Easter 1916 Commemorations in 2016

Remembering 1916 in 2016 - with determination

 Bernd Biege

The Easter Rising of 1916 was one of the defining moments in the struggle for Irish independence - indeed it may be regarded as the turning point for the fortunes of Irish republicanism. And this despite the fact that the rebellion was a total failure ... but its bloody aftermath united the Irish. Apart from the Loyalists, of course, hence the later partition of Ireland.

At noon on Easter Monday 1916 bemused Dubliners saw columns of Irish Volunteers and ICA members marching through their city. Carrying antiquated guns or even pikes and pickaxes. Wearing colourful and flamboyant uniforms - or civilian clothes. And a number of the motley crew assembled in front of Dublin's General Post Office (GPO), listening to Patrick Pearse proclaiming the "Irish Republic" and witnessing the hoisting of the new flag. It all ended in military defeat and desaster just a few days later.

Once the shooting in the streets and the Easter Rising of 1916 was over, the shootings in the jails started - the British backlash ensured that minor poets became major martyrs ...

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Official Ireland Celebrates the 1916 Centenary

The mass grave at Arbour Hill, where the 1916 leaders are interred
© Bernd Biege 2015

All in all, the official commemoration programme should include something for everyone. The events of 1916 will be the background to a multitude to officially sponsored celebrations in Ireland and abroad - divided into the broad groupings of (these are the official titles) State Ceremonial, Historical Reflection, Cultural Expression, Community Participation, Global and Diaspora, An Teanga Bheo (Irish language events), and Youth and Imagination. Make of this what you will ...

The main event will be the military parade on O'Connell Street on Easter Sunday (March 27th).

For a full programme of planned events, go to the official website www.ireland.ie - but be warned, the website is unwieldy, and this is not helped by the attempt to make each and every page bilingual. Navigating the site is about as much a pleasure as having a quick root canal treatment.

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The Alternative - Reclaiming the Vision of 1916

Monument to the Pearse Brothers - at the site of their father's workshop in Dublin's Pearse Street
© Bernd Biege 2015

A wide alliance of individuals and groups has set out to offer an alternative event to the official 1916 celebrations - claiming to "Reclaim the Vision of 1916". Focussing not so much on keeping the ashes, but more on re-fanning the flames, so to say. Sinn Fein is also involved, with President Gerry Adams stating that the centenary is a time to "rededicate ourselves to the achievement of the politics of Wolfe Tone, of Padraig Pearse and James Connolly, of Maire Drumm and Mairead Farrell, and of Bobby Sands" - a sweeping statement.

At the time of writing, no final programme seems to be available, though it has been mooted that events will take place both during Easter Week and the actual historical centenary date. Renowned artist Robert Ballagh is spearheading the effort, with part of the plan being a major parade and pageant on April 24th, 2016, involving actors and singers like Stephen Rea, Fionnuala Flanagan, Adrian Dunbar, and Sinéad O’Connor.

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The Other 1916 Commemoration - the Battle of the Somme

Off to the Somme? Reenactors in Great War uniforms
© Bernd Biege 2014

1916 was not only the year of the rebellion in Dublin - a far greater "blood sacrifice" was made by Irish soldiers during the Battle of the Somme, fighting against the Germans. This battle lasted from July 1st to November 13th, during which the 36th (Ulster) Division lost more than 2,000 dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme alone, with the 16th (Irish) Division suffering over than a thousand dead at Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916.

This should also be remembered in 2016 - and not only by Loyalists in Northern Ireland (for whom the Somme 1916 holds a similar status to Easter 1916 within the Nationalist community).

A military ceremony at 7:20 am on July 1st at the Irish National War Memorial Park, Islandbridge, will honour the Irish Regiments, with an official state commemoration taking place on July 9th at the same place, with the Royal British Legion also involved. The museum at Glasnevin Cemetery puts up an outdoor exhibition from July 1st, initially focussing on the Ulster Division, then in September on the Irish Division.

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When Should the Easter Rising Really Be Remembered?

The Irish tricolour over Dublin's GPO ... it flies every day
© Bernd Biege 2015

At Easter, of course, I hear you say ... because it was the Easter Rising after all. Well, I disagree. Certainly, the armed rebellion took place on Easter 1916, but it was not a religious event. It was a historical event. And those are generally celebrated on the actual day that they happen. Often with adjustments: the Battle of the Boyne, which took place on July 1st, is now remembered on July 12th. And the October Revolution in Russia has long been remembered in November - both because the calendars changed.

Only in Ireland has a historical event become a moveable feast. Which may have its strongest roots in the pseudo-religious imagery Patrick Pearse and some of his co-conspirators dreamt up. Complete with a necessary blood sacrifice to ensure salvation. So the insurrection in Ireland became somewhat entwined with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. True to form, Official Ireland also tends to celebrate with a military parade on Easter Sunday, whereas the rebellion actually started on Easter Monday.

Read more about the Irish confusion about the 1916 dateline here ... and carry on to read about the official celebrations.

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