1916 banner – presumably there was no room for Ian Paisley.
The banner at College Green has barely been unveiled, but it has already confirmed what I have long suspected.
That I do not want any part of of a commemoration of 1916 that denies, distorts and destroys what it is supposed to remember.
Only in Ireland could a banner commemorating a revolution feature a man who recruited for the enemy and called the event “wicked and insane”, as John Redmond did.
It comes as no surprise. For years the battle has been fought to see who would “own” the memory of 1916.
In then end, it seems, Bórd Fáilte won.
As a result, what we are getting is an approximation of history, a “1916 Rising for Dummies.”
The blood of the dead – men and women, soldiers and rebels, over 300 civilians and more than three dozen children – washed from the streets.
The barbarity – war crimes on both sides – is forgotten, and the context crushed under the weight of collective denial of what the Rising was, and more importantly, what it wasn’t.
What should have been a conversation about the country we have created has been made into a marketing vehicle for tourism.
Anything else would have forced us to confront the truth of the intervening century.
For all the reverence in which the signatories of the Proclamation are held in Ireland, almost everything they stood for died along with them.
The notion of “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally” was quickly abandoned.
With the hospitals, the schools and the populace in general controlled by a vicious, venal and violent religious junta that is still remarkably healthy and wealthy, it couldn’t be any other way.
Partition – as promoted by what is now Fine Gael – put an end to the dream of a republic that would cover the entire Ireland.
And any chance of a functioning trade union movement to represent the working people died with James Connolly, strapped to a chair in the Stonebreaker’s Yard in Kilmainham Jail.
What we got was no mystical vision of independence, as laid out by Pearse.
Instead, we got exactly what most other countries that were eventually freed from imperialism experienced – a divided society ruled by an appointed elite, first as a transitional system of governance that then became the norm.
The greed and power of the church coupled with Ireland’s isolated position on the edge of Europe kept it out of the reach of international socialism and the kind of liberal social democracy that saw Scandinavia and Germany thrive, especially in the post-war period.
Instead, like many Catholic nations on the periphery of Europe, the Irish poor were condemned to lives of poverty, promised their reward in heaven while their cassocked moral guardians enjoyed the fruits of everyone else’s labours here on earth.
Having presided over misery and poverty, tugging its forelock and deferring to the church for much of the state’s existence, there is little on the credit side in the great ledger of social justice for any Irish government.
Pointing to the recent marriage equality referendum only highlights how little has been done to “cherish all the children of the nation equally.”
Women are still second-class citizens, earning less and dictated to by the state, or ignored when they become too noisy.
The Lads still rule, and their friends at the golf club still get the no-bid contracts and the cheap properties and the planning permissions they need to feather their nests.
Children with special needs and those who occupy hospital trolleys night after night don’t play golf.
The 1916 Rising delivered change, but not the change it wanted or expected.
Yeats was right – a terrible beauty was indeed born; and the poorer you were, the more terrible and the less beautiful it was.
And so to those struggling to “own” the narrative. the idiotic banner at College Green – with three of the four featured having died long before the Rising ever took place – is a symptom of how history in Ireland is distorted and watered down for political ends.
The irish Times reported that the idea for the banner came from the Department of An Taoiseach – perhaps unsurprising, given the spectacular ignorance of the clown that has inhabited that office for the last few years.
Enda Kenny has been doing his best to soft-soap voters into believing that his Fine Gael party are sympathetic to the Republic and the ideals declared by Padraig Pearse a hundred years ago.
Yet it was his party that banned the 60th anniversary celebrations – and using the Offences Against the State Act as the legislative framework to do so is surely the definition of GUBU.
Perhaps even more so than the endemically corrupt Fianna Fáil, Enda’s party is the party of The Lads. Those who have most get more, those who have least get nothing at all.
Labour will begin its struggle to make itself relevant again, oblivious to the fact that Connolly died for his principles, while they immediately abandoned theirs to give a few ageing men one last shot at a ministerial post, where they gleefully inflicted misery on the people who had voted for them, begging for protection.
Like its protagonists, the Rising was complicated, messy and not easily interpreted, but the history ever since is somewhat easier to read.
A hundred years on, Ireland has, on the whole, failed to live up to its promise.
Too often it has failed the poor and the weakest in society, often consciously and deliberately as politicians descended from those who filled the power vacuum by creating a system to benefit themselves and their cronies.
Forget our music and our food and our culture.
Forget the high esteem in which our people – not our politicians or bankers, not The Lads – are held around the world.
Forget our athletes and our artists and our innovators.
All this exists in spite of, not because of, the country we have created out of the ashes of the Rising.
We can celebrate all these things another day.
If you want to commemorate the Rising properly, do so by not accepting the Bórd Fáilte narrative.
The Rising belongs not to them, or the politicians, or The Lads and their vested interests.
It belongs to those who bear the heaviest burden form a political system that demands their servitude but denies their needs, just as it did in 1916.
So skip the official “celebrations” and stick instead to history and the original date of April 24.
Go to the GPO, or to any other post office that has yet to be closed by the march of “progress”.
Stand there in angry silence for a minute and remember what Pearse and the others promised, and how pathetically little their political descendants have delivered.
Then go off and, in the words of Gandhi, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
That means tearing down the system of clientelism and privilege, of recognising the dignity of each and every person, and of demanding the highest standards from everyone in public office.
It means accepting that we have to pay our share, and that taking “uncomfortable decisions” means that we too will be affected.
It means doing not what is best for ourselves, but what is just and noble and right, even if we personally lose out.
That would be a truly revolutionary act in modern Ireland.