Easter Rising centenary honours Irish rebels and cherishes ‘a new peace’

Dublins GPO, scene of the Irish Republics violent birth, had snipers on its roof again but reconciliation was the theme 100 years on

Even the tune the Irish army No 1 band struck up straight after prayers to remember those who died in the 1916 Easter Rising reflected 21st-century Irelands wish for peace and reconciliation on the island, including respect for the unionist tradition.

In their black uniforms with red trim and Napoleonic shako hats, the military musicians struck up Danny Boy a song written six years before the rebellion and one which, unusually, is held dear by nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants.

The ballad, written to the tune of the older Londonderry Air, has become one of the most popular Irish songs and its choice on Easter Sunday sent out a powerful symbol that the ceremony 100 years on from the insurrection was also about looking forward to a new era of peaceful cooperation.

Bandswoman Jane Hilliard from the Irish army No 1 band plays The Last Post as a wreath was laid at Kilmainham jail, where the 1916 leaders were executed. Photograph: Pool/Getty

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin for the largest public spectacle in the Irish republics history. The Easter Rising was a military failure for the revolutionaries, who included poets, journalists and teachers, but it ultimately led to the creation of an independent republic.

With a chilling spring wind blowing across Dublins OConnell Street, Danny Boy followed a prayer of remembrance for all the dead of the Rising delivered by Fr Samus Madigan, head chaplain of the Irish Defence Forces.

The prayer outside the General Post Office, where the revolt began in Easter week 1916, was also as much about the present as the past. Together, on this island, we have achieved a new peace. We cherish that peace, as we cherish all of the children of this island equally, said Madigan.

We pray for all those who have suffered in the Troubles of the past century, and we hope for peace and reconciliation in the century that stretches before us. Praying for the people of Ireland, from all traditions, at home and abroad, Madigan said Ireland was now singing a new song of compassion, inclusion and engagement.

Thousands of members of the Irish armed forces and emergency services march down OConnell Street in Dublin. Photograph: Pool/Getty

The three-hour ceremony and parade by about 4,000 members of the Irish army, navy and air force as well as Gardai and the Republics emergency services was heavy with historical resonance and peppered with rich ironies.

Among those on the VIP podium was the Northern Ireland deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness. The one-time IRA chief of staff was seen applauding the Irish military personnel even though the Provisional IRA claimed to be the true inheritors of the 1916 rebels during the Troubles and the only legitimate Irish armed force.

Snipers, too, had returned to the roof of a building facing the GPO 100 years on. In Easter 1916 what was once the Imperial Hotel had been occupied by sharpshooters belonging to to the leftwing Irish Citizen Army. The ICA used their vantage point to fire on British troops in OConnell Street.

One hundred years on, snipers from the Irish states army were back on the rooftop to protect the politicians and the people attending the commemoration.

Capt Peter Kelleher from the 27th Infantry Battalion reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic at the GPO on OConnell Street Photograph: Maxwells/Irish government/Getty

The choice of Capt Peter Kelleher to read out the Proclamation of Independence, which Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Rising, exclaimed at the start of the rebellion, was apposite.

His grandfather, also called Peter, and grand-uncle were both members of the old IRA in west Cork during the War of Independence that erupted three years after the rebellion. His grand-uncle died from sepsis as a result of a bullet wound following an engagement with the Black and Tans, the British army auxiliaries deployed to Ireland to quell the Irish revolution.

Before the official ceremony at the GPO, the Irish president, Michael Higgins, laid a wreath in the stone-breakers yard of Kilmainham jail, where the 16 rebel leaders were executed.

An estimated 485 people lost their lives in almost a week of fighting between the republican rebels and British armed forces in the city. More than half of those who died were civilians, including 40 children.

The devastated GPO after the uprising had been crushed. Photograph: Alamy

A heavy emphasis was put on the Irish militarys participation in the centenary event, with armoured personnel carriers and artillery pieces paraded through the city centre to the applause of tens of thousands of spectators lining the streets. Veterans of UN peacekeeping operations wearing light blue berets, some being pushed in wheelchairs, also carried the flags of nations where Irish military personnel have served since the late 1950s, ranging from Iraq to Lebanon and Afghanistan to Rwanda.

Among those in Dublin for the centenary were Jim and Alice Curran, who travelled from Belfast to attend the event. We were staying in a hotel I had booked in OConnell Street so we saw the whole thing. It was totally inspiring and a piece of real history, he said.

I was especially impressed at the way people spoke about peace in the north of Ireland and putting all the Troubles behind us, Jim Curran said.

Irelands President Michael Higgins inspects the guard of honour at the GPO. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Chiming with the theme of reconciliation the taoiseach, Enda Kenny, invited Higgins to lay a wreath on behalf of the people of Ireland in honour of all those who died meaning everyone who fell during the six days of hostilities 100 years ago: rebels, Dublins residents and even British soldiers.

After Higgins stepped forward and laid the wreath outside the GPO, with the Irish tricolour at half-mast, a minutes silence for the fallen was perfectly observed by more than 100,000 people across the city centre.

The only noise was the creaking of the flagpole in the wind atop the spot generations of Irish citizens regard as sacred, and the flapping wings of a pigeon flying from the GPO to the other side of OConnell Street.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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