Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising? 1916-2016

jhp55f16913a1cffTwo old acquaintances of mine – Kevin Rooney and James Heartfield – have written a new book on 1916, including looking at the response of the post-1921 establishment in the south.  I asked James to write a couple of paragraphs about the book.  I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy.

by James Heartfield

A few years ago senior politicians from Ireland were meeting their opposites in Britain to talk about how to handle the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising.

‘The Easter Rising damaged the Irish psyche’, said the former Taoiseach, John Bruton: The Rising was ‘completely unnecessary’, and ‘led directly to the brutal violence of the war of independence and the civil war that followed’. The Rising’s leader Patrick Pearse ‘had justified the provos’ – the Provisional IRA. Bruton’s thinking echoes the prejudices of two generations of Irish intellectuals, from Conor Cruise O’Brien to Roy Foster, who have levelled forests of newsprint dismissing republicanism. In our book, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising?’ Kevin Rooney and I show that the anniversary has always been a problem for the ruling class in Dublin, who fear Republicanism the movement because they owe their status to an agreement with the British to put it down.

British politicians shared Bruton’s wish that the Easter Rising could be downplayed, as did the incoming Arts Minister Heather Humphries. She headed up the plan to bury the commemoration of the Rising in a ‘Decade of Centenaries’ so ecumenical as to include not only the Irish losses at the Somme, and the Dublin lock-out, but the signing of Carson’s sectarian Ulster Covenant as well. Humphries commissioned the commemorative video, ‘Ireland Inspires’. The video talked up Bono, and the siting of Facebook’s office in Ireland, but to everyone’s amazement failed to mention the Easter Rising – earning it the title of the ‘Don’t mention the War’ video.
Since then the powers-that-be have rowed back from their idea that you could commemorate the Rising without mentioning it. The public made it clear that they want to see the heroes of 1916 given their due. So it is that Thomas Kent’s body has been moved from the Gaol and reburied with great ceremony. But as we explain in the book, the official reappropriation of the Rising is not truly its commemoration, but an attempt to tame it, by watering it down. To us, the spirit of the Rising, its appeal to freedom and self-determination, is as vital today as it ever was.

In our book we explain how it is that the Rising has so often been shunned by those in power, but celebrated by the people. We argue that it was Britain’s domination of Ireland that provoked the conflict and explain, too, that the Rising was not militaristic, but rather a blow against the terrible war in Europe. The Rising was an inspiration across the world to opponents of war, like Sylvia Pankhurst in England and John McLean in Scotland, to Russia’s Bolsheviks and Europe’s Socialists, as well as India’s anti-colonial movement.

Posted on September 28, 2015, in 1913 lockout, 21st century republicanism and socialism, British state repression (general), Censorship, Commemorations, Historiography and historical texts, Irish politics today, Partition, Political education and theory, Public events - Ireland, Reviews - books, The road to the Easter Rising, Unionism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising? 1916-2016.

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