Easter Rising should be marked by an Irish Patriots’ Day

Opinion: the Republic deserves to mark 1916 as an annual holiday of international stature

Soldiers survey the interior of the destroyed GPO during the Easter Rising of 1916. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Soldiers survey the interior of the destroyed GPO during the Easter Rising of 1916. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 01:00

As I’ve discovered in my two decades living in Dublin, nobody enjoys a day off work or values the past more than the Irish. So I’m surprised that this country hasn’t demonstrated a bit more creativity where its public holidays are concerned.

As it is, the vast majority of them are religious in nature or designated, quite simply and boringly, as “bank holidays”. At least in the US, long weekends get dressed up. There’s Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day. You get the picture. Some historical resonance goes a long way in justifying a sleep-in or a trip to the beach.

In my home state of Massachusetts, today is Patriots’ Day, a civic holiday commemorating the anniversary of the revolutionary war battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19th, 1775. A similar holiday would seem a perfect fit for Ireland, given the Emerald Isle’s illustrious rebel past.

In two years Ireland will be engaged in the centennial commemoration of perhaps the biggest event in the long history of Irish nationalism: the 1916 Easter Rising. I’m open to correction here, but no country anywhere in the world could have a more significant day on its national calendar.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it from the way the Easter Rising is generally remembered. From what I’ve seen in my 20-plus years here, official Ireland marks the day with appropriate pomp and circumstance – last year the President, accompanied by military honour guards, laid a wreath outside the GPO in Dublin – but the wider society appears to have little interest.

By comparison, St Patrick’s Day – which celebrates some vague notion of Irishness – is monumental in scope with its silly parades and pageantry.

There are two possible reasons for the Irish public’s indifference toward an act of rebellion rivalling my home state’s “shot heard around the world”.

First, Easter falls on a different date from year to year. For a holiday to gain traction in the public imagination, a fixed date is essential – even if the elements for a compelling celebration of the Rising are ever-present: heroic patriots, an honourable cause and a dramatic denouement.

Also, it is worth remembering that the Rising did not have popular support in Ireland. Indeed, the situation might have stayed that way if the British government hadn’t responded with such blinkered incompetence, executing the insurrection’s main players and arresting thousands of others.

That divided opinion appears to continue to a lesser degree today. For many people who give the subject any thought, the courageous words and deeds of the activists, educators and general rabble-rousers inside Dublin’s GPO in 1916 gifted future generations the present-day Republic. But for a dissenting minority, the fool’s rebellion undertaken by Pearse, Connolly, Clarke and their compatriots plunged the Irish capital and in particular its already distressed tenement-dwellers into further misery.

Finally, this being Ireland, the picture wouldn’t be complete without the naysayers, those folks – dwindling in number on both sides of the Border, thankfully – who insist that the job begun by the 1916 rebels is unfinished business so long as Ulster remains divided.

Another of my discoveries: Irish historical memory is practically a living organism, embodied in an older generation of aunts, uncles and grandparents whose power of recall can bring the past to life better than any text.

By contrast, though I am unabashedly American, my connections to the US are nonexistent prior to 1930. Before then, my lineage is wholly European, thanks to my Sicilian and Cork grandparents, whom I now regret not interrogating more closely. For instance, it was only after he died that I discovered my Italian grandfather fought in the first World War.

As the 100th anniversary of the Easter rebellion approaches, the significance and shortcomings of the event will be duly noted by historians, politicians and interested laymen. But Irish authorities have undoubtedly dropped the ball over the years by not positioning the occasion of the 1916 Rising beside St Patrick’s Day as an annual holiday of international stature.

Ireland deserves a Patriots’ Day to call its own. Let’s hope in another 100 years commentators aren’t delivering the same message.


Boston native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. He is author of comic e-novel Designing Dev

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