In a word . . . commemoration

 

Hello and welcome to 2016. Trust you are sitting comfortably. Be sure you are. This could be bumpy. No, I’m not referring to the remaining 27 Mondays, back-to-back, of this miserable month with its short days, long nights and penniless pockets.

The only consolation is that the “hunger” and “thirst” now consequent on last month’s extravagance may mean we will lose that extra poundage with little effort on our part through the impoverished longueurs of this dreary month.

Yes, there can even be a silver lining to January. A month I dread above all, even if it saw my late father, a sister, brother and a sister-in-law into this world – goats all (methodical, tough, stubborn, of unyielding ways).

No, 2016 is probably the most significant year yet in this uncomfortable decade of commemorations. It will challenge all of us due to two seminal events from 100 years ago.

One became so mythologised it formed the cornerstone of Irish Catholic identity for most of the 20th century. The other was simply airbrushed from our history because it fundamentally challenged that myth and its fictions, where the majority on the southern part of the island were concerned.

So many of the latter were forced abroad to earn a living, from where they created a green Shangri-La that had as much in common with the reality of Ireland as Cong, Co Mayo, did with the Inishfree of John Ford’s film The Quiet Man.

The two events I refer to of course were the Rising of Easter 1916 and the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1st, 1916, continuing to November of that year. One of the bloodiest battles in human history, it left very many Irish among the dead and wounded – though you wouldn’t know it through most of the 20th century.

In the Rising 450 people were killed, 254 civilians. More than 3,500 Irish soldiers were killed at the Somme, an estimated 2,000 of those from Northern Ireland and approximately 1,200 from what is now the South.

Altogether 200,000 Irishmen fought in the first World War, of which at least 35,000 were killed, though some put that at nearer to 49,000. It is said that every parish in Ireland suffered losses in that so-called Great War.

Commemoration originated in English at around the late 14th century. From the Latin commemorare, “to call to mind”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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