Belfast Telegraph

1916 and the stain of violence which still blights our history

By Alf McCreary

The tragic death this week of prison officer Adrian Ismay is a reminder of the dark stain of violence that has disfigured our history since the Easter Rising of 1916.

Mr Ismay died some 11 days after republican dissidents placed a bomb under his car.

In the week running up to the 1916 centenary of the Rising, yet another innocent death gives us all cause to think about the difference between the myths and the realities of our violent history.

Due to the fluctuations of the Easter calendar, next weekend's commemoration of the Rising is not an accurate dateline centenary of the event which began on April 10, 1916, and not March 28.

In most countries the commemoration of a founding 'revolution' adheres strictly to the exact date on which it occurred but in Ireland, this coming Easter has been hijacked by Church and state in the Republic to fit in with the Easter Rising of 1916.

Many people are therefore entitled to ask why the commemoration of an armed insurrection in Dublin a century ago should have been allowed to coincide with the Easter of 2016, when the most important commemoration is that of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps it is only citizens of Northern Ireland who can ask such awkward questions at a time when the Church of Ireland is also playing its part in the Republic's 1916 commemorations in Dublin, though the Anglicans could not easily opt out of such a national event in a society of which they are a part.

The republican insurrection in 1916, as all reputable historians agree, was an absolute shambles, which became a nationalist historical icon only because the British, in the throes of a perilous First World War, reacted fiercely to the rebellion and executed the ringleaders.

From such an inauspicious start in 1916, the myth of the rebels' 'fight for freedom' grew apace.

This bloodshed continued throughout the Irish civil war, and the Ireland which emerged from this became an economic and social backwater for decades, under the baleful influence of Eamon de Valera.

In the post-Second World War period, both parts of the island emerged from their economic isolation but, just as Northern Ireland looked like consolidating its recovery, we were plunged back into more than four decades of bloody conflict.

So, what has this century of so-called "freedom" achieved? Ironically, this 'freedom', which republicans will commemorate next weekend, has led to a situation where the Irish Republic is still a major trading partner of the UK, and desperately needs it to stay in the European Union.

This so-called "freedom" has also led to the continued imprisonment of the north in sick cycles of violence, and conflict about national identity, which have not yet been solved. Some "freedom".

In the coming days, and next weekend, I will sit lightly on the predictable rhetoric from north and south about the 'heroes' of 1916 and the commemoration of Irish republicanism, which has been reinvented and polished to mean something entirely different from the botched Rising which occurred so long ago.

I will also think of the late Adrian Ismay and his family, and of all the victims of violence and their families on all sides, who have suffered so much in the long and dark aftermath of an Irish insurrection which had, and still has, nothing to do with the real meaning of Easter, and its life-enhancing message for all of us.

Belfast Telegraph

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