A Nations Fight for Freedom: Ireland (1916-2016)

Prior to the Easter Rising Dublin was deeply divided by class, religion and politics. Two years previously the Dublin Lock-out (26 August 1913 to early February 1914) had brought industrial conflict to the city’s streets after which it was wracked by tension because of its involvement in the Great War.
Dublin’s large unionist minority were aghast at the Rising, while many members of the nationalist middle-class were also terrified of what had been unleashed. Some of the poorest citizens took advantage of the chaos in the early stages of the revolt to carry out widespread looting. Some ordinary Dubliners reacted with rage against the rebels, while others quickly expressed sympathy and support. The city’s press was universally hostile, with the three daily newspapers supporting efforts of the British authorities to crush the revolt.
In the aftermath of the rebellion over 2,000 Dubliners were interned. The press soon noted what they called a ‘remarkable feature of the Sinn Fein movement and of this rising was the number of Civil Servants involved in it.  Many of them have been killed and others have been arrested’. Many serving and former members of Dublin Corporation were involved who were killed or executed for their part in the revolt.
While the political atmosphere in Dublin changed dramatically over the next two years, the impact of the Rising was felt for decades; in the ruins of the city centre, only slowly rebuilt; in the physical and mental scars felt by those who were wounded or lost loved ones; and the political divisions that have simmered ever since.
The Centre of the Rising
                                Dublin changed forever after Easter Week 1916. Almost 500 people were killed in the city and over 2,000 injured. O’Connell Street and its environs were devastated, its main buildings destroyed by arson and shellfire. The majority of the dead were civilian, most of them ordinary Dubliners from the north and south inner-city areas. But Dubliners were also killed and wounded fighting on both sides in 1916. Around 1,800 men and women of the Irish Volunteers, Citizens Army and Cumann na mBan took part in the revolt, most of them residents of the city.
Seizing the centre of the historic capital of Ireland was a hugely symbolic move by the republican leadership and they hoped that the city’s people would rally to their cause. But there were also Dubliners in the several British regiments based in the city and among the police force. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers played a prominent role in suppressing the revolt. There were several cases of family members fighting on opposite sides. In the midst of the carnage the Dublin Fire Brigade struggled to deal with the conflagration; doctors and nurses from the city’s hospitals looked after the wounded; clergy of all religions tended to their flocks, and ordinary people struggled to find food and shelter. Extensive original and recently released archival material supports the many country-wide events for 1916-2016.
Ireland Remembers
The 2016 *Centenary Programme is built on Seven Programme Strands which, taken together, reflect the themes of Remembering, Reconciling, Presenting, Imagining and Celebrating. It includes other county programmes and the national programme for a decade of commemorations. It includes formal commemorative events, focused on remembering and honouring those who took part in the Easter Rising, and especially those who gave their lives. In other cities and towns a range of events have been organised to honour the many individual and collective deeds of heroism.
They involve history-based activities and initiatives designed to deepen and broaden understanding of the events of 1916 and the pivotal period in history. They reflect on the central place of the Irish language in the ideals of the Revolutionary Generation and celebrate the language through a diverse programme of events. It places children and young people at the centre of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme integrating historical exploration with a range of imaginative activities working with the creative community and arts organisations to reflect on the past, present and future, with a focus on 1916. It encourages widespread citizen engagement in 1916 related events, involving the broadest possible community and voluntary sector participation in many places throughout the country.
Citizens and visitors alike are encouraged to engage with the 1916 commemorations and to participate in the many planned events this year as communities are at the heart of the commemoration programme.  It invites the global Irish diaspora and friends of Ireland from all over the world to join in remembering, reflecting and re-imagining this pivotal event in Dublin and Ireland’s history.
It is fitting to conclude with an extract from ‘A Special Message from President Michael D Higgins’ … This year we should not just celebrate the vision, courage and dedication of people whose beliefs and actions led to our independence, we should take the possibility of ensuring that our future is one that is free from any distortions of history or affected amnesia … We must be free to engage with the full richness of our history, the diversity of our people, their histories, the events that make up the communities we are today and wish to be in the future … We should recognise the great gift of independence, as well as the duties that come with that freedom.  
 Ita Marguet, April 2016
Note:   Acknowledgement is given to the *Centenary Programme Dublin Remembers 1916-2016.  It follows a visit to Dublin April 2016 and articles about Ireland, including The Connaught Rangers’ Mutiny: James Joseph Daly (1899-1920).