Croppies' Acre is dedicated by Taoiseach as a 1798 memorial

 

The Croppies who died during the 1798 Rising in Dublin were remembered yesterday in a ceremony for the official opening of the Croppies' Acre Memorial Garden alongside the Liffey at Collins Barracks.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, performed the opening of the garden, where it is believed hundreds of Croppies are buried. Mr Ahern said the 1790s was an extraordinary decade in Irish history, when the opportunity presented itself "to transcend the age-old sectarian, ethnic and political divisions of the island".

"The United Irish movement had, as its central aim, the demolition of a political system rooted in sectarian privilege, and its replacement with a secular democratic politics, founded on universal ideas of equality and justice," he said.

Their project of creating a secular republic, recasting political participation on inclusive lines, was deliberately blocked in 1798, he said, "using the weapons of sectarianism, military terror and the suppression of the Irish Parliament".

With the blockage of the United Irish project, Irish politics split in two fragments, nationalism and unionism, which still dominated the political landscape two centuries later.

Work was carried out to a design by Ms Elizabeth Morgan of the Office of Public Works. Its centrepiece is a south-facing and a north-facing wall, each containing 20 panels carved, it is said, " with lettering containing sentiments appropriate to the period and set out to create an area of meditation, reflection and peace".

The leader of the United Irishmen, Wolfe Tone, also remembered, died in that year in Collins Barracks.

During the ceremony Mr Brian Keenan read from Robert Emmet's poem 1798, and Seamus Heaney's Croppies' Lament was sung by pupils from St Gabriel's National School in nearby Cowper Street.

The ceremony was attended by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ms de Valera, the Minister of State at the OPW, Mr Martin Cullen, and the Minister of State, Mr Seamus Brennan, chairman of the commemorative committee.

The site was described as the single most important burial site of the United Irishmen, with well over 100 known burials. The term Croppies originated in the 1790s as a derogatory word for men who cut their hair short as a democratic symbol of their rejection of aristocratic wigs.

Mr Ahern said that, while the past could not be restored, memory could. "We need a process of commemoration and retrieving of memories which have been deliberately suppressed: 1798 cannot be claimed by any single tradition in Ireland. The Catholic nationalist version which dominated the centenary, the 1938 and the 1948 commemorations, created the 1798 which people think they know.

"By getting behind these commemorations, we reopen 1798 as an event in the history of Presbyterians as much as in the history of the Catholics. By elevating politics out of the sectarian rut in which it has been largely confined since 1798 the dead weight of the continuous past can be lifted and political buoyancy restored."