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28 March 2016

Commemoration in Dublin of Easter Rising very fitting

Commemoration in Dublin of Easter Rising
DUBLIN, IRELAND - MARCH 27: In this photo provided by the Air Corps Press Office, the view of the Parade from Roof of the Blood bank seen during the military parade marking the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising on March 27, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland. The 1916 rebellion was an attempt by Irish forces to overthrow the British government in Ireland. Although unsuccessful it was seen as a significant move in the creation of the Irish republic when public opinion turned in favour of the rebels after British forces defeated the rebellion and executed it's leaders. (Photo by Irish Defence Forces via Getty Images)

"It is fitting, isn't it, that we can't agree what it was about, or what it achieved, or what its legacy is or how best to commemorate it.

"Easter, a movable feast, a date that shifts. Nothing is immutable in Ireland.

"Everything is up for change."

So began TV presenter Brendan O'Connor's Sunday Independent column yesterday.

And I think he got it so right I'm pinching the next bit as well.

"We cannot agree on any of these things perhaps because to be Irish is to be in a constant state of rebellion: rebellion against each other; against ourselves; against the country we love; against anyone who would dare try to tell us how to feel about anything, how to remember anything, how to commemorate anything."

He's writing of my tribe in the Republic, the one that has been traditionally Catholic and nationalist, though from my experience he could just as well have been describing Ulster Protestant unionists these days.

In the last century, it's comparatively recently that my tribe became so intellectually rebellious.

They emigrated or kept quiet in the Ireland of my youth when we were dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and the narrow nationalist narrative imposed on us by the fallout from the Easter Rising.

It's so different now.

Like any country, the Republic has plenty of problems, but it's largely free of the religious and nationalist shackles of the past.

Post-Paisley and Provisional IRA terror, Northern Ireland is a much freer place, too.

Of course Sinn Fein, more of a cult than a political party, is still intellectually and morally authoritarian, but with discipline rarely being imposed violently there are signs of fraying around the edges.

Like anyone who wants a peaceful Ireland, I was worried about how the centenary would be marked. But while we've had the tragedy of Adrian Ismay's murder, I'm impressed by how the Irish Government has done its job.

I could have screamed when a BBC newscaster on Radio 4 this morning referred to the Irish celebration of the Easter Rising.

It isn't.

Most politicians and informed opinion keep stressing that it's a commemoration - not a celebration - and an inclusive one at that.

I had a preview of Witness History, the permanent exhibition in the General Post Office, which is exactly that: a brilliant evocation of what happened from April 24 from every conceivable point of view and with stunning creative use of modern technology.

It's a steal at €10.

Yes, of course it's a look through green spectacles, but they're a very light green and anyone would learn a great deal from it.

I wouldn't bother with Sinn Fein's Revolution, a dreary exhibition at the top of O'Connell Street which is a throwback in tunnel vision and unimaginative design to 50 years ago.

And it's a rip-off at €15.

Watching the commemoration parade in Dublin, I was delighted by the inclusiveness of the guest list and the rhetoric about living in harmony on this island.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated what was been stressed so often and usually achieved, that unlike in the past, when it was only those executed who were honoured, all the dead of 1916 are being commemorated.

The names of everyone - rebels, civilians, police and British soldiers will be on a memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery.

It was a small indication of how far we've come that the two speakers at the launch party in London for my new book, on the signatories of the Proclamation, were Dan Mulhall, the Irish Ambassador, and David Trimble, whose views on 1916 reflected their wide reading.

I have great respect for the ambassador's hard work in organising embassy events reflecting many attitudes: one of those I was at recently was about the Irish in the British Army.

He wrote a blog after the launch in which he said: "I have no difficulty in recognising that there are many different, even conflicting analyses of 1916.

"That is the way it should be.

"The past is multi-faceted and it is susceptible to multiple, competing readings."

As Brendan O'Connor said, that's fitting.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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