The rebellion of Easter Week 1916 was one of the formative events in Irish history.
It led towards the independence we now enjoy, along with the enactment of Home Rule in 1914, the meeting of the First Dail in 1919, the Treaty of 1921, the Constitutions of 1923 and 1937, and the declaration of the Republic in 1949.
Those who initiated the Rising did so with high idealism, bravery, and self sacrifice.
It was, however, a violent action, involving loss of life, and was, as would have been anticipated by its initiators, violently suppressed with further loss of life.
As we have worked painstakingly over many years to remove violence from Irish politics, we must do our best now to commemorate 1916 in a way that does not glorify violence.
It is argued by many that the form and content of the 1966 commemoration romanticized violence and contributed negatively to inter community relations on the island generally, and particularly in Northern Ireland.
But how can one remember 1916, without glorifying the methods used in the conflict?
REMEMBER ALL WHO WERE KILLED, NO MATTER WHAT SIDE THEY WERE ON
My proposal would be that, as part of the overall commemoration, all who died violently in Ireland in and around Easter week 1916, be remembered individually, and by name. Naturally, a major focus should be on the Volunteers who died, and on the executed leaders.
But I suggest we also remember, by name, the civilians who were killed ,
the DMP members who were killed,
the RIC members who were killed, and
the British Army soldiers (both those who were Irish and those who were not) who were killed.
This approach would put a focus on the cost of violence, the loss of life and the suffering, as well as the bereavement suffered by relatives left behind.
All the above casualties would have had relatives who mourned them, and it would be good, a century later, to remember them all. From a religious and ethical perspective, all these lives, taken away in 1916, were equally valued and valuable.
Apart from these considerations, it is worth saying that the families of the DMP, RIC, and Army casualties, who continued to live in Ireland, may have felt that the loss they suffered, was in some sense less recognised by their fellow Irish people, because of a perception that they had died on the “wrong side”. A century later, that can be rebalanced a little. It may pose practical difficulties, but it would be good if that the state should invite a family member of every casualty to a Commemoration, perhaps on the inclusive model of the National Day of Commemoration. With all the data now available, tracing some of these relatives would not be as difficult as it might have been 20 years ago.
I know that there will be a military element to the commemoration during Easter Week, and it might be perceived that a commemoration on the same day focussing on all the victims, would take from that.
So perhaps this could be done on another day, perhaps a week or two later, which might be appropriate anyway, given that some of the victims on all sides, who died of their wounds, would not have done so until sometime after Easter Week itself was over.
A WELCOME INITIATIVE BY THE GOVERNMENT
I recently learned from the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, that the Government is already moving in this direction.
A Commemorative Wall is to be erected in Glasnevin Cemetery bearing the name of all who died in the 1916 Rebellion, regardless of the side they were on, or of whether they were killed accidentally or deliberately.
The names of the 1916 victims will be inscribed on the Wall in 2016, and, in the centenary year of their deaths, those who were killed in the War of Independence and the Civil War will be added.
The Wall will remind future generations of the true price of warfare.