It’s almost Easter. For the church there is still Holy Thursday and Good Friday to live through. These are important days in the Christian calendar for they are reminders of the belief that God enters into human suffering in the very deepest of ways in the experience Jesus had of betrayal, disappointment, false accusation and then the humiliation of crucifixion. Each of those words bears its own weight and echoes with our full human experience – personal, social and political. But Easter will come, the light will shine and the celebration will happen.
For Irish Republicans it is an important time. The memories of the Easter Rising are powerful and still shaping of Republican hearts and minds. The Easter lily will be worn with pride as the history of the struggle is recalled and those who died for the cause remembered in parish graveyards all over Ireland. The now seven branches if Irish Republicanism have this remembering at least in common.
Together they will call to mind the time when the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Eireann and the Hibernian Rifles joined to rise against their enemy. Dublin saw the bulk of the fighting in a lesser response than had been originally planned and the immediate reaction of the Irish Nationalist leaders and the Catholic Church was condemnation. But as with all these things, time and action changed the view of what had happened and realigned groups after some time and not least because of what was viewed as an excessive response from the British. The result was the rise of Sinn Fein electorally to take influence and seats from the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1918 General Election.
This year, as every year, significant speeches will be made. From Dublin and Belfast, to Pontypridd and Boston Republicans will remember and unite in remembering. They will listen to speeches to stir their souls and call back to their memories the common cause in which they united and the figures of stature to whom they have looked over many years. One wonders if, among those speeches, Declan Kearney and other forward-looking Republicans will open up again matters of relationship with neighbours who share this Island, with old enemies only some of whom have become friends. One wonders if, hidden beneath it all, there will be a hand of friendship or the stirring of Republican souls to what is at the core of any Republican ideology – space and diversity. The whole point of Republicanism was to move away from despots and dictators, benevolent or otherwise, and open up a system which drew into authority all sections of society and all creeds and beliefs in a coalition determined to create something far more diverse and dynamic than any dictatorship could offer. That Republican soul is one that can stir for the future of an Island that has yet to make peace with its past and it’s people who have yet to finally make peace with one another and look into each others eyes in understanding of why things were done, even while condemning what was done.
It strikes me too that while Irish Republicans are engaged in all of this Ulster Unionists pay little if any heed to it. That is Republican history, it has nothing to do with us. But of course it has in the same way that the Twelfth of July has something to do with the nationalist population, and Remembrance Day and the Apprentice Boys commemorations and all of that. We are intricately tied together in these histories and we dare not forget it if we are to work on creating a society that is showing every evidence of reconciling, rather than simply living two detached histories. Those on the underside of the historical time being remembered take the edge of any triumphalism and each triumphalist moment has to pause and consider what was done to neighbours and fellow travellers on the same piece of land. There’s no hope otherwise.
For a moment there I thought I’d lost the plot, slipped over to the ‘other side’. But there is no other side. Just another place from which to view history. And there is still hope for a better history to be written for the next generation to commemorate in a whole new and more exciting way.