Commemorating 1916: We need to rekindle a spirit of idealism

Film-maker Danny Boyle should be invited to mount a spectacular event in Croke Park at Easter 2016


Not so long ago a man drove out to a Dublin cemetery and took his own life in a manner so awful that it is best left undescribed. Only the method, not the outcome, distinguishes that unfortunate person from the thousands of Cathleen ní Houlihan’s children who have ended their own lives since the recession began. In that period as many citizens of the Republic have died from suicide as were killed in Northern Ireland during the 30 years of the Troubles.

Yet, despite the localised recovery, the bankers and the mortgage providers (because of their own ill-advised lending policies) are still hounding people with phone calls, sometimes repeatedly on the same day.

The aim of the 1916 commemorations should be to rekindle the spirit of idealism that motivated the men and women of 1916 who sought the coming of a better day than that which dawned for those driven to suicide.

The 1916 commemoration should not be a time for soft words or a gazing backwards through a green-tinged prism at an idealised past. There is need for an unsentimental assessment of the current state of instability and near ungovernability that has created anger on the streets and almost 30 Independents in the Dáil. Disaffection with the former political elite can be traced with near actuarial accuracy to the distance we have either fallen, or were encouraged to travel, from the 1916 goal of creating a society that cherishes all the children of the nation equally.

I would suggest that 1916 might be commemorated (and celebrated) with a view to achieving that ambition.

The most interesting public display mounted in our neighbouring isle since the second World War was Danny Boyle’s panoramic re-creation of England’s past for the opening of the last Olympics. Boyle’s parents were Galway Catholics, and I have no doubt that, if invited to do so, he has it within him to mount a similar, or better, spectacular for Croke Park in Easter 2016.

I would invite groups such as Macnas and artists such as Robert Ballagh, Brendan Gleeson, Mary Black , Christy Moore and many others to spearhead a programme of 1916-themed street theatre, concerts, debates, lectures and sporting events throughout the country.


Encouraging creativity

Creativity should be encouraged. If 1812 could inspire Tchaikovsky’s great overture with canons, what might a competition for a 1916 symphony produce?


I would involve the diaspora in the celebrations, not to mulct it for tourist revenue, as was done during The Gathering, but to have 1916 remembered and honoured wherever green is worn.

After the Celtic Tiger, we now have the Toothless Tiger. We should forget about the current banking inquiry and go again to the country with a referendum to amend the Constitution to allow Dáil committees to discover for the public just who cost us our serenity in the octave of 1916. Just who allowed us to become the doormat of Europe? Just who was responsible for the reckless trading and fiduciary irresponsibility that led to the rise in our suicide rates?

Finally I would admit that, in the Guantánamo sense, Cathleen Ní Houlihan has been waterboarded. We did not need million-pound consultants to tell us that leaks can occur in clay pipes that date from Queen Victoria’s times. I would disband our latest quango and restore responsibility for water services to the county manager system (under the Department of the Environment).

Money could be saved by leaving our unimpressive Central Bank staff in their present location and not going ahead with a €160 million project to refurbish Anglo’s old headquarters for them. To say nothing of revising a pay policy which has allowed 1,200 staff at AIB – “our” bank – to secure six-figure pay packages.

Some have suggested Cathleen ni Houlihan brought the crash upon herself through excessive partying. There is but a veneer of truth to this. The root cause was the bad leadership at many levels that allowed corrupt accountants, developers and greedy bankers to run riot.

Contrast our austerity-besmirched era with the late 1950s when the economy was saved from Éamon de Valera and disaster by a plan initiated by the secretary of the Department of Finance, TK Whitaker. De Valera’s successor, Seán Lemass, did the rest and Cathleen Ní Houlihan entered a modest boom.

But this generation entered the Celtic Tiger period with a taoiseach and former finance minister telling us he did not possess a bank account.*

Fianna Fáil and the church had been in power for too long, and these events took place against a national morale-sapping spate of decades of lawyers’ bonanzas in the form of expensive inquiries and tribunals into the doings of both Christ and Caesar.

The tribunal era made the rich richer, the poor poorer, eroded religious faith, trust in politicians, and that sense of shared national identity essential to a nation’s survival.

Only a handful went to jail while the faceless Vatican manipulators and the robber baron capitalists who had benefited from corruption emerged to carry on in validation of Shaw’s description of a government inquiry being like a man going to the lavatory: “It sits. For a long time nothing is heard. Then there is a loud report and the matter is dropped.”

The apportioning of culpability for Celtic Tiger crimes should not be dropped, and the memory of 1916 should be remembered on a spirit of decent pride and respect for our national identity.

Tim Pat Coogan is former editor of the Irish Press and author of many books about Irish history including Ireland Since The Rising and Ireland in the Twentieth Century Tomorrow: Vincent Woods

* This article was edited on February 26th, 2015

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