Rising to the occasion

Remembering 1916

The Taoiseach’s launch in Collins Barracks of the commemoration programme for the Rising has set in train a crowded, ambitious year-long schedule to mark both the events that were so central to the founding of this State and a national reflection on what we have been and can be as a nation. To mark our success 100 years on, through wars and hard times, as a vibrant, independent State. It is both commemoration, in the honouring without hierarchy of victimhood of all the dead of the Rising, and celebration, of the spirit and ideals of those who took part, and of the Proclamation’s vitality today.

The emphasis is rightly on inclusivity in a way 1966 never was.We are "no longer tied to a single narrative of our history," as Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys has argued in these pages. We all share in the legacy of 1916. No one party or group can claim ownership of, or any greater stake in, the mantle of our history, whether or not they took part in the events themselves.

Prof Ronan Fanning spoke recently of the tone to be set: the fact "that the birth certificate of this State, in common with that of so many other states, is stained with blood must not mean that 2016 cannot be an occasion for shameless celebration". "Shameless" was a strange word to use, with its dictionary associations to synonyms such as "barefaced", "brazen", or "flagrant", and suggesting the need to dispense with moral qualms about violence. That meaning generated a somewhat horrified reaction to his comments.

But he was making a more subtle argument about what he called the “recognition of historical reality”, that important historical turning points are rarely unblemished by violence, that, as Kant put it “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” Retrospective moral judgment may be the historical equivalent of the hurler on the ditch.

The embrace of the complexity of multiple national narratives and traditions, and the determination of organisers to engage with the widest possible sections of the population, young and old, should make the commemorations a unifying experience which can do much to help rebuild a battered sense of national pride.

The programme opens with the centenary of Padraig Pearse's speech in August 1915 at the grave of O'Donovan Rossa and closes a year later by marking the hanging of Roger Casement in Pentonville Prison. It encompasses parades, important capital, educational and cultural projects, plays and exhibitions, debates and historical conferences, local and national events, the reimagining of the Proclamation by children, and the projection of our history in numerous foreign capitals. An emphasis on women and their role is important and welcome.

Exhaustive and probably exhausting, but a worthy programme.