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A Letter From Ireland – February 2015

IT’S 2015…February, a time of promise, hope, renewal, resolution…a time to remember Saint Brigid [1 February] and the celebration of Imbolc, the Celtic advent of spring, with its thoughts of warmer days ahead.
As you might remember, St. Brigid of Ireland or Kildare, [Cill-Dara/the church of the oak], was born in c. 451 AD in Faughart, Co. Louth near Dundalk. She lived to the fine old age of seventy-plus years. Famous for founding several convents, Brigid, along with Pádraig and Colmcille, is part of Ireland’s great holy troika of saints.
Traditionally, there’s hardly an Irish home that doesn’t have a Brigid cross hanging over a doorway. Often pictured with a heifer or holding a lamb, Brigid, supposedly influenced by St. Pádraig himself, is remembered as the ‘goddess’ of fire, knowledge, and kindness, especially to animals. Even today, the ritual of burning last year’s simple reed cross(es), of making new ones and then of blessing them with Holy Water is still a custom honoured in many Irish homes.
Beside Brigid, however, my thoughts flash back to February, 1916. I wonder what Pádraig Pearse and Éamonn Ceannt were thinking, as both played key roles in events soon to unfold in just a handful of weeks.
These two men were dedicated revolutionaries, fearless adherents to an Irish-Ireland, leaders of a group of burgeoning Irish Volunteers and avant-garde political activists. Most know of Pearse. He was an innovative schoolmaster, a poet & writer, a Gaelic-language proponent, newspaper editor, gifted orator, and frequently called the Father of the 1916 Revolution. Ceannt, on the other hand, though as intimately involved in the Easter Rising as Pearse, played a less visible public role. Like Pearse, the Galwegian cum Dubliner was also a dedicated Gaelic Leaguer and member of the secret, oath-bound Irish Republican Brotherhood. As a member of the IRB’s covert, three-man military council [along with Pearse and Joe Plunkett], he helped map out the Rising’s military strategy, was a fluent Irish speaker, nationalist writer and talented musician. Tragically, though, both men, while still in their mid-thirties, were executed by the British government for their roles in the 1916 Revolt.
The two, both signatories of the Irish Proclamation, were exceptional leaders and great heroic Irish historical personalities. As you might guess, Pearse was familiar to me, but it wasn’t until I began researching the life of Tom Cullen, the subject of my latest book, that I became better acquainted with Ceannt.
Éamonn, serving as Tom’s commanding officer, was the OC of the Dublin Brigade’s 4th Battalion, headquartered at South Dublin Union on the western side of the city during Easter Week. Though greatly outnumbered by occupying British Forces, Ceannt and his men fought tenaciously during the six days of the Rebellion. But eventually on Sunday, 30 April, the 4th Battalion surrendered to the English after receiving written orders to do so by Pearse and James Connolly, the Rebellion’s two principle leaders.
Mary Gallagher, in her recently published biography on Ceannt, quotes from several letters he wrote while imprisoned during his final hours of life on the evening of 7 May and the early morning of 8 May, 1916. From these, the reader gains valuable insights into Ceannt’s thinking, the mind of a determined revolutionary and resolute Irish republican. “I leave for the guidance of other Irish revolutionaries who may tread the path which I have trod this advice, never to treat with the enemy, never to surrender at his mercy but to fight to a finish. I see nothing gained but grave disaster caused by the surrender which has marked the end of the Irish Insurrection of 1916 — so far at least as Dublin is concerned.”
But the quote of his that I cherish flies in the face of those present-day Irish politicians arrogant enough to think that the men and women of ’16 were ‘traitors to their own cause’, and participants in events that were ‘completely unnecessary.’ Ceannt unconditionally hoped, “…in the years to come, Ireland will honour those who risked all for her honour at Easter in 1916.”
So, stop your dithering Mr. Kenny. All these prevarications and mindless delays of your current coalition government in organising a fitting, heartfelt tribute to the events and individuals surrounding Ireland’s thrust for freedom is a clear betrayal to those, like Éamonn Ceannt, who fought for Ireland’s independence back almost one-hundred years ago.
As I recently stated in a letter published in The Irish Echo: “Though it may be too late, I’d propose several Easter, 2016 amendments. Bring the 1916 Relatives Association into the fold with honour and importance. Finish the Moore Street revitalisation for an educational/historical centre. Complete a commemorative statue featuring the seven signatories and position it outside the GPO. Retract any invitation to British royals to attend Dublin ceremonies. If they are so keen on honouring Irish independence, suggest they stage their own ceremony in London. I’m sure one or two Irish might attend.”
Finally, to quote an earlier piece of Ceannt’s writing taken from The Irish Volunteer’s [newspaper] inaugural edition of 7 February 1914, “Be skilled in the art of war so that there may be no war. Live plainly so that you may be strong and hardy. Be not given to vain boasting. Do not tarry long in taverns, nor take counsel with those who would wish you ill. Keep your own counsel. Be simple, be efficient, be noble, and the world of Ireland is yours….”
Up ’16, no royals and Éire Abú, Cathal

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