Wednesday was the 97th anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.
For better or worse, the Easter Rising has become the focal point of our revolutionary past and remembrance of the same. Most seem to place the start of the revolutionary period with the Easter Rising, a belief I do not share, but do understand.
As such, the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016 is going to be a major event, which will attract widespread attention from both media, political and even from sources outside of Ireland. Some degree of serious thought and preparation has to go into this event.
Thinking about how I want the Easter Rising to be remembered a hundred years on, I got to thinking about the decade in general and what I would consider to be the correct way to go about this whole centenary business. So, here are the following NFB approved tenets for revolutionary remembrance:
- Visuals, visuals, visuals.
Television, movies, whatever. We are in an age when the plethora of books that have been and will be released on this topic aren’t going to cut it, or even reach a fraction of what television can. A well produced documentary series, a fictionalised retelling of events in a mini-series, a film or just a series of debates from academic scholars broadcast to the nation would do the trick nicely and would engage public opinion far more than the current haphazard level of such programming does. We have to utilise all sorts of media formats in order to make this centenary decade worthwhile.
For the Easter Rising, hell, I’m surprised no one has ever really out the effort into making some form of visual representation of that event. TG4 has paved the way by showing engrossing fictional representations in their Seachtar Na Casca, so it can be done.
2. Stop hijackers.
In this coming period there will be many – political parties, dissident groups and what have you – who will attempt to hijack portions of the centenary decade and use them for their own propaganda ends. Sinn Fein with the Easter Rising, Fianna Fail with the Civil War, Fine Gael with Beal na Mblath etc. It’s difficult to do, since remembrance activities generally come under the purview of whatever government is in power, but we have to make a concerted effort to either prevent such hijacking, which offers little but skewed perspectives and modern-day rancour, and to just perceive such things for what they are and ignore them.
Lots of parties try to appropriate the Easter Rising. At a university Clubs and Societies event, I saw Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein all with pictures of the proclamation on their Ogra desks on the same day. I would say that Sinn Fein are more guilty than others, if only because the Rising was so very obviously not a Sinn Fein event, which doesn’t stop them invoking it at many junctures. More irritating is dissident groups when it comes to the Rising, who we cannot tolerate drawing a line between their activities and that of a hundred years ago.
3. Education, education, education.
The opposite trend appears to be emerging, but the evolution, improvement and emphasis in regards the subject of history at a primary, Junior Cert and Leaving Cert level would have to be focused on, in order to get younger kids more interested in the events that we are commemorating.
The Easter Rising does have a place in the current curriculum, but my memories of the primary school classes is one of a horrifically biased representation, and a bare minimum of detail in secondary. That should change.
4. Constructive debate in the media and in academia.
Properly defined debates on any number of issues relating to the revolutionary period by members of the media (across a range of platforms) and by members of the academic community (with crossover) is to be encouraged, provided such debate does not devolve into petty point scoring (Kevin Myers) or badly-researched nonsense (Eunan O’Halpin).
For the Easter Rising, we could discuss the military competence of the rebels, the proportionality of the initial and later British responses, the failure of the Volunteers outside Dublin to be “out”, the contrast between the Volunteers and the ICA, the role of women, etc.
5. Be inclusive.
We have failed, as a nation, to properly include the experience of Ulster Unionists in our remembrance of the revolutionary period, and too often we find the perspective skewed in other areas. The revolution was more than just one set cultural group against another, and true remembrance needs to be as comprehensive and representative as possible.
When it comes to 1916, one very noticeable absence is commentary and analysis of events from the British perspective, most notably the rank and file of the armed forces. Others aspects I would consider under-documented would be the view of the Rising from abroad, and the opinions of Irish soldiers in the service of the crown in Europe.
6. Commemoration does not mean veneration or condemnation.
No display, parade or any other kind of remembrance activity is required to be a celebration of the subject being focused on. This has been a particular problem with so much of the Easter Rising popular remembrance, but a disservice to the pursuit of history and to the proper commemoration of what actually happened. State sponsored events, in particular, need to weigh back on gushing with prise or any kind of favourable slant. On the other hand, reducing the amount of veneration does not mean that we have to enter a realm of negative commemoration, like is all too frequently seen with World War One and the Civil War. Remembrance should not be about evening old scores or using the opportunity solely for the aim of making someone look bad.
The Easter Rising has seen more than its fair share of glorification, which should be stamped out, and a fair amount of condemnation as well, which should be more measured and balanced.
7. Commemoration should be based around truth.
One of the only things I am looking for is accuracy. To present details of what happened a hundred years ago, without skewing it to make the subjects look good or bad. If there was an atrocity, present it, but don’t add hyperbole and judgements. If there was a victory, present it, but do not add glorification and praise.
There have been a lot of myths about 1916, a lot of overly harsh criticism. We should make the effort to remember, discuss and present only the most accurate picture possible.
8. Remembrance is not served by the mundane.
This is the exact time to capture the imagination of the public and make them interested in the seminal period of our history. This will not be achieved with just another military parade or reading out the Proclamation. Something more has to be done in order to get people taking notice. If you’re not going to make the extra effort you are doing a disservice to the people you claim to be remembering, and might as well do nothing.
I’m not an event planner, so I can’t really comment too much here. Festival and colour are all well and good, but I’d be wary of it infringing on anything else I’ve said here.
9. This happened a hundred years ago, not today.
Don’t get outraged, don’t get angry, don’t get sectarian, don’t get nonsensical. The events we are remembering are completely second hand – there are no veterans left. There is no one left to try, punish or lay waste to in the court of public opinion. They had no direct impact on you or anyone you know. You have absolutely no reason to get angry about Ballyseedy, or Kilmichael or the executions in 1916. You have no reason to get outraged that the Civil War happened. You have no reason to get sectarian and denounce the UVF of 1913. They are subjects of historical interest and looking at them will provide a well-rounded view of the birth of the independent Irish state, but always remember that all of this stuff is done. Finished. It happened a hundred years ago, and pretending that it is worthy of such illogical emotions as opposed to reasoned retrospective is idiotic, and does serve the proper remembrance of the era.
The Rising leaders did deceive a lot of people. A lot of civilians were killed. The British executed many. It happened 100 years ago. Don’t let it affect you too much.