Do you have reservations? Do you find yourself waking in the grey 4.00 am light and wondering if there’s something missing? Do you detect an irony going brr-rrrr in your brain like a phone on silent? I do.
Like so many others, I watched on telly the Dublin Easter parade. Well, not all of it. There’s only so much parading a person can take. But what I did see left me with reservations, a sense of something missing and a feeling there was a live irony buzzing around inside my skull.
Maybe it was the …finality of it all. The end of history. The commentators and anyone vox-popped invariably sounded pleased as Punch. The heroic sacrifices those men made for us. The touching goodbye scenes between the men to be shot at dawn and their families. The identification of the Easter Rising as the seminal event in ‘our’ achievement of nationhood.
I found myself wishing I could jump in and say “Amen, brother or sister – Alleluiah!” but I couldn’t. Was there no one in the crowds massed along O’Connell Street, across O’Connell Bridge, round past what was Grattan’s Parliament building and is now ( irony alert) the Bank of Ireland – was there no one to say “Realized nationhood? Our ‘country’? Enough, already!”
The Proclamation is everywhere these days – on scarves, on towels, on walls – nobody calling themselves Irish can avoid encountering it. I’ve even got my own copy. Scan it with a magnifying glass as often as I may, I can’t see the footnote that says none of the above applies to the six northern counties. Maybe they used invisible ink in the bit where they say that the best way to build a proper republic is to tax the life out of those with least. And there’s clearly been a printing error: it has no mention of a requirement for the twenty-six counties to dance to a German tune in order to express Ireland’s nationhood and independence.
Back on the telly, the voice-over kept referring to ‘the Taoiseach’ and ‘the Tanaiste’ , even though both Enda and Joan are now mere caretakers of those titles since the election.
Meanwhile, out in Glasnevin cemetery, there’s a wall. This freshly-erected structure has been created to salute all combatants in 1916. The relatives of those involved in the Rising aren’t one bit happy, and certainly the buzz of irony is clearly detectable.
North of the Black Sow’s Dyke, any attempt to place all dead combatants and their families on a list of victims has been met with dug-in heels and cries of “Outrageous!” South of the border the names of all combatants killed have been put on a wall – both those who fought for independence and those who killed or tried to kill those fighting for independence.
You have to admire the completeness of the irony, don’t you? Those in the south executed in 1916 were victims of British violence. Yet those who shot them – the British forces – get equal honour on the Glasnevin wall.
In the North the argument works the other way. Here the complaint is that those who gave their loyalty to Britain should not be degraded by being listed alongside those who fought against Britain.
In all this there are two dangers. One is that we will forget the humanity behind every uniform and label. In the end we’re talking about the taking of human life. The other danger is that the self-sacrifice of the Easter Rising will be blurred until it turns into a general lament for all who died, regardless of which side they fought on.
Flexibility is a virtue but sometimes it can become a defect. Think Ireland’s Call.
And let’s remember, in the midst of the happy centenary celebrations, that a hundred years after the Easter Rising we have a divided Ireland, where the southern part is dominated by bankers and austerity, while the northern part must struggle to avoid being air-brushed out of existence.