Irish Times
9 Apr 2012

President Michael D Higgins places a wreath outside the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell Street during yesterday’s 96th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. (Photograph: Aidan CrawleyPhotograph: Gareth Chaney Collins)

AN ESTIMATED 3,000 people attended the annual Easter 1916 commemoration ceremony at the GPO in Dublin yesterday.

Led by President Michael D Higgins, dignitaries present included Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Andrew Montague.

Up to 350 personnel from the Defence Forces, including the Air Corps and the Naval Service, took part in what was the 96th anniversary of the Rising. They were led by Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Seán McCann.

Before the ceremony, as dignitaries arrived, two naval cadets fainted, at separate times.

Following a prayer by the Defence Forces chaplain, Msgr Eoin Thynne, the 1916 Proclamation was read by Capt Shane Keogh.

The President then laid a wreath in memory of those who died in the Rising, which was followed by one minute’s silence.

The National Anthem was played as the Air Corps performed a fly-past in four aircraft.

Among guests at the ceremony were relatives of the 1916 leaders, Chief Justice Susan Denham, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Trade and Tourism Joe Costello, Fine Gael chief whip and Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe, and Minister of State for Small Business John Perry.

Also there were Fine Gael TDs Terence Flanagan and Patrick O’Donovan.

A noticeably low Fianna Fáil presence included senators Thomas Byrne and Darragh O’Brien but no party TDs.

Also present was Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Senator Katherine Zappone, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, member of the Council of State Michael Farrell, papal nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, director of the Abbey Theatre Fiach Mac Conghail, IFA president John Bryan and Fr Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland.

In the GPO afterwards, Mr Higgins reflected on the executions of 1916 leaders and his own family’s role in the fight for independence.

After the commemoration ceremony, he said of the Easter Rising: “There’s no problem about people remembering it solemnly and with dignity, and it’s enormously important for the descendants of the families who were directly involved.”

On the execution of 1916 leaders, he said: “The removal of such a strong intellectual core from the definition of independence was the price we paid, a high one, because the succeeding 20s and 30s into the 40s are very conservative and very different from either the life-witness or the writings of the people who were the direct participants” in the Rising.

By the end of the Civil War, “the institutional continuity of the State meant it continued in its administrative form somewhat unchanged, whereas the language that is there between 1890 and 1920 is a language of possibilities and options and its about a very different kind of Ireland”.

Reflecting on his own family, he said: “I cannot but think of the circumstances and the lives of all those particularly of people like my father, from a family of 10, and who had been an apprentice in a bar and grocery and would have worked with trades people, apprentices and others who had joined the War of Independence . . .”

His father and uncles fought side by side in the War of Independence, “but they split then in the Civil War”.

His father “spent 1923 in the Curragh, a very difficult year”, while one of his uncles “was involved with the takeover of Renmore barracks [in Galway] from the British. He was a lieutenant with the Free State side.”

They “were the people without land who were in the War of Independence and afterwards I think, when I look back at it now through a long set of decades, I think that the bitternesses the Civil War created . . . really affected Irish life very much.”