Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter 2007

We commonly run through the mythology of the 1916 Easter Rising in our minds: the proclamation of the Republic and the siege of the GPO, the “sanctifying” of the cause of Irish independence in blood, the executions of the leaders, who had been imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, Connolly shot while sitting on a chair due to the grievous injuries he had incurred in the fighting. It has been turned into poems, songs, etc. It has become a shorthand of sorts, for whatever you want it to mean. In the last couple decades that has often been something along the lines of: Pearse was a fanatic with a death-wish and a misguided Romantic notion about self-sacrifice, or was really just a “terrorist” who has provided cover to a whole new generation of terrorists. Now that the war in the North is over, it has suddenly become okay again to celebrate Pearse and the other men and women of 1916. Last year’s gargantuan government commemoration in Dublin, the biggest since the 50th anniversary in 1966, seems to have made it acceptable. Certainly this is a good thing. But think of the smaller marches and gatherings which have always taken place, year after year, which didn’t always have “official” sanction. And of those who wore an Easter lily when to do so immediately identified you as sympathetic to the cause of a united Ireland, when it wasn’t always the PC thing to do. And how much easier it is this year, now that Ian Paisley has sat smiling next to a lily-clad Gerry Adams.

I think of those Sundays in Eyre Square, Galway, at the foot of the statue of Liam Mellowes. (For it was in Co. Galway that Mellowes led the only action of the Rising that occurred outside of Dublin.) A lone piper and someone reading the Proclamation. Somewhere around a hundred people or so – not bad for Galway – to show their regard and to hear a B-list Sinn Féin speaker. Then the march to Bohermore Cemetery, where the obligatory plain-clothes Branchman sat in a compact car, trying to observe who was in attendance. The action of memory has him absentmindedly reading a newspaper, but I’m sure that wasn’t really the case.

Undoubtedly, with the recent events in the North we are just a little bit closer to the aim of a united Ireland, but perhaps as far as ever from the ideals of Proclamation of the Republic. The Rising was led by Pearse, the Gaelicist, and Connolly, the socialist. Though it certainly lives, the Irish language still struggles in competition with English. The gap between rich and poor grows seemingly wider, as Ireland, in emerging from its century-and-a-half-long economic slump, has morphed itself into the latest bastion of the nouveau-riche.

As Roland Barthes, the post-structuralist cultural critic, has pointed out in his Myth Today, “Myth is speech stolen and restored. Only, speech which is restored is no longer quite that which was stolen: when it was brought back it was not put exactly in its place.” It wouldn’t be too difficult to identify distortions in the 1916 myth, at the agency of both reactionaries and revolutionaries. But on Easter 1916, a real Pádraig Pearse led a real uprising against a real colonial government, which sailed a real gunboat up the River Liffey, and fired real shells at the centre of Dublin. Real men and women took to the streets and battled real British soldiers. Real bullets fired by those same real British soldiers executed Pearse, Thomas J. Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Ned Daly, Willie Pearse, Michael O’Hanrahan, John MacBride, Éamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Cornelius Colbert, Seán Heuston, Seán Mac Diarmada, James Connolly, Thomas Kent, and there was a real rope for Roger Casement. Some were real poets.

I admit to being partial to the symbolism of 1916. It appeals to my personal sense of aesthetics. In that way perhaps I am even perpetuating its mythic qualities (and probably this is unavoidable, for an action in history which has been transformed into an image). But underneath the layers of distortions it might still be possible to arrive at some sort of truth about the Rising and what it meant. One might start by rereading the Easter Proclamation. And then also imagining what it could mean for the Ireland of today. The guns have gone. This is a good thing, and one can only hope that Sinn Féin politicians are correct in their analysis that a united Ireland can now be achieved without violence. The question is what kind of Ireland will it be. The Proclamation remains, and cannot be erased. It’s not just paper, but a seed, a representation of a goal and a statement of intent which remains to be fulfilled.


Liammac said...

What an informative post , Mike. Happy Easter , my friend.

Alan Jude Moore. said...

Good points Mike. Whatever happens from here on in, its already on the way to United Ireland Inc. It pays business in the North to use the Irish card at the moment, it sells better than the Ulster card - even in Britain. The free market doesn't pay much attention to borders - or civic society for that matter - and if it turns out that a united Ireland comes about it seems its going to be one not based on any idea of a republic (in the real sense of the word) but one based on a unified market place. Little room for sentiment (of either nationalists or unionists) in the greater scheme of things. The market doesn't care if their customers call themselves Irish or British; we all buy the same stuff anyway! The breakdown of identifiable social groups and classes to be replaced by market sectors is what's going on in Britain and Ireland; people identify closest with others who buy the same things as them. To the free market, the north of Ireland is simply a demographic as yet not fully tapped.
There is something very cynical about the government suddenly adopting the 1916 Rising as their own little cause when for years it was at worst ignored and at best relayed as some sort of Irish fairytale. Perhaps we haven't come so far from the crowds who jeered the rebels in Dublin as they were carted off to prison! (As you know, the Rising had aroused very little popular support).
Its said that the Irish force consisted of less than 2,000 combatants. If the amount of people in Ireland now who claim to have a connection with the Rising were to be believed, there'd probably have been 200,000. Its quite symbolic that fact has little impact on peoples choices nowadays; if they can spin the IRA and the DUP, well....
Our politics since the inception of the first Dail have been a litany of betrayal, falsehoods and pariochialism, for the most part devoid of any real vision for the country. FF were always interested in power and not government. It turns out that this is what people wanted; an underdeveloped country, a deeply held peasant mentality, an obsession with land (and owning it) and a greedy native merchant class who were only too happy to step up as the new petite bourgeoisie. The opposition seems to have been floundering about for 80 odd years trying to convince each other of what they stand for!
As we move further towards a politics that is seen as being no longer political in its theory but based solely on economics, perhaps we will at last, almost 100 years into independence, see a reaction, the emergence of a real politics in the country based on the natural divisions created by free market economics, based on acknowledging and addressing these, based on creating a society and not simply an economy; better late than never. Its only then that we can start to talk about Republics.