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26 February 1998 Edition

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Unfinished Revolution on Vinegar Hill

BY Mícheál MacDonncha

Over five thousand people climbed Vinegar Hill - Cnoc Fiodh na gCaor, the Hill of the Tree of the Sheep - in County Wexford on an unusually bright February Sunday to hear Gerry Adams speak at Sinn Féin's commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Rising of 1798.

As they surveyed the breathtaking scene with the Wicklow Mountains, Mount Leinster and the fertile valleys of Wexford in view, many must have thought of the day in May 1798 when another huge assembly gathered on Vinegar Hill. Poet Seamus Heaney, in words quoted by Gerry Adams, called it a ``fatal conclave''.

Fatal it was with 20,000 Irish insurgents, armed mostly with pikes, crammed together on the exposed hillside facing 10,000 heavily armed British troops with the most modern muskets and field guns.

``At Vinegar Hill o'er the pleasant Slaney, our heroes vainly stood back to back...''

From the banks of the Slaney in Enniscorthy the biggest march that the town has seen in decades wound its way through the narrow streets. Many houses had the National and County Flags waving proudly from their windows. A Wexford colour party and the VolunteersSmith/Harford/Doherty Band led the march and a banner with the words `172,535 voters excluded' proclaimed the issue of the day.

Rebel Cork and Rebel Wexford united as the newly established Ahern/Crowley Band from Cork marched with the Wexford Pikemen. A contingent commemorating the Roslea Martyrs reminded us of Ulster's part in the Rising. The Cole/Colley Sinn Féin cumann from Dublin North East, part of a large contingent from the capital, had its own piper who led them across the old Slaney bridge to meet the main parade. While people travelled from all over Ireland, at least half of the attendance was made up of the people of Wexford.

Ray Keogh of Enniscorthy Sinn Féin welcomed the crowds on Vinegar Hill. He said they were there not just to remember but to play their part in the ``unfinished revolution''. Musicians Martin Bolger and Tom Roche played Boolavogue on flute and guitar.

``At Boolavogue as the sun was setting, o'er the bright May meadows of Shelmalier

A rebel hand set the heather blazing and brought the neighbours from far and near...''

When he finished his speech Gerry Adams was presented with a Wexford pike by Bill Murray of the Wexford Pikemen. ``Is there one for everyone in the audience?'' asked Gerry, but the question one croppy asked was what the RUC's reaction would be if the Sinn Féin leader was stopped on the border carrying this weapon.

With the crowds on the summit silhouetted against the lowering sun and flags waving in the breeze, the event ended with Amhrán na bhFiann, sung by thousands at what must surely be one of the most beautiful and historic sites in the land.


Below we carry extracts from Gerry Adams's speech at Vinegar Hill last Sunday

The legacy of the United Irish Movement is the sense of bringing about Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. The sense of freedom. The sense of an Irish Republic. The sense of an ending of the connection with Britain and a bringing together of a new union of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter is today as relevant and as necessary as it was when your countrymen and county men and women fought here at Viniger Hill.

The United Irish Movement was influenced by what was happening throughout the world, and it is interesting that the Irish Tricolour which means peace between orange and green was taken from Paris by Francis Meagher and brought to Enniscorthy, so the legacy which you have here is a real one, a real sense of what is required, a real sense of what has passed.

A number of journalists have drawn attention to the fact that Volunteer Eddie O Brien's name and his photograph has been shown by the organisers in a poster which includes images of Bobby Sands, Wolfe Tone and Countess Markievicz. And let me say today that they and I make no apologies whatsoever for the picture of Volunteer Eddie O Brien being used in this way. It is a sign of the failure of those in power, of those who pay lip service to the ideal of national freedom that young men like that and young women - of young men like Eddie O Brien (because we're in his hometown) or Diarmuid O Neill - should die in the way they died and should feel moved to take up armed action.

And the responsibility on responsible politicians - and may I say, on responsible republicans - is to make sure that no more of our young men and women die in the service of the freedom of our country. And that puts a huge onus on the so-called constitutional nationalists and the constitutional partitionists - those in high places who engage in the rhetoric of freedom - to actually build a freedom struggle, an unarmed, peaceful freedom struggle to bring about an end of the British connection and a new future for all the people of this island.

Let there be no doubt anywhere that our party exists - and will continue to exist and to develop - essentially to bring an end to the British connection, to bring an end to partition and to build along with others a new Ireland for all the people of the island.

In county Antrim and in county Down most of the people who fought [in 1798] were Presbyterians. And it's part of the great tragedy of modern Irish history that in the convulsion of that time the Orange Order was founded by the English government in our country to build a bulwark of reaction against the rising tide of radicalism that was sweeping the country. And there's no doubt when you see what's happening in the Garvaghy Road and in other places that the same sense of trying to subvert progress, of trying to subvert the search for equality and trying in many ways to maintain the status quo, that we look back on this period in our history.

And one of the great tragedies is that many of those whose predecesors fought in counties Antrim and Down is that, unlike yourselves, they don't know their history. But I think when we all have a sense on the island of Ireland of where we're from, of what's been happening for the last thirty years and further back, then we'll have a sense of being able to come together regardless of religion, regardless of being Catholic, Protestant or Dissenter. Because what will join us together is our common humanity that we happen to live on the island of Ireland.

As we meet today at a time of serious crisis in the peace process I want to assure you of a number of things. Sinn Fein is totally wedded to our peace strategy. Secondly, Sinn Fein is totally wedded to our republician objectives. And it is transparently clear that you cannot have a democratic peace settlement without equality. It's impossible. The foundation will not stand unless its based upon equality.

And people like yourselves who have come here in such large numbers should not ever allow the peace process or the process for change on this island to be reduced to the big battalions, to those polititians who do not want to see change. You people have to seize the peace process. We cannot bring about freedom or justice, we cannot bring about a peace settlement unless people throught the entire island take responsibility for it.

But the Dublin government also has to take responsibility. And the first responsibility for an Irish government is to stand up for the rights of the people of the island of Ireland.

When you leave here I want you all to realise that every single person here has both a responsibility and an ability to take part in this struggle. What the big parties do, what the establishment does, what the British government does is to give people a sense of low esteem, of no confidence. But you people here can make a difference. And let me tell you it is my conviction that we will get a United Ireland, that we will break the connection with England.
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