Nationalism and Catholicism ruled at 50th anniversary of Rising

The fervour in 1966 would be largely unrecognisable to young people today

Éamon de Valera: the then president attended the ceremonies in 1966 outside the GPO in Dublin. Photograph: Jimmy McCormack

Éamon de Valera: the then president attended the ceremonies in 1966 outside the GPO in Dublin. Photograph: Jimmy McCormack

 

Fifty years ago, Ireland marked the 1916 Rising with a mixture of nationalistic and Catholic fervour that would be incomprehensible today.

I was chosen to read the Proclamation to my fellow students in a ceremony in Derryquay National School in the foothills of the Slieve Mish Mountains on the Dingle Peninsula. It was a solemn occasion. Patrick Pearse was our hero, not merely a patriot but a Catholic patriot.

A copy of the Proclamation and a framed photograph of the signatories had been sent to every school in Ireland. Given the aspirations of the men and women of 1916 for social and economic progress, there was a certain irony in this. Rural national schools had no running water and many were poorly attended because the relentless tide of emigration had decimated communities.

Civilian casualties

Nationalism and Catholicism went hand in hand. Kerry’s churches were filled to overflowing on Easter Sunday when the purity of the sacrifice made by Pearse and his colleagues was hailed.

England was the enemy. The fact that it was providing work for thousands of our emigrants was conveniently forgotten.

Ireland had a purity of thought, mind and deed unequalled anywhere in the world. That was why we had sent our Catholic missionaries abroad to convert pagans.

The State’s new television service, RTÉ, featured coverage of the ceremonies outside the GPO in Dublin attended by the then president Éamon de Valera who was running for a second term against Fine Gael’s Tom O’Higgins. I can still recall the militaristic nature of the ceremony on the black-and-white screen.

The RTÉ drama, Insurrection, was watched with awe. Memories of Pearse standing in the burning and crumbling GPO live on.

The triumphalism associated with the ceremonies of a half-century ago undoubtedly contributed to the paramilitary violence which erupted in the North a few years later.

Unification

There was much talk about the restoration of the Irish language and the unification of the country. Ireland would be one, Catholic and free. And all thanks to Pearse and his colleagues.

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