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A Letter From Ireland – August 2015

A collective ‘thanks’ to all who’ve written in response to my recent letters, particularly my comments regarding next year’s 1916 Centenary celebration. If you’re interested, I realise you’ve done your own research beyond my words and for that, I also thank you. Both Easter 1916 and Easter 2016 are historic, momentous events.
The 1916 heroes and their actions are now fixed in time. We can only choose to remember and honour them, as we will. But for 2016, it is up to all of us to do our best by paying homage for the deeds and values of those who stood up and fought for our nation’s independence and freedom a century ago.
Back in my June letter I referred to, most likely, a small offshoot of mainly Brits who wanted some kind of joint memorial in Dublin dedicated to both the English and Irish military dead of Easter Week 1916. Talk was of placing the monument on or near Mount Street Bridge.
Why there, you ask. You might remember that one of the major battles of Easter Week 1916 took place along the Northumberland Road in Ballsbridge, Dublin on the Wednesday, 26 April. Strategically positioned inside four buildings along that roadway, seventeen Irish Volunteers rained death and destruction down on hundreds of advancing British troops from the 59th North Midlands division. These soldiers, nicknamed the Sherwood Foresters, were reinforcements who’d disembarked from ships docked in Kingstown harbour [today Dun Laoghaire]. They were attempting to advance into the city centre with the hope of quelling the Uprising.
Today, as it has for years, stands a simple stone memorial to Ireland’s freedom fighters who turned back wave after wave of British soldiers. This diminutive stone bridge, Ireland’s Thermopylae, is a national symbol of patriotic courage against overwhelming odds…two-hundred-twenty British soldiers and officers died or were wounded trying to cross that paved span while only a handful of Irish Volunteers gave their lives defending it.
Knowing me, I took an instant dislike to the suggestion of ‘entwining’ our histories. But after giving it some additional thought, I decided to conduct a small survey…a pub-crawl for my own edification.
As I suspected, the majority of those I spoke with hadn’t a clue about the joint memorial. Tom ‘the Publican’ Richardson in Galway was one of those I queried. After a moment of contemplation, he began waxing eloquent. “Cathal, you know my thoughts on history…the past is the past so best let it be. This is a new age…a time to mend fences…for stretching out hands across the water. The future is about togetherness not division. No more neurotically looking over your shoulder to see who’s after you.”
Sure, he didn’t answer my question, but he didn’t need to…his words spoke volumes.
My Dublin friend Ronnie Daly had a novel answer. He suggested memorialising the names of all the dead from that weeklong conflict, maybe in Stephen’s Green, or some other appropriate place, much as America has done with their dead from the Vietnam War. [You should know Ronnie, a forty-year veteran of the Irish Defence Forces, was recently in Washington, DC and had visited that impressive and poignant, engraved stone tribute located on the Mall.] Sure, I can’t blame him. As so many before him, he was moved by that iconic listing of names, both of dead and missing American soldiers, so artfully placed for all to see and remember their sacrifice.
I must admit, Ronnie’s proposal is all-encompassing. A roll of all Irish Volunteers [IV] killed as well as the dead from such groups as the Dublin Metropolitan Police [DMP], Royal Irish Constabulary [RIC], Home Defence Force volunteers [aka the Gorgeous Rex] plus, of course, members of the British army and innocent-enough city-dwellers. [An accurate accounting of civilian causalities was unclear, as many of the Irish military wore no uniforms, thus making the Volunteers almost impossible to distinguish from the ordinary citizenry.]
Listening to Ronnie’s suggestion, I held my tongue. I realised he was trying to find common ground between what some loyal British sympathisers were proposing and what some Irish diehards would tolerate.
These two reactions, along with others, are causing me to rethink my position.
Today, much of the flap over the 1916 Centenary seems to be sorting itself out as the months tick by, but, in my mind, one major issue remains. Why not fix the date of 24 April for all future Rebellion commemorations instead of holding the festivities on the transitory date of Easter Monday, as past tradition now dictates.
Back in August 2012, I wrote to you about that issue and suggested an answer to this conundrum. I believe my proposal deserves reconsideration. Ireland has no national ‘independence’ holiday as many countries have seen fit to designate. Sure, 24 April is our Independence Day!
As I stated back then, “Pearse, Connolly and the others marched out on the 24th, taking up arms for an ideal. That date is forever burned into our national conscience. Let it remain and be honoured so. Besides, it would make things much simpler, while in no way diminishing the Insurrection’s Easter symbolism of rebirth from the bonds of servitude and injustice.”
By designating the 24th as the birth date of our national freedom, just as 4 July is in the United States, most shops would be closed and street traffic minimised, offering the same social, civic and celebratory conditions now present on an Easter Monday.
If you support this proposal and are so inclined, do shoot off a text or a tweet to Enda Kenny or your favourite Dáil TD.
Finally, maybe you’ve read the new figures from the Irish Central Statistics Office: “1.5 million trips were made to Ireland by overseas visitors in the first three months of 2015, a 13% increase over last year…and Americans are leading the way.” Good on ya, my friends and happy travels, Cathal

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