14 June 2007 Edition
Bodenstown 2007 : A rally for the 'Republican people of Ireland'
Bringing home the Harvest
Chair of the National Commemorations Committee FRANCIE MOLLOY talks to ELLA O’DWYER about the plans for the upcoming Bodenstown Commemoration, the theme of the 1950s campaign which is central to this year’s event and about the vital importance of remembering.
What do you hope to bring to the Bodenstown event in your capacity as recently appointed chair of the Commemorations Committee?
I’d like to see an even greater celebratory aspect brought to commemorations – particularly to Bodenstown which could become the republican festival of the year. This year for instance the Ógra are staging a remembrance of the Curragh Camp. They’ll have a trailer with a play being enacted dramatising the experience of the POWs in the camp. They’ll also recite some of Wolfe Tone’s addresses and speeches. The idea is to illustrate the link between all the various stages in the struggle from the United Irishmen, through the ‘50s and onto the present day. We want to bring this celebratory aspect to commemorations.
What’s special about our commemoration at Bodenstown over the other parties?
I’ve been at events recently where Fianna Fáil described themselves as Sinn Féin post-Treaty and Fine Gael see themselves as pre-Treaty Sinn Féin. We are Sinn Féin and we are the continuation of the struggle from the time of Wolfe Tone. The other parties calling themselves republican have been opportunists who didn’t look at the bigger picture as regards republicanism but looked at their short-term political gains as career politicians. What we are celebrating is the growth and continuation of the republican vision. At each stage of the campaign the spirit of republicanism has been rekindled, keeping alive Wolfe Tone’s vision for unity between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter – a vision that was taken up in the 1916 Proclamation with its core theme of treating all the children of the nation equally oblivious of the differences that have divided us in the past.
That’s a theme that is very important at this time when we are outreaching to and forming constructive relations with unionism.
Yes it’s very pertinent at a time when we are reaching out the hand of friendship to unionists. Again if you look at Wolf Tone’s commitment to separating from England from a Protestant viewpoint you can assume he would have had a very good insight into what colonialism was about. Presbyterians were getting the rough edge at the time in that the Church of Ireland was the established church here and the Church of England the established church across the water. The Presbyterains were being trampled upon and discriminated against. It would be constructive for the Protestant community in Ireland North and South to recognise the contribution Wolfe Tone made in sending out the message of uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.
The Six County executive is now up and running and we’ll have unionists and republicans coming together in government. Our job is to persuade unionists that their best interests lie within an all-Ireland structure. Within an all-Ireland context unionism can have a major political role in Ireland.
Can you foresee a day when unionists too might march in Bodenstown?
I think that invitation is there already - though at this time I think it’s unlikely – but there’s an open door. In the past, working class people came together regardless of religion. It was the Orange Order that introduced sectarianism.
Will we ever march on the Twelfth?
If there’s an end to sectarianism, certainly. But the Twelfth revolves around sectarianism whereas Bodenstown is not a sectarian event but an all-inclusive commemoration as demonstrated by the fact that the various political parties here go to Bodenstown. It’s important that unionism traces its own roots. For instance in the 1920s a section of unionism was opposed to partition as they saw that it was dividing the country and building a sectarian statelet.
The turnout at Bodenstown has increased over the last couple of years. Do you foresee an even bigger turn-out this time round?
Yes definitely. It’ll be emblematic of a colourful, open and confident republicanism coming together to celebrate our growth and unity. There will be a new competition – the Joe Cahill Memorial Trophy – for the best dressed band and the Fergal Caraher Trophy for the best musical presentation. The best dressed aspect is to encourage a more open aspect to the bands – without the dark glasses and the like. There’s no need for that now. The new face of an inclusive, open, visible and identifiable republicanism is what we’re looking for. We’re appealing to bands to come in on that theme and to take their place in the new, modern republicanism while maintaining our identity.
We’re also celebrating the tremendous unity that has been maintained after a year of fairly dramatic change within the organisation. We have a clear direction of where we’re going – ready to build, North and South for the government of the future. We’ve a lot to celebrate with a clear mandate to show to the public with the new MLAs, the very large number of councillors Sinn Féin have throughout the country, and our TDs. We’ll be inviting veteran republicans and will be providing transport and seating for these people.
The former POWs will also parade together. We’re also inviting people who were involved in the ‘50s campaign and hoping o get the lorry that was used in the Seán Sabhat-Fergal O’Hanlon commemoration down. We want to bring together these people – particularly the people from the ‘50s campaign because they’re a major link in the thread of republicanism in that they kept alive this phase of struggle right through from 1916 to the present day. We’ll have a large celebration of united Irish people – united as republicans celebrating the harvest from years of often very arduous struggle.
Yes we’ve come a long way from those often sad and difficult times. How do you see that?
There’s been immense progress from the sad days when volunteers suffered so much to a time when we’re a confident and ever growing organisation. We’re confident republicans on the march. But while we celebrate we remember and remembering is very important so that we learn from the past and put that learning into our vision for the future in Ireland. We’ve moved from sometimes dark and troubled times to a very bright day and the growth in the attendance at Bodenstown is a reflection of the growth of the Republican Movement. With so many of our membership having been immersed in pre-election work it’s important to factor in commemorative events like Bodenstown and we’re calling for great run out on 24 June.
‘Students and peasants, the wise and the brave’
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
Bands and banners, children running about, families bringing picnics, teeming rain or beating sun, witty discussion, serious debate and a keynote speech looking forward to future challenges while mapping out the republican analysis of the current Irish political landscape – welcome to the annual Bodenstown Wolfe Tone Commemoration, the next installment of which will held on 24 June with Gerry Adams giving the oration.
“I was woke from my dream by the voices and tread
Of a band who came into the home of the dead;
They carried no corpse, and they carried no stone,
And they stopped when they came to the grave of Wolfe Tone.”
“There were students and peasants, the wise and the brave,
And an old man who knew him from cradle to grave,
And children who thought me hard-hearted, for they
On that sanctified sod were forbidden to play.”
The above lines come from poem by Thomas Davis called Tone’s Grave and his forethought in seeing what a commemoration of Wolfe Tone could be. It was summed up by one republican activist interviewed for this article who said that Bodenstown was a meeting of the “republican people of Ireland”.
Bodenstown is the oldest and most unique of republican commemorations. Its pedigree comes not just from the impressive array of speakers over the years that has included James Larkin, Thomas Clarke and James Connolly, Mary McSwiney, Sean McBride, Jimmy Drumm, Jim Gibney, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams to name a few.
It also stems from the fact that Bodenstown is the one truly national commemoration in the republican calendar and has over the years marked the ebb and flow of the republican spirit through good and bad times.
There is also the potential of Bodenstown to throw up the unusual events such as in 1981 when Dingus Magee, who days before had escaped from Crumlin Road Gaol, appeared briefly on the Bodenstown podium with what An Phoblacht reported as “a defiant victory salute”.
It is the potency of Bodenstown that it operates on a personal and political level, and when you speak to the veterans both these themes come through. It’s a national and a personal event, you meet old friends, and maybe make new ones while discussing the political environment of the day.
In 1915 for example Seán Mac Dermada and Francis Sheehy Skeffington were arrested for making anti-recruitment speeches, while the rally was used to kick start a strike of railway workers the following day.
Compare this with the 1935 account of a young republican Tom Doran, recorded by historian Uinseann Mac Eoin. Doran attended Bodenstown with the then 13 year old Brendan Behan. When asked in a pub afterwards by former IRA chief of staff Moss Twomey, “what will you have boys”, meaning lemonade. Behan replied, “I’ll have a pint”.
A measure of Bodenstown’s importance is found by a quick inspection of the index of almost any book on republican history and you will find a reference. Most pick on some key eras such as the 1930s when both Cosgrave and de Valera banned the rally in 1931 and ‘36 respectively or 1934 and 1935 when disputes arose between the event organisers Republican Congress, the Communist Party of Ireland over banners at the rally.
Others focus on the 1977 speech by Jimmy Drumm where he outlined the need to “take a stand on economic issues and on everyday struggles of people”. Jim Gibney’s 1992 address stands out as one of the most misquoted by commentators who neglected the really important elements in his oration when he summed up one of the keys aspects of what Bodenstown is.
In the opening lines Gibney says, “There are few republican occasions which instil a sense of reflection, a sense of questioning, not only in terms of ‘what stage are we at’ in the struggle for independence but also ‘what are we about’... and Bodenstown Sunday is one of these. It is so because we stand before Wolfe Tone – a figure who challenged the conservative and established order of his day by embracing new and revolutionary ideas which centred around the international notions of liberating the oppressed”.
In his closing paragraphs Gibney says, “Wherever people are struggling to advance the quality of their lives there you will find republicans, either with a small or capital ‘r’” and that Tone and the United Irish Movement “drew a line across the conscience of this nation”.
24 June will see republicans draw that line once more. Will you be there?
Sinn Féin General Secretary
Best 1981 “The spirit of support for the hunger strikers was just huge”
What makes it different? “It’s a reminder of the bedrock of republicanism, the ideas of equality, fraternity and liberty for all, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, which is as important today as ever. We are not about harking back to the past, but reasserting who we are and looking forward. It’s also a chance to renew old acquaintances. There is a great family atmosphere, with groups having picnics along the canal and a huge range of ages you don’t see at other rallies.”
Aengus Ó Snodaigh,
Best 1987. “There was a great buzz that year, after the November 1986 Ard Fheis and the decision to enter Leinster House. It was the first time for all the republicans to come together and discuss events since the Mansion House”.
What makes it different? “The relaxed atmosphere, and we are paying homage to the founder of the Republican Movement, it’s good to be out of Dublin, though it’s usually either usually lashing rain or very sunny!”.
Best 2002 “With the new TDs elected it was an atmosphere of celebration and expectation of better things to come”.
What makes it different? “The family atmosphere is great, and people bring children, many groups arrive early and have picnics, people are always willing to talk and discuss the political events of the past year”.
West Tyrone MP
Best 1977 “Jimmy Drumm’s speech about the long struggle and the scale of the challenges facing republicans stands out”
What makes it different? “It is the only real national commemoration. Other events like Easter are locally based and at Bodenstown you see people from all over Ireland, it’s the 32 counties meeting together”
Best 1988. “I was 8, and the novelty of it was huge, I loved the carnival atmosphere, and people would carry you when you got tired walking”.
What makes it different? “It’s the one time all republicans come together in such a relaxed atmosphere and is much more a social event than the Ard Fheis. It was a big annual event in our house, my mother used to save money very week so we could all travel and have a big day out”
Best 2004 “Sinn Féin had just elected two MEPS and loads of new council seats”
What makes it different? “The large crowd has a nice warm family feeling and you get a sense of how many republicans there are out there. It also gives us a chance to regroup annually and look forward to the next challenge”
The Bodenstown Commemoration this year will take place on 24 June, assembling at 1.30pm to start at 2pm and marching from Sallins to the Wolfe Tone monument. The main speaker will be Gerry Adams. The theme this year is ‘Bringing home the Harvest’ in remembrance of the ‘50s campaign as this is the 50th anniversary and particularly of Edentubber. The theme is particularly poignant in view of the political development of Sinn Féin in recent times especially in light of the huge successes in the recent Six County elections. We also want to remember the hardships endured by Volunteers both North and South at that time including internment in the Curragh which is, afterall, just a few miles up the road from Bodenstown.