1916 and all that

Friday, 13 April, 2012

Back when Ireland was approaching the end of its 15 minutes of economic fame, we’re talking 2006, the then-Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, felt that the time had come to publish the Proclamation of the Republic (Irish: Forógra na Poblachta), also known as the 1916 Proclamation or Easter Proclamation, in Chinese (PDF). Who knows what the now-disgraced Ahern was thinking when he made this decision. Maybe he believed that declarations such as “We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God” would inspire those cowed by the savage suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989 to rise up against their oppressors. Perhaps, after having had a few pints with his cronies, he thought that the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the 1916 rebellion was the moment to express an internationalist philosophy based upon the founding document of the state he then, incredibly, happened to be leading.

1916 Proclamation

Unlike the French, who have their Bastille Day, and the Americans, who have Independence Day, the Irish have an entire week, Easter Week, to celebrate the inception of their nationhood, but it tends to be a muted affair as revisionism has taken much of the sheen off the actions of the insurgents. From the moment that the Irish Republic was proclaimed at the General Post Office in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916, the “Easter Rising”, as it became known, turned into an anarchic affair that heralded the kind of state that would follow once independence had been achieved. “The streets had the feel of a mad carnival, a surreal cityscape of revelling looters, dead horses, haphazard barricades, a mad and murderous army captain, an exotic countess, a weird jumble of exhilaration and terror. Wild rumours took the place of hard facts,” noted the writer of the Easter 1916 supplement produced by The Irish Times to mark the 90th anniversary of the uprising.

The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally…” That was the idealized state the Easter 1916 rebels killed for and died for. Hard questions will have to be answered in Dublin when the 100th anniversary of their uprising is celebrated in Beijing in 2016.

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