Revolutionary Remembrance: Royals In 1916

So, a royal presence for 2016?

On the face of it, having them there doesn’t bother me that much. Whether some would like to acknowledge it or not, Britain actually was involved in the Easter Rising. Their young men died there too.  Not having a representative of theirs present would be as odd as not inviting a German ambassador to a commemoration of the Somme.

But does it have to be a royal? My own distaste for the concept of royalty aside, the House of Windsor, through their matriarch, are the heads of state in the United Kingdom, so they have such an entitlement I suppose (the vagaries of royal appointments as dictated by Britain’s parliament escape me). But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

I don’t usually have much time for the views and opinions of Professor Diarmuid Ferriter. I lost much respect for him during the Seanad abolition debate, when he was one of many peddling the hopelessly naive and misleading “No means reform” position and hearing him say “do we have to share everything now?” in relation to commemoration plans strikes me as rather childish. Professor Ferriter is one of a few historians who seem unduly annoyed at the growing relations between Irish political leadership and the British royal family, dubbing it “Post colonial inferiority complex”, a view point I’ve been baffled by since I first heard it.

But he is right when he expresses fears that the presence of a royal at the 1916 centenary has the potential to hijack the event from what it is supposed to be. The Irish media will undoubtedly choose to focus in on such a presence due to the celebrity nature of the royals, and their involvement will probably involve a greater security lockdown than would be required otherwise. It wouldn’t be the draconian measures that Elizabeth II inspired, but would still detract.

Such a presence would certainly distract from what the commemoration should be about: education and introspection for the Irish nation. Not quite what Professor Ferriter wants mind, which seems to be another tired comparison between the “ideals” of 1916 and the modern political establishment (see the end of this piece for my thoughts on that: should the “ghosts of a nation” be “appeased, whatever the cost”?). It should be about 1916 and what came immediately after. What happened there, why it happened, the truth amid the myths. It should not be about the people at the commemoration.

But, if I’m being honest with myself, the “on the day” commemoration of 1916 will just be the most public side of things, something that I would guess will be little more than an expanded version of the current military parade and wreath laying. That’s fine, if just a little un-ambitious, but will certainly see the media focus on it be warped by the presence of a member of the royal family of Britain. Better it be a representative of the British government (or even its military), in the vein of William Hague, than somebody of the House of Windsor.

But it would be good, and proper, for somebody from the British side to be there. For a rising, there has to be someone to rise against. It isn’t an inferiority complex to accept that reality.

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