After our expedition to TV land yesterday I made my way back into town.
As I was walking by College Green I noticed the large banner hung over the Bank of Ireland arches on College Green.
Now as anyone Irish (or who follows a bit of history) will know, this upcoming weekend is the 100 year anniversary of the 1916 Rising. It was a violent, uprising that was badly co-ordinated,and ruthlessly crushed by the British forces. Nor was it a particularly popular cause at the time. Independence from Britain was certainly a mainstream minority opinion – probably moreso outside Dublin. But Home Rule (somewhat similar to the devolved government that Wales has today ) was a more popular option for the folks at the time.
The fact that the leaders of the Rising were executed (for assisting the enemy – Germany with whom Britain was at war in 1916 – among other things) was what turned republicanism into mainstream opinion in Ireland, and the writing was on the wall for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
This whole topic is very interesting if you have even a passing interest in the military and social history of that time. It’s a very awkward thing to discuss however, as even to this day it can cause ructions. For starters there’s the unresolved (or fully resolved if you’re a unionist) situation in Norn Iron.
Then there’s the fact that since Irish independence the 2 main political parties are pretty indistinguishable on most policy issues – but they were formed from the remnants of the opposing sides of the Civil War in 1922.
Then there is the arguement that the Rising was not instigated for noble means – that it was a minority group, being funded by Germany, being used to divert attention from the big war on the continent.
Which contradicts the arguement that the 250,000 Irishmen who wete fighting with the British Army on the continent were doing so not for reasons of Empire, but rather for the glory of the catholic church, and were trying to rescue brave, little catholic Belgium from the clutches of the protestant hun.
What I am getting at is that there is no clear narrative. The whole thing is an utter mess which remains open to violently opposed interpretations.
And it’s not a subject that we were taught at school. Oh we had a class or two which outlined the factual events. But no analysis or interpretation regarding the motivation of the participants, or the context in which it all happened – remember that it occurred when there were still people alive who remembered the Great Famine in which a million of their country people died of starvation and another million emigrated. As a subject it is all too controversial.
I suspect that in the next 50 years, as the issue becomes less emotive, because of the passing of time, that cooler heads may prevail and we will have a clearer idea of what was going on. The fact that the civil war drove families and neighbours apart prevents the country from picking at the scab, so to speak. It’s only really been in the last 20 years that people involved in the risings and wars have been dying out. .
Which is what brings me to that ridiculous banner on College Green. It shows pictures of 4 figures of Irish Nationalism – Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Henry Grattan and John Redmond.
While each of these men were important figures of Irish nationalism, it remains a fact that three of them were dead decades before 1916, and in fact the only one of them that was actually alive in 1916 was John Redmond – a man vehemently opposed to the Risiing. The fact that he was opposed to the Rising is an acceptable position. His opposition to women’s suffrage, his urging of Irish folk to join the war in Belgium and his opposition to labour rights are more problematic.
This poster is merely one poster of a series of 11 banners located around the city, and the other ones do remember Pearse and Connolly and the other lads. But the location of this particular poster sticks in my craw somewhat. These four boyos all played their own part in journey to independence. But on the weekend where the country is remembering the specific events of 1916,this banner being placed in the most highly visible position, possible in the centre of town, strikes me as a cowardly decision made by some politician whoe doesn’t want to upset the horses.
Amusingly enough however, despite hanging from the arches of a massive building, some nutty graffitti artist managed to deface John Redmond’s face. The number 35,000 is scrawled over his mug – that’s the number of Irish soldiers killed in World War 1, fighting for Britain.
In an act of personal rebellion, I have just ignored the knock on my front door.
I peered through the peephole – a woman with a clipboard was outside. She looked like the TV license inspector.
The spirit of 1916 lives on. Not necessarily in my house however.