In January The Irish Times invited readers to compose a short article on the theme “What 1916 means to me”. This selection from the 300-plus entries are by students in primary, secondary and third level, and include a summary of the period in verse.
The Ireland envisioned by these leaders was not the Ireland created
As a history student I envisage this centenary as a time of reflection on Ireland as a country. I believe that the centenary is more than remembering the actions of the rebels at Easter 1916: an opportunity to review Ireland as it is today and as it has evolved over the past century.
Although many civilians disagreed with the actions of the rebels during Easter Week, it was the conduct of the British army after the Rising that was the catalyst for reform. Their harsh killing of the rebels evoked a questioning of British rule.
William Butler Yeats portrays conflicting ideas on the Rising, stating that “A terrible beauty is born”. The events brought, and I believe still bring, a paradoxical sentiment: the heroic ideals of the rebels fighting for their country against the terrible loss of lives.
It is essential to remember the objective of the rebels and their aspirations for Ireland. I believe that an emphasis on the Proclamation is imperative to the centenary celebrations. The Ireland envisioned by the provisional government was one of gender equality, the opening line addressing “Irishmen and Irishwomen”. The Proclamation stated: “The republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens . . . cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious to the differences carefully fostered by an alien government.”
But the Ireland envisioned by these leaders was not the Ireland created. The 1937 Constitution stated that “mothers shall not . . . neglect their duties in the home”; in 1932 women were barred from the workforce on marriage.
Although Countess Markievicz was made a cabinet minister in 1919, the next woman minister would not be appointed until 1979. Women did not share the equal opportunities promised by the Proclamation.
The Proclamation guaranteed religious liberty. However, the Catholic Church was given a special position under the 1937 Constitution, and a long history of violence between Catholics and Protestants continued until the end of the 1990s.
The State is still in the first century of its existence. Ireland is one of Europe’s more affluent nations. We have established a fair legal system and a strong presence within the European Union.
It has been a century of conflict, revolution, negotiation and restoration in order to evolve into the country we are today. The centenary celebrations mark an awareness of history and encourage understanding of our Irish past and our country today.
Lorraine Grimes, Birr Co. Offaly
1916 reminds us that you must always fight for what you believe in
One hundred years on, the 1916 Rising represents an admirable courage that the world still lacks. As a young person in Ireland I am only now beginning to see the great injustices of the world, and realising that something must be done. The events of 1916 serve as a reminder that you must always fight for what you believe in, because even if you lose you might inspire others to pick up the fight.
Although we didn’t achieve the utopian Republic fought for in 1916, the Rising inspired the people to strive for our independence. Even if you fail, if you fight for what is right your actions will live on and bring courage, and quite possibly success, later on.
Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and all the other signatories to the Proclamation, and Volunteers, who were executed as a result of the Rising did bring about the Irish Free State, just not directly. They understood they were fighting for a cause that was bigger than they were. Most importantly, they taught us that it is always better to try and fail than not to try at all.
This is a valuable lesson, one I think more people should learn. There are so many causes today that need people to fight for them. As an individual it is easy to think it’s pointless to fight these losing battles, but we must realise that these battles are bigger than just us. We must believe in our causes, because if fear of losing means that nobody fights, then we’ve all already lost.
Aoife Lannon (18), Ballyneety, Co Limerick
The centenary has meant a lot of extra schoolwork
The 1916 centenary has so far meant a lot of extra work for me in school.We have learned all about what happened and about the leaders of the rebellion.
The most important thing I learned was about the Proclamation and what it promised, that the Republic guarantees “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”, “Irishmen and Irishwomen”. It was really good the way they included women, because a lot of history is about men and what they wanted all the time.
I visited Kilmainham Gaol and saw where they tied James Connolly to a chair so they could kill him. I didn’t understand why they did that if he was so sick. That was really mean.
The ordinary people in Ireland did not support the Rising, and it was only when the English executed the leaders that the Irish people felt it was very unfair. I wonder if the English had not killed the leaders what would have happened.
I think the rebellion started Ireland’s work on making a better country, but it still needs work. A lot of people were flooded over this Christmas, and their houses were totally wrecked.
My mum works with children who can’t walk properly, and they have to wait to get equipment to help them. I don’t think that’s fair, as that’s not equal. Maybe we should use the anniversary of the 1916 rebellion to make these things better and change things.
Sarah McConnell (10)
They were brave, more than anyone else I know
I am 10 years old, I live in Gorey, Co Wexford, and I am very interested in what happened in Ireland during the 1916
Rising. For me it means the beginning of the Ireland that we know today, an Ireland that respects all its citizens equally and gives me my rights as an Irish citizen.
It means I will definitely vote when I am 18 and feel very happy that my voice in decisions that affect Ireland and how it is governed can be heard. It makes me very proud of the men, women and children who lost their lives for my freedom to live in a republic.
I also think that it is really important that we do not forget what they did for us and how they were not an official army, just ordinary people like me. They showed that they were brave, more than anyone else I know, and that they believed so much in the importance of freedom that they were willing to fight to the death for it.
My grandad showed me the medals that his great-aunt got for fighting with Cumann na mBan, and it made me feel very proud to see them but it made me feel sad, too, that she saw a lot of horrible things – though, luckily, did not die while fighting.
It is amazing to see how Ireland is now compared with back then. The day the Irish rugby team played the English team in Croke Park showed how far we have come, just like when Queen Elizabeth came over for her visit.
I would like to think that the men and women who fought in 1916 would be happy to see that we can live without the fear of the British in 2016 and that their sacrifice means that Ireland is a confident, independent and proud republic, one that has welcomed so many immigrants and made people who were not born here new citizens.
It is a small island, one that I am very proud to be from, and I want to always remember how we got here.
Daniel Stewart, Gorey, Co Wexford
My brother wants to be a historian now, and that’s what 1916 is to me
My little brother has had many obsessions in his 15 years of life. Sharks and Batman mostly. In learning about 1916 at school he found his new hero. Not James Connolly or Tom Clarke or Patrick Pearse but a “regular” soldier who would become more central to the fight for independence after 1916, after some time in a Welsh prison. Perhaps an ex-con is not the ideal role model for a child, but there ya go.
My brother’s birthday is August 22nd, the death date of none other than the big fella himself, Michael Collins, the aforementioned prisoner. My brother has a portrait of him hanging in his room. (This is apparently a family trait. My grandmother, too, had a framed picture of Mick hanging in her family home.)
He has such a passion for history now. He wants to be a historian, and that’s what 1916 is to me. It has given my little brother a focus in life, a teenager today still believing in the rebels of 100 years ago. And there’s something kinda magical about that.
Anisha-Cheyenne Rice (17), Tallaght, Dublin
I’m my past, I’m my present, and I’m Irish
Eighty-two years before my birth, and nearly 100 before today, part of me had already come to be. Amid the hoarse shouts and bloodied fumbling of hands I stirred. Dusted boots carried aching legs and soaring ideals across well-worn cobbles while steel heels on grey stones clinked out echoes I still hear.
I hear the breathing, shallow and in thirst, I hear a Proclamation read aloud to 1,000 footsteps of indifference. It’s in the background, never too loud to drown out my here and my now. But if I listen well, then I needn’t strain.
It’s the trundle of the Dart or coffee on my breath, the rain on the window and the cold in my face. It’s the sense of place; that bursting, smug feeling of true belonging. An identity.
I am Irish: that’s a sentence which tumbles off my rolling tongue freely, without question or thought. I’m an endlessly changing concoction and production of the Republic. I became an Irish man long before gloved hands pulled me forth into the Coombe’s maternity ward.
My identity, my humour, my notions: these all grew from the one stalk, planted in fertile earth by seven men.
I look back to those six violent days of my nation’s history that are inherently mine. I see meself, yerself, yer man and yer wan – we’re all in it, and in our own way we were all there.
I’m my past, I’m my present, I’m myself, and thanks to but a small few I’m Irish.
Shane Kenneally, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow
I want to play the flute, travel, become a writer. What about you?
On the Monday of the Easter Rising there were 400 British officers to 1,000 Irish rebels in Dublin. By the Friday there were 19,000 British officers to 1,000 Irish rebels. How the rebels kept fighting for so long is a miracle of courage and strength.
I believe that the seven signatories to the Proclamation were incredibly brave and that the Easter Rising was a necessary stand for Irish freedom.
Such is my opinion as an 11-year-old girl from Waterford. My name is Maggie Bambury, and I am in fifth class at my local primary school.
I don’t think that the Rising affects me directly in everyday life, except of course the fact that I live in the Republic of Ireland and not an Ireland ruled by Britain.
Although I believe the Rising was an extremely important and necessary turning point in our history, and completely recognise the rebels’ courage, it was, in truth, a failed rebellion. Although it put things in motion for the Irish Republic, it did not succeed, as the rebels were forced to surrender, and it was not for 33 years after the Rising that Ireland finally became a Republic.
In my opinion it is important this year to the past, to see what helped make us a Republic, but also look to the future, to see what the Irish Republic can become.
In my own future as an Irish person I want to to represent my county at the Munster Fleadh, playing the flute, and I want to travel the world. I want to become a writer and radio/TV presenter. What about you?
And the bigger question: where can we, the Republic of Ireland, go together? And what would Patrick Pearse and his fellow signatories think of what we choose? At least now we have the freedom to choose.
Maggie Bambury, Light of Christ National School, Dunmore East, Co Waterford