30 April 2016
The Republic Lives – Up the Republic! An Phoblacht Abú!
Next Thursday 5 May presents another major opportunity to strengthen republicanism
A 50th anniversary commemorative calendar of the Easter Rising used to have a pride of place in our home. My daddy kept a collection of shiny silver commemorative Pearse pieces. A black hardbacked biography of Roger Casement sat on the bookshelf.
This particular memorabilia used to fascinate me as a wee fella. When I was small I used to wonder what the centenary of the Rising would be like when it came round.
Óró ‘sé do Bheatha Bhaile is my favourite song as Gaeilge, (and my own particular party piece!).
I have a clear memory of the 70th anniversary, standing in front of the GPO with comrades from home and listening to Joe Cahill address the assembled crowd.
I will have absolutely no difficulty remembering the centenary of the 1916 Rising.
This time I was among tens of thousands of others in Dublin for a weekend which began with the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis and ended late on Sunday night as I watched the images from Croke Park of Laochra.
The Ard Fheis in the Convention Centre was a massive occasion this year. It always is but this was really special, falling as it did on the weekend of the actual centenary.
A profound sense of history was all around us.
This was an Ard Fheis of big politics, and all of it was “fite fuaite” with the legacy of the Rising and vision of the Proclamation.
Sinn Féin adopted a policy on reconciliation at this particular Ard Fheis, Towards an Agreed and Reconciled Future. The significance of that policy decision may have been lost on (or just ignored) by the local media but not so for the huge number of international guests in attendance.
A new policy on health was also adopted. Both of these national policy documents point towards the type of Ireland envisaged by the Proclamation. That is an agreed, united Ireland which is inclusive, looks after and protects its entire people properly.
Many delegates placed their contributions to policy debates appropriately in context with the Easter Proclamation and the events of Easter Week, not least guest speaker Brian Campfield, President of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions.
The Convention Centre is a stunning feat of modern architecture.
In a curious twist, its impressive scale and design transported me back to previous Ard Fheiseanna (and not so many years ago), when the proud working-class people of Tallaght and Ballyfermot welcomed Sinn Féin into their areas as the Southern political establishment not only banned us from the media but tried to stop Sinn Féin from getting access to premises to hold our Ard Fheis.
Over one hundred years ago it was from proud working-class areas in Dublin that the Irish Citizen Army was recruited to defend trade unionists and unemployed workers against the gombeen bosses and their enforcers, and then to later fight for a socialist republic.
The penultimate climax of the Saturday night at this Ard Fheis was Céiliúradh Céad Bliain.
It was an inspirational production of historic and contemporary expressions which dramatised through song, poetry and prose everything 1916 means for the transformation of Irish society. It told the story of the unbroken links of struggle from then until the present, including the sacrifice of the hunger strikers and all our patriot dead.
Across Dublin city centre, the National Flag, the Flag of the Republic, the Starry Plough, the Sunburst, and flag of Cumann na mBan were everywhere. I have never seen so many Easter Lilies being worn.
The exterior walls of Liberty Hall (where the Proclamation was printed, and from where the Citizen Army mobilised on Easter Monday 1916) was draped with iconic images of Liam Mellows, James Connolly, the Proclamation, and Citizen Army Volunteers.
Then, on Sunday 24April, and to coincide with the exact date of the Rising beginning, people from all over Ireland reclaimed the Spirit of 1916 by attending mass popular events in O’Connell Street and at Croke Park.
● The Sinn Féin commemoration at the GPO
Tens of thousands of Irish people and international visitors celebrated, remembered and commemorated the 2016 centenary with imagination, colour and great pride – and that stood in stark contrast with the regimented and tightly-controlled events organised by the Irish state.
Everything embodied by the Easter Rising was animated in Sinn Féin’s Sunday morning commemoration outside the GPO. Thousands of republicans from all over Ireland rose early that day to arrive in time.
Later they all joined many tens of thousands of others for the Reclaim the Vision of 1916 march and rally. The Gaelic Athletic Association’s national league finals and Laochra showcase event rounded off the day when one hundred years previously the People’s Republic was proclaimed.
History reverberated throughout Dublin last weekend. It was palpable. It was the best place to be in Ireland.
Veteran republicans, ex-POWs and former IRA Volunteers spoke of how they tingled and choked with emotion at different times over the weekend. Younger people were awestruck, inspired and motivated.
We all knew that we were part of something momentous.
And it could not be otherwise: This was the spirit of the Rising . . . and it was being remembered and reimagined in our time one hundred years on. The mood was infectious and inspirational.
This coming week marks the 35th anniversary of Bobby Sands’s death on hunger strike, followed later in May by the anniversaries of Francis Hughes, Patsy O’Hara and Raymond McCreesh.
The deaths of the ten republican Volunteers on hunger strike between May and August 1981 have often been described as an historic watershed just as profound as Easter Week 1916 and the execution of the Rising leaders.
1981 was all that, and more.
Everyone who lived through this period and who cared was politically active, or was inspired by the hunger strikers’ sacrifice, has been forever influenced by the heroism of the H-Block prisoners, and “the undauntable thought, my friend, that thought that says I’m right”.
2016 is not only a year to mark special anniversaries but to harness these as opportunities to build the politics of Irish republicanism and social change.
This is a year to popularise the vision and spirit of the Rising and to persuade for and encourage even greater levels support for republican objectives and the transformation of Irish society.
Against the backdrop of increased republican representation in the Dáil and Seanad, next Thursday 5 May presents another major opportunity to increase the electoral support and the political strength of Sinn Féin in the North. Every republican in Ireland should be organising to achieve that objective.
Today, in my own home, a 1916 centenary commemorative calendar now has its pride of place. Last weekend, I discovered at firsthand, along with my own family and many close friends and comrades, what the centenary of the Rising would be like.
It was a once in a lifetime and pride-filled experience.
The Republic lives.
Up the Republic!
An Phoblacht Abú!
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An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.
An initiative for dialogue
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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures