Monday, November 25, 2013

As its centenary nears, the Easter Rising provokes debate

Tour leader under the Irish tricolor shows the spot where the 1916 martyrs were shot. 
Patrick Pearse, one of the 1916 martyrs
Only after a couple of days of walking past the post office in Dublin did it dawn on me that it was the post office  – the General Post Office, main headquarters of the Easter Rising in 1916. This was the Irish equivalent of the American colonies' revolt in 1775-76, complete with a proclamation that read: “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”

Inside the post office are a statue and a plaque. The legend reads: “Here on Easter Monday 1916 Patrick Pearse read the proclamation of the Irish republic. From this building he commanded the forces that asserted in arms Ireland’s right to freedom.”

Pearse was a poet, as were other leaders of the Rising. The British army, though preoccupied with fighting a world war, easily put down the rebellion, which did not initially arouse the popular support its leaders had hoped for.

At the Kilmainham Gaol, you can stand in the courtyard where firing squads shot Pearse and 15 other leaders of the Rising. It was their near-summary executions that made them martyrs and turned public opinion toward their cause.

William Butler Yeats 
You don’t have to look far in Dublin for further references to the Rising. At the National Library, two current exhibits both relate to it. One is about the Irish in World War I, the other about William Butler Yeats.

The Yeats exhibit is absorbing in many ways, with moving readings of his best poems, displays of early manuscripts, candid documentary films about his politics and his love life, and ample information about his life as a public man. As a senator, Yeats led the committee that designed the coinage for the Irish Free State in 1926. He also argued eloquently against a ban on divorce in the Free State’s constitution. One of his best known poems, Easter 1916, is about the Rising.

Debate over the Rising and its aftermath has never ended, but with its 100th anniversary near, the arguments will surely sharpen. Here is a salvo fired under the headline “How should we remember 1916?” in The Irish Times during my stay in Dublin. The writer is Paddy McAvoy of Holywood in County Down. His mention of Scotland refers to a referendum on independence scheduled for next September. An early poll shows 29 percent in favor of independence, 44 percent opposed, the rest undecided. At 7-1 against, current betting odds are even starker. “Casuistry,” by the way, means the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions.

“Stephen Collins’s thoughts on how 1916 should be commemorated should be welcomed. (‘Present-day politics has no place in 1916 remembrance,’ Opinion, November 9th). It is going to be a feat of high-wire casuistry for a nation looking back ruefully on a century of hardship and mismanagement – does anybody really know how many Irish people have been ‘disappeared’ by emigration in that period, for instance – to appear to be upbeat about an event that begs so many questions.

At  Kilmainham Gaol, a cross marks the spot of the execution of one of the 1916 Easter Rising martyrs. 
“The Big Bang of 1916 has fuelled division and discord on this island, and further afield, ever since. It is by no means established that anything like a majority of the Irish people wished to leave the union, in that particular way, and at that particular time. What is even more certain is that only a small fraction would have chosen the route hacked-out by Pearse, Connolly, and latterly Adams, et al. If “Better Together” is true for Scotland in 2013, it was true for Ireland in 1916.

Inside the Kilmainham Gaol, which has been used as a setting
for many television shows and movies.
“Violence has been a curse on our people and those who have been its godfathers need to be constantly apprised of the cloud they have brought down on all of us. There were civilised alternatives, whatever ‘republican’ propagandists say.

“Had the people been consulted about a precipitate lurch out of the union, it is unlikely that the leaders of the carnage would have got away with the thorny way they proposed.

“But no such consultation was offered. Rather than go through a hollow travesty in 2016 which puts those who oppose(d) violent methods, then and now, in the position of having to appear to be faking enthusiasm, (so as not to be accused of being West Britons, by the usual ‘guardians of the threshold’), for an event many wish hadn’t happened in the first place, I propose that a plebiscite be held on the role which guns, bombs, and intimidation, have played in this distressful country over the past 100 years.

“Violence, and its justification, have become a cancer in our society and those who have taken any act or part in it, and the many grisly forms it which has manifested itself, have made the rest of us pay a heavy price for their two-faced and delinquent recklessness. But for the Irish people to be asked to celebrate the bitter fruits sown by the gunman is surely too much, considering the other charades they are currently being forced to go along with?

“The Irish people should have been consulted about ‘armed struggle’ in 1916.

“Ask them now, in a belated bid to collectively turn a corner, and in an overdue attempt to clean out our stinking stables.”
With my bride Monique on the jail tour, highlight of a recent trip of Dublin.

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