Easter Week 1916

 Easter is the principal feast day of the Christian religion, and, like the Jewish feast of Passover – which immediately preceded the first Easter, it is rooted in an actual event.  Like Passover, it represents a passage from darkness to light, from death to life.  The Crucifixion of our Lord and his subsequent Resurrection are events both of physical and of spiritual significance.  Just as the Old Testament foretold the coming of the Messiah, so there was, for centuries, a messianic tradition in Irish literature, looking forward to the re-birth of the Irish nation in a bright new day of Freedom.  Perhaps the best example of this is found in the prophetic play, “The Singer”, by Pádraic Pearse, in which the sacrifice of but fifteen men redeems the nation.  Analogous to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, even more so than the Christ-like sacrifice of Robert Emmet, the 1916 Easter Rising provided the blood sacrifice, which resulted in the resurrection of the national consciousness of Gaelic Ireland and set the country on the road to freedom.  Just as the work of Christ on earth remains unfinished, so too does the bright dream of the men and women of 1916 remain unfulfilled.  England’s first overseas colony remains her last, both in fact and, sadly, among too many, in spirit as well. 

On Easter Monday, 1916 - like those who stood and fought in defense of American Liberty on Lexington Green and at Concord Bridge on the 19th of April in 1775 - brave Irish men and women took up arms to rid Ireland of its cruel invader, England.  In so doing they set in motion events, which would inspire the unraveling of England’s vast empire, on which the sun never set throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.  The Irish War for Independence which followed gave hope and courage to other victims around the world to also rise up; it set in motion a ground swell of armed resistance and/or of civil disobedience in countries around the world including Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean.  The beginning of the end of that particular evil empire had its commencement on that fateful Easter Monday morning in 1916.  

Those who went out on that Easter Monday in 1916, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish National Foresters, the Hibernian Rifles and the ladies of Cumann na mBan, without regard to their own personal safety, went into the gap of danger, made the sacrifice, set the example. 

For the poet William Butler Yeats, Easter 1916 transformed Ireland from a place where “motley was worn,” ... “all changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born.” 

Just as the way to properly respect the sacrifice on Calvary is not merely to read about the historical Jesus, but to live a Christian life, as both preached and exemplified by Christ, himself, in order that we might be saved; so too is the proper way to honor those who rose up during Easter week 1916 to relive their example, each according to his or her unique talents and abilities (with the example of the Constitutional Liberties of the United States), in order that we might be found faithful to the Fenian Faith which motivated them.   

The supporters of the connection with England have worked well in secret, and in the open.  In classic imperial form they seek to divide and rule, cultivating differences in fear of Theobald Wolfe Tone’s aim of replacing divisive labels with the separate, common title of Irishman.  Bribes, offices and so-called honors are part of their stock in trade.  Yet, just as in every generation there have been those foolish enough to accept these counterfeit compromises, so too is there a continuity of Irish resistance to alien domination stretching back to the resistance to the Vikings, which, under Brian Boru, finally broke their power in Ireland at Clontarf, and which has always regarded English pretension to sovereignty over any part of Ireland as fundamentally illegitimate, as the “fruit of the poison tree.” 

As Pearse said regarding those who collaborate with English rule, theirs may be... a safer gospel, but it is not the Gospel of Tone.  At the grave of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in 1915, Pearse also insisted that we must stand together “in brotherly union for the achievement of the freedom of Ireland.  And we know only one definition of freedom: it is Tone’s definition, it is Mitchel’s definition, it is Rossa’s definition.  Let no man blaspheme the cause that the dead generations of Ireland served by giving it any other name and definition than their name and their definition.”   

Like O’Donovan Rossa, Pearse and those who rose up with him in 1916, held it a Christian thing, “to hate evil, to hate untruth, to hate oppression and hating them to strive to overthrow them.”   

When Sinn Féin, as separatist, abstentionist Republican party contested the general election of 14th  December 1918, promising to NOT represent their constituents or their country in the mighty Westminster Parliament in London, but rather to set up, without foreign let or hindrance, a republican assembly which would form an Irish government for Ireland.  Sinn Féin won over 79% of the popular vote in all Ireland, and 73 of 105 seats, in what can only be described as a plebiscite for independence.  The delegates who assembled in the Mansion House in Dublin formed the First Dáil Éireann and, issued the Irish Declaration of Independence on 21st January 1919 (legally the equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress, promulgated on the 4th of July 1776).  Brian O’Higgins, himself among the elected Teachta Dála Éireann, points out, in his Wolfe Tone Annual, that Easter Monday, 1916 is regarded as the significant date as a consequence of the pre-existing Army Council of the Irish Republican Army – Óglaigh na hÉireann (the IRA), the army of the government of Ireland virtually established, insisting upon the First Dáil Éireann recognizing and swearing allegiance to the Irish Republic proclaimed in arms in 1916, as a condition for the IRA coming under the authority of the government formed by the First Dáil Éireann. 

The task confronting Ireland’s exiled children in America is to continue to keep faith with the aspirations of the men and women of 1916, and to accurately represent these aspirations to a candid world.  It is a formidable task fraught with challenges and obstacles but with God’s help we shall prevail.  Cumann na Saoirse Náisiúnta approaches this task independently, as Americans, and with no foreign principal, but loyal to the principles of Liberty, which motivated the Easter Rising in 1916.  We are confident in the knowledge that what we represent is what the martyrs of 1916, and the martyrs who came before and after, fought and died for.  Like Douglas Hyde, Nollaig Ó Gadhra and Mary Holt Moore, we find the example for Ireland’s cultural future in the Gaelic League.  Like Joe Clark, Daithí Ó Conaill and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, we find the example for Ireland’s economic and political future in Ireland’s Gaelic past, including the application of the principle of subsidiarity – recognizing the uniqueness of four historic Provinces, while rejecting the gerrymander imposed by Westminster in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.  We recognize the Éire Nua Plan as providing the best hope of restoring the ancient prosperity of Ireland, while cherishing all children of the nation equally, in a truly free and reunited all-Ireland federal Republic, free from outside interference, and free from the inside corruption and profiteering which are the results of the connection with England.   

Just as Holy Week should be a week of prayer and of holy reflection for all Christians resulting in a renewal of our Baptismal vows, so too should Easter Week be a period of reflection on the promise of the bright dream of Easter Week 1916, and of rededication to advancing the Cause of Irish Freedom. 

In conclusion let us reflect once more on the following excerpt from the Proclamation of 1916:  

“We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonor it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.”

 

Mac Dara, do scrí


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