My 1916: ‘Irish Times’ readers write
So far more than 100 of you have answered our invitation to share your thoughts and feelings about the Easter Rising. Here’s a selection. Be quick if you’d like to enter: the competition closes on Sunday
Founding fathers: Capt Eoin Rochford reads the Proclamation at the GPO. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
More than 100 responses have been sent to The Irish Times’ invitation to readers to share their thoughts and feelings about 1916 and its centenary. The deadline is on Sunday January 31st - see below for information on how to enter.
‘Do we applaud the rebels? Would they applaud us?’
Like so many young people from Ireland, I’m part of another “generation emigration”. For the past two years I’ve been living in Toronto, and because of visa restrictions I may see my time here come to an end soon.
This is a problem I’ve seen so many other young Irish people over here have to face. Not qualifying for permanent residency, having to return home regardless of whether they want to or not and then seeing our politicians laud it as the year of the reverse emigration, because of their “successful” economic recovery.
My intentions when first moving was to try something new for two years and then head back home. However, the feeling I have now that that time is approaching is one of slight dread.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Ireland. I adore our culture, I’m in awe of our scenery, I relish our national pride in sport and there’s nothing I love more than having a proper pint of Guinness while joined by the great people I’ve grown up with.
But when I think of the struggle of finding an affordable and desirable place to live, and a decent job, that’s when the dread kicks in.
We have landlords that charge extortionate prices for laughable accommodation, we have politicians who look after themselves and their cronies before their people, and we have a national press that hides the truth about the number of people that march on the streets in protest of these politicians.
I hugely admire our rebels of 1916: they had ideals and they sought to improve the lives of our people. But we’ve dishonoured their memory by not meeting those ideals.
We are not an Ireland for the Irish – the past eight years in particular have proven that – but that’s not to say we can’t be.
I think one way to start is not by asking do we applaud the rebels of 1916 but by asking if they would applaud us. And, if not, then how can we change that?
‘The Rising ushered in a century of political violence’
Dromard, Co Sligo
The Easter Rising is the single most important event in modern Irish history, and 100 years later its effects are still being felt. The events of 1916 projected Ireland towards becoming an independent sovereign state. But the Easter Rising has a much darker legacy and ushered in a century of political violence in this country.
The ideas of a blood sacrifice, of using violence to achieve goals without a popular mandate, and of martyrdom emerged from the Easter Rising and have caused thousands of deaths on this island in the century since. Looking back on 1916, we should seek to understand and explain these events but never lose sight of the fact that they represent the start of 100 years of the gun in Irish politics.
The rebels had no popular support for the rebellion, and the seven signatories to the Proclamation had no mandate other than the ones they assumed for themselves. None of them had ever been elected to a political body; they were a fringe group. Today we would refer to them in the media as dissident republicans or domestic terrorists. The Rising was doomed from its inception; it was the reaction of the British government in its aftermath that led to its success.
The Easter Rising went on to inspire many generations of Irish republicans and in turn caused an enormous amount of bloodshed and suffering. Certainly 1916 inspired the IRA’s futile Border campaign of the 1950s and influenced the violence and the direction of the conflict during the Troubles. The H Block hunger strikers of 1982 looked back to those leaders of 1916 for inspiration.
Even today the legacy of violence left by the Easter Rising remains with us in the form of dissident republicans, who believe it is their duty to achieve the 32-county united Ireland that was proclaimed by the rebels that Easter Week.
They are willing to use violence to achieve this regardless of any political mandate or popular support from the public. This is the legacy of the Easter Rising, a legacy that has a cast a long shadow on the history of Ireland.
‘Our government is undoing what the Rising accomplished’
For me 1916 evokes strong and very differing emotions – pride, despair, anger and fear – all jumbled together.
Pride in the brave men and women who fought and died to unite our people and give birth to a republic. Pride in the sacrifice that ultimately became the central formative and defining act in the shaping of modern Ireland. The birth certificate of this State may be stained with blood, but I and many others like me will be proud to make 2016 a shameless celebration.
Despair, given the gravity of what is happening to our country at the moment, the irregularities, greed and poor decisions that were made politically and in private business by duly elected representatives. Despair at the homelessness crisis, the people dying in the streets, the hospital crisis, the exceptionally high suicide rate, the stealth taxes, the fact that in modern Ireland more and more people are relying on soup kitchens to eat.
Anger because I’ve been forced to watch successive governments betray me and engineer the chain of events that have brought us to the point of IMF intervention and the end of being masters of our own nation. Anger that politicians and bankers refuse to give even a short explanation of what their personal involvement in the destruction of our nation has been. Anger because our island is being stripped of her assets, which are being sold off to the highest bidder, and our government seems hell-bent on undoing everything the 1916 Rising accomplished. Anger that my brother and his family were forced to emigrate to Australia.
Fear that we have quietly become a different people in a different country: Europe. The EU now reigns over our borders, our laws and our lives. Fear that Europe is going to drag us into war. Fear that it will take more this time than an Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council and a rebellion to reclaim our democracy and pull ourselves back from the brink of social and economic ruin. Fear that there is no way back.
‘The 1916 Easter Rising is just like the Ivory Coast’
I am from Ivory Coast. I came to this country four years ago, and I know very little about the Easter Rising. I have heard people talk about the 1916 Rising at my school and at home.
I can relate to the people that were in the Rising. I have my own experience of fighting for freedom; in my country there was a war against the president of Ivory Coast, a fight for independence. For me it is just like the 1916 Easter Rising, when people were fighting for Ireland to gain their freedom.
‘We wouldn’t be like we are without the Rising’
Fermoy, Co Cork
I have mixed feelings about whether the Easter Rising centenary should be a commemoration or a celebration. In one way I see it as a definite starting point in the fight to end British rule and to establish an independent Irish republic.
The bravery of the Volunteers during the violence of Easter Week portrayed the strong-willed spirit to fight for our country that most of us share. The actions of the British in retaliation were not justified; a free Irish state could have been achieved with fewer casualties if the Irish were given the power to do so at that time.
However, I also think that, although it was a starting point to free Ireland, Ireland could have achieved freedom another way. The Rising was mainly fought in Dublin, but why wasn’t it so important as to have been fought nationwide? Many civilians died in the attempt to win independence as well as many British, but for what?
The Rising was not supported by many people and was condemned by the Irish parliament, but maybe the events unfolded because the postponing of home rule and the threat of conscription scared some nationalists into thinking that they would never be free of the British rule.
Another aspect to the Rising was the involvement of women. Women were long oppressed by society, and the Rising gave them a chance to show that they were equal to their male counterparts and were a force to reckon with.
The Rising was a significant part of Irish history, and the Volunteers are heroes to the Irish. Even though the procedure failed, it played a part in the establishment of our free nation, and we wouldn’t be like we are today without the Rising.
‘No revolt lives up to expectations’
Seamus J King
Cashel, Co Tipperary
I can’t get excited by the 1916-centenary celebrations. I have tried to approach Rebellion, the RTÉ drama, with an open mind, but I find it contrived and lost in a time warp.
This feeling has little to do with my attitude to the Rising. I was brought up on the historical menu that the event was the culmination of a long line of physical-force events, commencing in 1798, that eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. I never doubted that the Rising was necessary to expedite the departure of the British.
I suppose the leaders were always plaster-cast figures in my imagination, similar to the religious statues in the local church. The argument that they had no mandate from the public, that they were the minority of a minority, didn’t influence me in any way. They were revolutionaries, and such are always a minority. It’s the few who initiate change, because the majority are invariably satisfied with the status quo. The rebels were no different.
The other argument, that their actions brought about Partition and prevented the smooth passage to a united, independent Ireland had the Irish Parliamentary Party been allowed to pursue their path to home rule, was, in my mind, irrelevant, because we don’t know what might have transpired had the Rising not taken place.
Probably the big question that the centenary celebrations pose is how our Ireland of today compares with that envisioned by the rebels. Probably there is no relation: what relationship has the US or the Russia of today with the aims and intentions of the Founding Fathers or the Bolshevik revolutionaries? No revolt lives up to the expectations of the revolutionaries.
The men of 1916 said nothing about the type of Ireland they envisioned. The Proclamation summoned all Irish men and women to the flag of the Irish Republic to strike for freedom from the British. It demanded the ownership of the country for the Irish and the allegiance of all Irish men and women, and it placed their effort under the protection of the most high God.
In last analysis the Rising started another process, which included the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the economic war, the programme of economic expansion and EEC membership and which brought us to the state we in at today. The men who led it were idealistic and self-sacrificing and deserve to be remembered and honoured, whatever about being imitated.
‘Reflect, yes. Celebrate? Certainly not’
Andrew Jones snr
Mullagh, Co Cavan
In 1966, fired with the martial spirit of youth, I proudly marched with my FCA unit in the great Easter military parade held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rising. I had no reservations in so doing. The country was engulfed in a tidal wave of patriotism, with pageants, unveilings of statues, and God knows what else marking our deliverance from centuries of slavery. The nuances of the events of 50 years before escaped me completely.
This year finds me in a different place altogether. In the intervening decades I have read voraciously about the rebellion and the events leading up to it. I am now forced to consider, at least, that we got it wrong. Eoin McNeill I think it was who said that “conditions do not exist to justify an armed rising”, and if one studies the contemporary media of the time this is borne out.
Yes, we had slums, we had poverty, but so had all the major UK cities. Our constitutional politicians were active and successful in the British parliament, and had got home rule on to the statute books. Despite a latent “anti-Englishness”, the vast majority of Irish people were content enough with being subjects of the empire.
The violence that erupted in this country in the Rising’s aftermath was to lead eventually to the Free State (during which an Irish government executed 77 men, as against the 16 shot by the British), which was no better than the one we could have had without a single one. We would also most likely have been spared the dreadful decades of want and deprivation created by our new rulers. We would still have remained Irish, just as the Scots and Welsh remained who they are.
So for me it will be commemorate, reflect, learn. Celebrate? Certainly not.
‘My feelings are of longing and nostalgia’
Rathdrum, Co Wicklow
The events of 1916 mean that I can live as I was born to: as a free Irish citizen with religious liberty, the ability to vote, equal rights and equal opportunities. I have the power. The power to choose, the power to make my voice heard. I am governed, but I am not ruled. Ireland is ours.
My grandfather, a strong west Cork man, once quoted Michael Collins to me as a child when visiting his place of assassination, in Béal na Bláth: “Give us the future. We’ve had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love.”
This quote made me understand what these patriots were fighting for. They were fighting for home. For a place where every generation could find peace, love, passion and dreams. These dreams that we may now strive to achieve. Now, as a young woman seeing the struggles of a much different nature that my country faces, I realise fully the impact of what was done for us, the people of Ireland. Looking at the Ireland that we now live in, I do not believe that this is the vision of liberation that our heroes put their hearts, souls, blood, sweat and tears on the line for. Much of our beautiful country’s original culture has been replaced and forgotten.
From the use of our native tongue, the treasure of our history as storytellers and bards, and the draw of our landscape, as our most beautiful attribute, to the open and welcoming hearts of the people. So much rich heritage replaced with oppression and strife. This is not the free Ireland our lost souls strove to achieve.
My feelings are of longing and nostalgia to experience for myself a critical time in our history that is long past.
I find also that my other primary emotion is that of gratitude. Gratitude for those who stood up and fought for our freedom, who rebelled against those who sought to rule us, who endeavoured to create a home of our own making and choice for all those to come after.
Because of their actions I can hold my head high and say with pride, “I am Irish.”
What 1916 means to you: To share your account of no more than 500 words email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, by midnight on Sunday January 31st.
The theme: Reflect on what the events of 1916 mean to you as an Irish person living today. Do you applaud or deplore the rebels’ actions? Does today’s Ireland conform to the vision of 100 years ago? Do centenary celebrations stir emotions - of nostalgia, or anger - in you?
The prize: Some of the accounts will be published, and the best one will win a prize from The Irish Times and Ireland 2016: €1,000 and an opportunity to tour the GPO Witness History Exhibition.
The details: Please send your account in the body of the email, not as a Word attachment. Include a phone number and address in case we need to contact you in relation to your story. And state what country you are living in.