Miriam Lord: 1916 celebrations a masterpiece of solemn dignity

However next year’s centenary is likely to be the bunfight to end all bunfights

 President Micheal D Higgins lays a wreath outside the GPO. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

President Micheal D Higgins lays a wreath outside the GPO. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

When the big centenary comes around, we will solemnly think of days gone by and those stirring moments at the GPO which so touched the native heart.

The sound of soldiers on the march. Patriotic music and company banners. Military theatre. A prayer from the chaplin.

That sense of pride and dignity and belief.

The ideal of service.

There was a thought-provoking simplicity about it all.

And we will look back and ask ourselves: was it really only 12 months ago?

Just after midday yesterday the clock began counting down to The Big One.

With the 99th anniversary of the Easter Rising out of the way, it’ll be wall to wall 1916 from now until next April.

As the military units disappeared around the corner and the music from the marching bands faded on the air, there was already a sense of nostalgia outside the GPO.

The general view among spectators around O’Connell Street – one which the Government would vigorously reject – is that 2016 will be the bunfight to end all bunfights.

The State ceremony has served us well over the years. It is respectful, moving, dignified and, above all, short. There are politicians present, but no speeches.

The occasion always manages to present just the right mix of pomp and patriotism.

Care is taken to honour the dead and their sacrifices, and no party claims them.

There was a prayer of remembrance from defence forces chaplain Mgr Eoin Thynne after the national flag was lowered at the start of the ceremony.

“Look kindly on all those who gave their lives so that the dream of self-determination could be a reality,” he read. “May we honour, without hierarchy of victimhood, the women and children and all the dead of the Rising . . . As we recall the past, we have the opportunity to remember it differently, with more generosity and forgiveness.”

Tourists

Among the locals, the age profile tended towards the older end of the scale.

It was nice to see so many grandparents and grandchildren at the barriers. Inside them were the politicians and dignitaries, and next to them, in a large area directly opposite the GPO, were the descendants of men and women who took part in the Rising.

Old medals were proudly worn on young chests.

After the prayer, piper Pte Vincent Lee played a lament.

“Wrap the green flag round me, boys

To die ’twere far more sweet

With Erin’s noble emblem, boys

To be my winding sheet . . .”

That poor flag is going to be threadbare by next year.

Out stepped Capt Kate Hanrahan, from Newport in Co Mayo. She held out the proclamation and, in a firm voice, read it aloud to the nation.

At the invitation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, President Michael D Higgins stepped forward and placed a wreath in front of the GPO’s fluted columns.

There was to be a minute’s silence. In these days of regular city centre protests, would it be possible? But the crowd remained quiet and respectful.

The unmistakable opening notes of The Last Post broke the silence. They swelled and hung in the atmosphere and people – as they always do – found themselves blinking back tears.

Then it was time to hoist the national flag to full mast. The drums rolled and all eyes, right along the line of spectators, focused above on that fluttering piece of cloth.

Suddenly the tempo changed. The band played Reveille and then went straight into a spirited rendition of the national anthem.

We all stood up straight.

Then four jets flew fast and low in diamond formation right down the middle of the street.

Hearts soared with them.

Ceremonies like this, when done properly, can do that to a person.

On the political front, there was all-party representation at the event. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin attended with parliamentary party colleagues.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams wasn’t present. He was attending a 1916 commemoration in Roslea in Fermanagh with Michelle Gildernew, outgoing MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and the Sinn Féin candidate in the May 7th Westminster election.

Mustered

Following the State ceremony, she had an early afternoon gig at the Garden of Remembrance, where Sinn Féin supporters mustered for their commemoration.

They marched down to the GPO behind a large battalion of pretend soldiers who are appearing in the party’s €15 a ticket 1916 Rising show in Dublin’s Ambassador cinema.

After a rally, where McDonald addressed a large crowd from a platform in front of the portico, the parade went on to Moore Street for more speeches, an historical enactment and music from the Young Wolfe Tones and Derek Warfield.

By 2016, Ireland should be a world leader in the sport of competitive commemorating.

Somebody better get on the phone quick to singing legend Ding-Dong Denny O’Reilly.

He has the perfect theme tune for the “commemororgy” to come.

“The Craic We Had the Day we Died for Ireland.”