of the Earth around the Sun, and, in this case, the date of insurrection. Follow this by simultaneously “honouring” those who died in the Rising and those who died fighting for Britain at the same time. By making equivalent service to the British Empire (200,000 Irish troops fought for Britannia in WWI, tens of thousands of them slaughtered at Gallipoli and the Somme, among other senseless battles) with service to a free and independent Ireland, Ireland’s masters hoped not only to reconcile forces unalterably opposed to one another but to reconcile the present generation with their continued servitude as if it was the inevitable fulfillment of Irish destiny. This would be attained, they assumed, by maintaining a phony solemnity mixed with treacly sentimentality-all stage managed as if it were a Disney movie-and then dispatch the suitably indoctrinated to join the drunken revelry of tourists. In the end, these cretins imagined, the Easter Rising would fit into Dublin as theme park, where along with leprechauns and shamrocks, St. Patrick’s Day and Guinness, Ireland discovers its identity in crass consumerism and collective suicide. Fortunately, their plan failed.
Instead, the people gathered on April 24, 2016 to reaffirm allegiance to the original Proclamation of the Irish Republic read from the steps of the GPO that Monday morning a century ago. Mind you, until the day itself, organisers were not sure how many would attend or how enthusiastically they would embrace the views expressed by a broad spectrum of political organisations and individuals including revolutionary socialists descended from James Connolly himself. What greeted us all that fine day was inspiring to say the least.
The Citizens Centenary Commemoration began a day-long series of presentations achieving what organiser Tom Stokes had earlier declared were its aims: “Given that a proper commemoration must have a period of reflection, a short programme hosted by Adrian Dunbar will include three speakers: historian and biographer of Patrick Pearse, Ruan O’Donnell, will speak on the origins of Irish republicanism among Belfast Protestants in the 1790s and the republican continuum up to 1916; women’s rights activist and biographer of Dr Kathleen Lynn, Marie Mulholland, will speak on the women of 1916; 1916 historian and biographer of James Connolly, Lorcan Collins, will speak on the revolutionaries of 1916, particularly the rank-and-file, and on the contribution of the people of the inner-city tenements to the revolution.
Singer Fergus Russell will provide a bridge between the reflective part of the commemoration and the formal part with his rendition of an iconic song about the revolution.” You can see for yourself how well this was carried out by viewing the clip available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSRU84Y5gik
Next to take the stage was the National Graves Association, the organisation that invited Yvonne and me to participate. This part of the program was comprised of musical performances from various groups and individuals including ourselves, The Sons of Roisin and culminating in a performance by the Young Wolfe Tones. A statement made the next day by organiser Tommy Mckearney sums up well the feeling shared by so many: “Comhghairdeas (Comrades, in Gaelic), Congratulations to all who organised and participated in the extremely successful National Graves Association event yesterday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising and mark the resting place of many members of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army. The huge numbers at the concert, on the parade and in the cemetery demonstrated clearly that their struggle and sacrifice is deemed precious by republican Ireland. The newly refurbished 1916 monument in the St Pauls section of Glasnevin is a fitting tribute to the gallantry and heroism of the generations of Irish republicans in general and the men and women of Easter Week in particular.
By their refusal to seek an accommodation within pre or post partition Ireland, republicans have known imprisonment and death and rightly therefore, give credit and support to the non-party political National Graves Association in its work to keep green the memory of all our patriot dead. The attendance at yesterday’s event and the enthusiasm of those taking part speaks volumes about the commitment of republican Ireland to its cause and its history.” (Tommy McKearney … Chairperson 1916 Monument Refurbishment Committee)
Finally, Reclaim the Vision of 1916 took the stage presenting a wide-ranging program of music and speeches which culminated in this powerful address given by James Connolly Heron: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9X0-yP0QCw
You can read more about Reclaim the Vision by visiting their website: http://www.reclaim1916.ie/reclaim-1916-march-pageant-and-free-open-air-concert/
All in all, the week Yvonne and I spent touring Ireland showed us powerful evidence of the resilience of the spirit of rebellion and the continued, indeed growing, influence of the revolutionary socialist ideas of James Connolly. From Cork, to Derry, from Belfast to Dublin, we performed Songs of Freedom to working class people undaunted and unafraid in the face of the increasingly desperate attacks levelled by the rulers of Ireland-be they in London, Brussels or Washington. No doubt, confusion remains as to how best to fight and win-especially given the recent betrayals of political parties such as Syriza in Greece. These betrayals are heaped upon a century of betrayal in Ireland itself. Yet, at the very least, Sunday’s Citizen’s Commemorations succeeded in exposing these betrayals, expressing the People’s abhorrence of them and those who carried them out. Perhaps most significant was the unequivocal support for a renewal of the commitment made in the Easter Rising of 1916, a rededication of effort to achieve the ideals expressed in that original Proclamation and a reassertion of the claim that the Irish Republic of 1916 is the only government to which the People owe allegiance, all usurpations notwithstanding. The current regime can no longer claim to represent the will of the People. They have been exposed as corrupt, venal, lackeys, obedient not to the People but to their masters in the US, UK and EU. The spirit of ’16 burns brighter than it has in many years. May a new generation fan its flame.