RDS gathering brings 3,500 relatives of 1916 veterans together

President Higgins thanks them for bringing about a ‘free and independent’ Ireland

3,500 relatives of 1916 veterans came from across the world for a gathering in the RDS to commemorate the Easter Rising. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

President Michael D Higgins has spoken of his pride at being able to address the largest ever gathering of relatives of those who were involved in the Easter Rising.

President Higgins spoke to some 3,500 people, many of whom came from overseas, for the State event in the RDS on Saturday evening.

The crowd clapped and cheered when President Higgins said their relatives had helped to bring about a “free and independent Ireland”.

He said those in attendance had grown up with stories of their ancestors. He referred to the “layers of grief and loss and the final farewells that had to be borne and cast long shadows across families for so many years”.

The president said the presence of so many relatives humanised those who had been involved in the Rising.

They were not “abstract or mythical figures” he suggested but city clerks and shopkeepers, rural farmers and labourers, Catholics and Protestant, whose voice made the call for a new and re-imagined Ireland. ”

He paid tribute to the families of lesser known volunteers who had gathered in Ireland for the Rising centenary including Lily Kempson, James Maguire, Daniel Brophy, Margaret Quinn and Walter Bell.

They did not have streets or train stations named after them, but they too played their part, the President said.

More than 35 members of the Bell family from the United States, Canada, Germany, Wales, England and Ireland attended the event as did 25 members of the MacBride family who are relatives of Major John MacBride who was one of 16 men who were executed during the Rising.

Among the direct descendents of the Signatories who came to the event was Shay Connolly Heron, the great grandson of James Connolly and his children Fionn Connolly Heron and Iona Connolly Heron who are his great-great grandchildren. They arrived from San Francisco on Saturday morning.

President Higgins spoke of the “great debt of gratitude we owe to all of those who bravely risked their lives a hundred years ago so that future generations of Ireland could grow up as citizens of a free and independent State.

“Those sacrifices by your forbears are, for all Irish citizens, are a source of inspiration and patriotic pride, but they are for you, in addition, personal stories of family experience, choices made that had meaning and consequences that have a special meaning for your family.”

President Higgins pointed out that though the 1916 Rising is synonymous with republicanism now, it was not at the time among the ranks of the volunteers. Many had joined up, he said to “counter the unionist threat to home rule which was to secure their recent and invaluable gains in security of land tenure.”

Nathaniel Noel Filgate, one of the many relatives of executed leader Comdt Michael Mallin, in attendance was emotional considering how the Mallin family had been treated after his executions.

“I feel elevated. For once the Irish nation seems to be talking about Michael Mallin. He had been pushed into the background quite a lot,” he said. “I remember as a young man going to church and the booklets described James Connolly as a socialist and a communist.”

President Higgins received a standing ovation for his speech. It was followed by Macalla 1916 conference performed by the Comhlatas National Folk Orchestra with music composed by Michael Rooney.