Ireland should accord a pre-eminent position to 1916 Easter Rising commemorations, says historian

Improved Anglo Irish relations should not lead to ‘amnesia about the past’

Ireland's improved relationship with the United Kingdom should not prohibit the state from according a pre-eminent position to the commemoration of the Easter Rising in two years time, a leading Irish historian has declared.

Historian Dr Brian P Murphy acknowledged Ireland's relationship with the United Kingdom had enjoyed positive advances in recent years thanks to the state visits to Ireland by the Queen Elizabeth II and to the UK by President Michael D Higgins.

These visits, along with earlier courtesy visits to the Queen by Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, have combined to create a new relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that is based on genuine respect, said Dr Murphy.

“Moreover the image of the Queen bowing her head at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin indicated a genuine wish for reconciliation as did her words that ‘it would have been better if some actions in the past had been done differently or maybe not at all’.


"These developments provide a clear indication that a final refining and resolving of Ireland's relationship with England may well be resolve by peaceful means if the political will is there," said Dr Murphy as he gave an annual general Liam Lynch oration at Kilcrumper near Fermoy in Co Cork.

But Dr Murphy, who was introduced by Commemoration chairman Cllr Frank O'Flynn, said that these positive advances in the relationship between the two countries should not prevent one from narrating the story of Ireland's struggle for independence in "a less than authentic manner".

President Higgins had rightly warned against “an amnesia about the past” in Anglo-Irish relations and that was particularly true at present as plans to commemorate Easter 1916 compete with plans to commemorate World War I and passing of the Home Rule Act in September 1914.

Dr Murphy said he believed the views of Roger Casement, a member of the protestant tradition, writing to his cousins from his prison cell in 1916 provided guidance on "striking the correct balance between commemorating World War I and the Easter Rising".

"Casement had written that he 'cast no stone at the millions of brave dead men throughout Europe - God rest their souls in peace's - but the cause, it is alone that justifies the end and the cause of all the great combatants is essentially selfish and greedy', said Dr Murphy

“There is much to reflect upon here - on the one hand Casement believed it was right to pay respect to the millions of brave dead men throughout Europe but on the other hand, he condemned the motives of the great powers who had sent their citizens to be slaughtered.

“Above all, he commended the Easter Rising as the only episode of this war that should survive in history - it is right therefore in this period of centenaries that, for Irish people, the Easter Rising should hold the most prominent place,” he said.

The author of "The Origins and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland", Dr Murphy, said that some recent historical studies, especially some from Trinity College Dublin, had attempted to characterise the ideals of 1916, which inspired people like Liam Lynch as sectarian.

These studies, emphasizing the social origins of the volunteers had "reduced their aspirations to that associated with the ceremonial rituals of the Wren Boys, " said Dr Murphy, adding a detailed British intelligence dossier on Lynch and his comrades never once described them as "sectarian killers".

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times