Friday, 25 March 2016

1916 centenary. Part One - Other Voices

James Connolly

On Thursday the boys and I had a sneak preview of the interactive Revolution in Galway, 1913-23 exhibition in the city museum. There was still a lot of final preparation going on, with ladders and tools and workers fixing things, so we only really got to see the proclamation video, which my children found impressive, not least cos their daddy was in it.

I was one of a number of Galwegians invited to read the proclamation for the video. These recordings were then spliced together to create a montage of voices and faces reading the words written by Padraig Pearse with input from James Connolly. The end result is a simple and beautiful testament to the power of the words spoken outside the GPO on that fateful Easter Monday 1916. What I enjoy about the montage videois that it reflects the diversity of people living in Galway (and Ireland) in the centenary year of the rising. Ireland is not (and never has been) only male, white and heterosexual and Galway museum is too be thanked for reclaiming the proclamation for all of us.

Sadly this wider vision of what Ireland is has not been reflected in other aspects of the centenary year commemorations. Lots of schools in Ireland have found interesting ways to involve children in their history - the rising enactment in Balbriggan, Dublin is a wonderful example - but sadly too many of these initiatives have been swallowed up by the official dictat coming down from department of education.

As part  of the centenary a group of people were invited in to visit every class in every school in the republic. Yet this group who had nothing to do with the Easter Rising, but had everything to do with the later civil war. The group I am talking about is the Irish Defence Forces, in particular the army. The purpose of the army visits was to present every school with a copy of the flag and give a talk about the flag. This may sound innocuous enough, but many parents found the army visits troubling.

The army only came into existence in February 1922, after the signing of the treaty that ended the war of Independence. The treaty was a hard sell, to say the least. It included the overturning of the First Dáil’s ratification of the 1916 proclamation of a united republic. Instead the new state was to exclude what we now call Northern Ireland; was to recognise the sovereignty of the King; and allow military bases in the Irish Free State. The IRA, who had fought the War of Independence, split into Pro and Anti-Treaty sides but there remained a degree of flexibility and fluidity on and between both sides. With the signing of the treaty the IRA was to be integrated into the new state’s army. However, Michael Collins refused to let anti-treaty IRA members join.

It is commonly agreed by all political and media movers and shakers in contemporary Ireland that the civil war that resulted from this decision (to exclude Anti-treaty IRA members from the army) took place so long ago that it no longer matters. In fact the decision Michael Collins made has continuing resonance today. In effect dissenters were to be excluded from participation in the new state. That exclusion allowed no room for negotiation or doubt or difficult questions. Backed by weaponry pouring in from the United Kingdom, the new Irish state imposed this one-narrative-only vision of Ireland with a savagery that surpassed that of the British army. 

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