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The Irish Times, Saturday, 30th March 1991
1916 – 1991

Saturday, 30th March 1991

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What is this strange phenomenon called 1916 that seems to raise the blood and paralyse the intellect for so many? For perhaps a year, in the run-up to this 75th anniversary, politicians, historians, commentators, artists and others have been building their cases: at the extremes, some to prove the futility of what happened that Easter Week and to renounce it in the name of modern Ireland; others to insinuate that it justifies and validates the activities of today's IRA.

The Easter Rising was a calculated conspiracy to spill blood. Those who planned it knew that most of it would be that of innocent, uninvolved people – as was the case. It was profoundly undemocratic. Its object was to sweep away moderation and compromise. A small, violent IRB cabal outwitted, deceived and manipulated the more moderate Volunteers and set in train a process which led to the marginalisation of those who clung to the political way.

The Easter Rising was a calculated conspiracy to spill blood....

It was also a week of bravery and idealism; a heroic expression of the ideal of Irish nationhood and separateness which had been gathering momentum particularly since the turn of the century. In its time and place it was, in James Connolly’s words, "a grand thing". Nations defined themselves in terms of their military capacity with flags, banners and anthems. A willingness to kill and, indeed, to be killed on behalf of one’s country was an essential element of nationhood.

It is probably true that without the Easter Rising an independent Irish State would have come into existence anyway. It is also possible to argue that if there had been no recourse to arms, Ireland today would not be divided and the North would be at peace. One the other hand, it ought not be forgotten that before ever a shot was fired on behalf of Irish nationalism in these years, the unionists had armed and trained and declared their intention to resist a new settlement by force.

But the Rising is what actually happened; it defined in great part, the road through which the Irish State has emerged. The United States began with a volley of shots at Lexington. Constitutional Britain began with a devastating war and the chopping off of a king’s head. Modern France began with the guillotine. The United States, the United Kingdom and the French Republic might have emerged anyway through peaceful, political evolution. But they too, in the event, were born in blood.

The Irish Times,
Saturday , 30th March 1991
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