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President pleads for 'a new Ireland' as country marks 1916 Easter Rising

Published 26/03/2016

President Michael D Higgins will lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance
President Michael D Higgins will lay a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins has called for Irish people to take responsibility for building a true Republic.

In a keynote address to descendants of those who fought and died in the 1916 Easter Rising, Mr Higgins said the ideals of the Proclamation can still inspire today.

"Our nation has journeyed many miles from the shell shocked and burning Dublin of 1916. We can see that in many respects we have not fully achieved the dreams and ideals for which our forebears gave so much," he said.

"A democracy is always and must always be a work in progress, and how we use the independence we have been gifted will continue to challenge us, morally and ethically.

"We must ensure that our journey into the future is a collective one; one in which the homeless, the migrant, the disadvantaged, the marginalised and each and every citizen can find homes, are fellow travellers; a journey which includes all of the multitude of voices that together speak of, and for, a new Ireland born out of contemporary imagination and challenges."

The President's speech at the descendants' reception in the RDS in Dublin followed the opening day in a weekend of centenary celebrations.

Mr Higgins began the 100 year anniversary by laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square, the site where the Irish Volunteers was founded, in honour of all those who fought and died for Irish freedom.

His wife Sabina laid a wreath at the grave of Countess Constance Markievicz in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The celebrations are specially choreographed to remember a seminal moment in Irish history which sowed the seeds for independence.

Official Ireland is striving to make the commemorations more inclusive and avoid offending unionists in Northern Ireland.

Over the decades the role of women in the Rising has often been overlooked, alongside the deaths of 40 innocent children which were largely ignored until recent years.

The President urged Irish citizens to grasp the need to keep building a republic, to make the founders of the state proud, representative of courage, vision and a profound spirit of generous humanity.

"So today, let us look to our past in a way that is emancipatory and transformative. Let us recognise all that was powerfully suggestive in that past as we set about constructing the foundations of a new and better Ireland," he said.

Mr Higgins recalled conditions in Dublin at the time of Rising with 5,000 tenements in the city centre's Georgian buildings housing 87,000 people, including 20,000 families with one room to call home.

He also highlighted the important role of women in the rebellion, largely overlooked for much of the 20th century, other than by some historians and feminists.

And he spoke of the diverse idealism which helped to inspire the insurrection including land rights, housing, language, politics, culture, nationhood and the pretext of the poorest in society fighting for empires in the First World War.

Mr Higgins said: "All of these strands of the Rising are present in the idealism of the Proclamation which offers us a generous social and political vision, one that can still inspire us today."

"We should never forget that it was addressed too to the nation's women, years before women over 30 would be allowed to vote as well as its men in equal terms, as it called forth a Republic that would guarantee: 'religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens'."

The President also remembered all those who died in the insurrection - 485 people, more than half of whom were civilians, and 40 of whom were children.

It is only in the last year that their deaths have been catalogued.

"So this evening let us remember the sung and unsung heroes of 1916, those who fought for Ireland, and those who were caught up in the events on the streets of Dublin," he said.

"Let us remember all those who died or were injured in Dublin, the majority of whom were civilians. We reflect and recall the loss suffered by all families. We recall and respect all the families who lost sons, fathers, brothers, sisters or daughters."

President Higgins paid special tribute to the unsung heroes of the Rising and how each death left a family and loved one bereft.

"The human price paid should not ever be forgotten, should remind us of the great debt of gratitude we owe to all of those who bravely risked their lives a hundred years ago so that future generations of Ireland could grow up as citizens of a free and independent State," he said.

Some 1,350 people were killed or injured during the six day insurrection while 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested by the British.

Fifteen of the rebel leaders including Patrick Pearse and James Connolly were executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, where another poignant tribute will be paid on Easter Sunday.

President Higgins will be in the Stone Breakers' Yard to lay a wreath on the site where the sentences were executed.

The biggest event takes place on Easter Sunday when more than a quarter of a million people will line the streets for a massive parade through Dublin city centre.

Almost 4,000 members of the Defence Forces, emergency services and peacekeeping veterans will weave their way along the 4.5 km route from St Stephen's Green to O'Connell Street and past the General Post Office on to Capel Street.

The unprecedented spectacle, which will include the reading of the Proclamation under the portico of the GPO is being billed as the largest public celebration in the history of the state.

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