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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Personal Perpective

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Image of Garrett FitzGeraldGarret FitzGerald is one of Ireland’s most distinguished statesmen. He was Taoiseach (Prime Minister) between June 1981 and March 1982 and again between 1982 and 1987. Here he writes in a personal capacity about his reflections on 1916 in which his parents played an active role. You can also compare his thoughts today with his reflections on the 50th anniversary in 1966 in an article he wrote in the Irish Jesuit journal, Studies. (Rich Text Format - 29k)
A personal perspective
by Garret FitzGerald

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Both my parents were in the GPO in 1916. My mother was there for the first two days but after Patrick Pearse had sent her on a futile mission on the Tuesday to bring a flag to fly over Dublin Castle, which he wrongly thought had been captured, he told her to return home as he did not wish my elder brothers to lose both parents.

My father, who had just completed a 6 months sentence in Mountjoy for seditious speech, was there until the Friday, when he was ordered to bring the wounded to Jervis Street hospital, a block behind the GPO – from there, after many adventures, he got home to Bray, where he was later arrested.

In their view by Easter Monday 1916 it had lost any chance of success...

Given that background, it is not easy for me to be objective about the Rising. On the other hand it is perhaps easier for me to see those events in the context of their time, and to avoid the common mistake of judging them in terms of present day attitudes.

Moreover, I am helped in this by the fact that my father wrote some years later about his experiences in the years 1913 to 1916, explaining both why he and others were motivated to contemplate such a Rising, and also why he and several of his friends, such as The O’Rahilly, were opposed to it taking place at the time it did: because in their view by Easter Monday 1916 it had lost any chance of success. As my father recorded, this raised doubts about its morality in the minds even of Pearse and Plunkett — doubts they sought to quell.

It was the massive rush by Irish men to join the British Army in 1914 that seemed to him and to like-minded others to portend an imminent demise of Irish nationalism. In their view, this made an early attempt to end British rule necessary. Unfortunately, a subsequent misguided attempt by myth-makers to portray the Rising as an outcome of the abiding strength of Irish nationalism came to obscure the fact that it was in fact an act of desperation, undertaken by people who believed that nationalism was dying on its feet.

It was their hope that if it failed, it would nevertheless revive a dying national feeling...

And although neither my father nor The O’Rahilly nor Eoin MacNeill, the President of the Volunteers who had countermanded the Rising, could see this at the time it was, of course, precisely because the Rising was a heroic failure that its success in reviving national feeling turned out to be beyond the dreams of those who had organised it.

There are, I think, at least three ways of looking at these events. We can see them as they were seen at the time by those who decided to proceed, despite the virtual certainty of failure. It was their hope that if it failed, it would nevertheless revive a dying national feeling. And they proved right in this judgment.

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