Decade of centenaries must respect all factions

OPINION: The years 1912-1922 were filled with complex and important events

OPINION:The years 1912-1922 were filled with complex and important events. As we mark these moments, we must be inclusive of Ireland's diverse sons and daughters

There has been some debate about the appropriateness of the Government’s approach to the “Decade of Centenaries”. Those against suggest that by remembering so many events the importance of the Easter Rising may be diminished in some way. The celebrations and commemorations will culminate in early 2022 by remembering the achievement of independence.

Undoubtedly, the centenary of Easter 1916 will be celebrated as a highlight.

Why is it important to commemorate so much else in this period of our history? The recent murder in Co Armagh of prison officer David Black and the magnificent call for no retaliation by his widow, Yvonne, is a most compelling reason why these commemorations and celebrations must not alienate and must be inclusive.


The attempted murder of a PSNI officer outside MLA Naomi Long’s constituency office is another. The exasperation of Pol Ó Muirí (Opinion Analysis, December 13th) that loyalists still turn to violence because they don’t get their own way is another. Billy Hutchinson’s exasperation on Morning Ireland that he now feels like a second-class citizen is yet another.

Hutchinson enunciated his position that Northern Ireland is a region within the UK and that he felt part of 64 million citizens and not just a community of 900,000. He pleaded for the Peace Process to be reinvigorated and declared violence had no place in the pluralist, multicultured society he wished for.

The peace in Northern Ireland is fragile. The commemorations and celebrations in the decade of centenaries will not make the peace there but, if presented in a partisan manner, they could break the peace. The Republic must do all it can to support the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. The decade of centenaries gives us an unparalleled opportunity to show that we are a mature, pluralist and multicultured society.

Juxtaposed graves

The decade 1912-1922 is a complex period in our history. Perhaps nowhere else is that complexity so ably demonstrated as in Glasnevin Cemetery. Let’s look at two examples. Here you can see the Irish Volunteer headstone of Edward Ennis who died on April 27th, 1916, in Fairview of gunshot wounds aged 20. Beside him in the next grave is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone of Patrick Dunn who served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He died from wounds received in France at Cork Street Hospital aged 19 on June 30th, 1916. Both these graves are juxtaposed to the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary plots.

Or you could visit the Neilan family grave where brothers Gerald and Arthur are buried. Both went to Clongowes Wood College. On the morning of April 24th, 1916, the two brothers awoke and dressed in their respective military tunics. That day they would both hold rifles and fire upon the enemy.

They would both watch as the city of Dublin became a battleground. One would die in the uniform of the king of England while the other would hold out with the rebels until surrender came six days later.

In 1899, Gerald had joined the Sherwood Foresters and fought with distinction in the Boer War. In 1908, he joined the Birmingham City Police but rejoined the British army in 1914 with the Northumberland Fusiliers. In February 1916, he was transferred to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, stationed in the Royal Barracks

On April 24th, 1916, his 10th Battalion was ordered to relieve Dublin Castle. As they made their way up the quays they came under heavy fire from the Mendacity Institute, and Gerald was killed by a sniper’s bullet to the head. He was buried in the family grave in Glasnevin.

Arthur Neilan joined the Volunteers when he turned 18. He was 21 when the Rising broke out and part of the Four Courts Garrison under Ned Daly. He was transported to Knutsford Detention Barracks on May 1st, 1916. He was released under a general amnesty in 1917 and returned to his mother’s address at 4 Mount Harold Terrace, Leinster Road, Dublin.

Arthur served with the 4th Battalion Dublin brigade in the War of Independence and remained with the army during the Irish Civil War. He died on November 24th, 1944, in the military hospital St Bricin’s and his home address was given as Leinster Road. He was buried in the same grave in Glasnevin as Gerald.

It is a complex time and perhaps the deeper we delve the more complex it becomes but we need to learn more about this decade and establish the facts. We have nothing to fear from the truth of 100 years ago. One hundred and eighty years ago, in the midst of vitriolic and embittered debates for Catholic Emancipation, Daniel O’Connell helped establish Goldenbridge Cemetery and then Prospect Cemetery, now known as Glasnevin Cemetery.

Prime minister Robert Peel and King George IV showed no grace and only grudgingly accepted emancipation.

All religions

O’Connell rose above them and decreed that these cemeteries should be for people of all religions and none, because he wished to be buried with his “Protestant and Dissenter brethren just as he lived with them”. O’Connell displayed remarkable inclusivity. As a nation we must show the same inclusivity precisely because we are now just as we were a century ago – a most diverse people.

In preparing for the Easter Rising centenary we must deal with the elephant in the room. Why did so few participate in the Rising while so many fought in the first World War? And why did those who survived the trenches either stay away or return to Ireland by the back door, afraid to speak of what they had done? Answering these questions will enable us to better understand this important period.

Hopefully we will then not be afraid of remembering all the sons and daughters of this island who died in this period and be prepared to commemorate them all as Irish.

John Green is chairman of Glasnevin Trust, including Glasnevin Cemetery