I am not against the celebration of the Rising, as it certainly was an important event in our history. I am, however, against how the Rising is being celebrated. It, ultimately, was a small event, involving no more than 1,500 people. It did not change the living conditions of Irish people, and it did not move Ireland towards independence, the first being a key part of a rebellion.
Where is my TV drama about the land war, where Irish people finally won the right to the land they were farming on? Where were the countrywide celebrations during the lockout, when Irish workers stood up against their exploitation and demanded equality?
The focus on the Rising could be because it cemented the power of the upper middle class in a free Ireland. It marked the turning point of an Irish nationalism that, unlike home rule, made republican Ireland a Catholic state with Catholic values.
Those that may have supported home rule and been Protestant were left a minority. Women, who were marked as equal citizens under the proclamation, still could not have equal rights to their children until 1964. Marital rape was not defined as a crime until 1990.
Even to the present day, the state ignores survivors of symphysiotomy, a practice that was preferred in Ireland to a Caesarean section due to religious ideology and involved girls as young as 14 having their pelvis severed. The UN found this practice to be torture: cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Patients were operated on without their consent. The state still refuses to recognise these women, who live with physically and mental complications to this day. The records are, against the order of an EU court, due to be shredded this week.
As with any chapter in history, when reflecting and celebrating it from a modern perspective, it is important to remember that it is written from the winners’ perspective, and this perspective is not always true to life. The Easter Rising centenary is being very publicly celebrated as the turning point for Irish independence. The Easter Rising was not, in fact the turning point for Irish Independence, and is something that we, as a nation, need to examine closely instead of romanticise. The Rising certainly changed the course of history for our country, but not in a positive way.
A key aspect of any revolution (and the Rising was a single, wasteful and bloody moment in our struggle for independence) is the social revolution that comes with it. The Rising was used rather maliciously to change public opinion, at a huge cost, and not to change the structure of society. The Irish Republican Army was created from this failed Rising.
Irish Independence was won after the War of Independence, and became law when the Anglo Irish Treaty was signed. The War of Independence was the key event that pushed Britain to release Ireland. The guerrilla warfare tactics used by the IRA in the war of independence involved content by the Irish as a whole to support these tactics. IRA gunmen were housed and fed by the common people, they were supported by their communities, and in that way the Irish people as a majority gave consent for what was unfolding.
The Anglo-Irish treaty was a surrender, not a treaty. How could Irish solicitors expect to compete at a negotiation table with Lloyd George, the man who had just emerged the victor of World War I and had just negotiated, in the international theatre, the Versailles Treaty, ending a war with the most powerful countries of the time?
The Irish, in comparison, were split in two by divided loyalties to Eamon de Valera (who declined to attend, yet gave those that did signature power). If Ireland had not signed the treaty, Lloyd George would have invaded Ireland (with a highly trained, combat experienced army) by twelve o’clock the next day. The IRA had enough ammunition to last for two more weeks at best. There was no decision to be made.
The social issues faced by Ireland in the 20th century, inflicted on our most vulnerable, are what we should be reflecting on, not mourning an imagined “revolution” of “poets and scholars”. These issues were directly as a result of the power change in Ireland after the Rising.
It is also important to remember that the Rising was the beginning of a new era of Irish violence, an era that is still alive today with the continuity IRA and that bred a whole era a terrorism. This is where romanticising what happened is dangerous, not because it might spark a whole new era of the IRA (I think the likelihood of this is quite slim) but because it might lead us to forget the past that is unpleasant to remember. This part of the past is as much ours as the glorious and it is our duty to remember it.
The Rising was not a revolution. A revolution is for the people and of the people, and the Rising was a conspiracy. The proclamation of independence was entirely created by the seven signatories. It was never discussed by the IRB, the volunteers or the citizens’ army and most knew nothing about it until it was read out.
While it certainly was a progressive doctrine for its time, it was actually much less so than the IRB Proclamation of 1867 which promised a republic with “absolute liberty of conscience and the complete separation of separation of church and state”. This is a direct contrast to the strong catholic identity of 1916 republicans, an identity that then eventually lead to the acknowledgement of the “special relationship” between church and state in our constitution.
The people who fought and died in the Rising were a small minority of a larger society that was accepting of the peaceful and political tactics of the home rule party, who to this point had been the largest political movement towards independence. There were Irish deaths on both sides of the conflict, and this is something that we need to address. Ireland is excellent at being blind and deaf to the parts of history we would rather not remember.
A romantic and false view of the Rising is both historically inaccurate and dangerous, and the true path of an Irish revolution that lasted much longer, and was what we should really be celebrating as Irish history.
Why is such reverence held for the Rising when events such as the Dublin Lockout actually effected British will to keep ahold of Ireland, and involved many more people?
The Easter Rising as the birth of a nation is an attractive narrative. It allows the story to be told in a clean way – Sinn Fein’s landslide victory in 1918, the war of independence where a small nation valiantly fought for their freedom, and the formation of the free state, with a slight blip with the civil war.
In celebrating the Rising as a single event, and not a small event in a larger struggle, a picture is painted of Ireland where the people, cowed and stupid, don’t fight for independence and rather go along with British Rule, laugh at Pearse reading the proclamation, and suddenly turn the other way after the Rising leaders are killed.
The Irish had been fighting for independence long before this. Home Rule, championed by Parnell, who believed strictly in peaceful and political means (although he did allude to supporting dissident violence when it benefited him). Parnell brought the issue of Home Rule into British Politics for the first time in a serious sense in 1885-1886, and it was due to come into legislation a year after the first world war broke out, when it was put on hold indefinitely.
Home Rule would have given Ireland a parliament, and seats would still be held by Irish MPs. The whole island of Ireland would remain together, or at worst the north would contain 4 counties, which would ensure economic collapse and later absorption into Ireland. Ireland’s independence would be in line with Canada, as a guarantee that Britain could not exert any more control over Ireland’s parliament despite the small distance between them. Eventually, Ireland would receive full independence from Britain.
Ireland had been fighting for its independence since British rule abolished the parliament in Dublin and long before. Ireland had also been fighting for social justice, and the Dublin Lockout, organised by James Connolly was a workers’ revolution in a city (and indeed country) that had the worst slums in Europe, the worst poverty and a working poor that were completely expendable.
The Rising did not concern itself with the social problems in Ireland, and James Connolly, who was famously executed while tied to a chair as he was so wounded, only joined the Irish Citizens’ Army to those revolting as he feared the social aspect of the revolution was not being dealt with.
Blood sacrifice is an important theme that appears in the Rising, and one of the more controversial sides to Patrick Pearse. It is hard to ignore the fact that Easter week was very deliberately chosen as the date for the Rising, with an equation of the patriot with Christ in Pearse’s writings. Even before their defeat, the Rising was being called a sacrifice rather than a defeat. In the proclamation itself Pearse talks about how the “children” of the nation must be prepared to “sacrifice themselves for the common good”.
It is much discussed whether those that planned the Rising thought it could actually be a success. It is hard to imagine that the leaders would deliberately lead their men to a certain death, but they must have understood the superiority of the British Military.
It is quite clear that they understood the odds of success, and also understood how powerful a symbol holding the Rising on Easter Monday would be. If the Germans had appeared in support, it is likely that the outcome would have been quite different, and maybe the social aspects of the Rising would have occurred. It is also quite clear that the formation of free Ireland would have been quite different, and so too perhaps our loyalties in the second world war.
Holding the Rising during Easter would draw an incredible parallel between the sacrifice of the men who took place and the rebirth of Irish nationalism stronger and purer then before. It would inspire a type of nationalism that could be justified on behalf of the Irish people without it being their collective wish. This blood sacrifice allows for fundamentalism in Irish nations that is potent for terrorism. It gives people permission to act against the collective wish of a society to “sacrifice themselves” for a greater good that they perceive, but that may not actually be the greater good.
When I look back at Irish history in the 20th century, it is impossible to ignore the awful things that occurred such as symphysiotomy, the Magdalen laundries, the covered up abuse of the Catholic church, the children’s homes, the mass grave in a septic tank, the banking crisis and the criminals that got away with it.
I do not believe the Rising directly caused this, as much as I do not believe the Rising caused independence; both of these statements would be untrue. However, the Rising was the beginning of an Ireland that valued the upper middle class above all else, that valued the power of the Catholic church above all else. It was a Rising without social revolution and it achieved nothing for the people that needed help the most.
The Rising was a single event. It certainly inspired people to fight in the war of independence, but these people were inspired to fight anyway; they had been waiting for the right moment for hundreds of years, and they most certainly would have gone ahead without the Rising having taken place. The real tangible step in Irish independence was the success of home rule, and how it almost occurred. The next was the landslide win by Sinn Féin and the creation of the Dáil.
I do believe the Rising needs to be celebrated, but it also needs to be examined and placed in context. I am proud to be Irish, and I am proud of what my people overcame against great adversity. But I am not proud of the Rising.