In the hundred years since the 1916 rising, this State has only once commemorated the event on its anniversary.
You might find that surprising, but it’s true. On every other occasion, the official commemoration happened up to a month before the anniversary, though it won’t happen after the date until the year 2038.
This year, our official ceremonies will take place on the 27th March, a full four weeks before the anniversary of the uprising. Next year, they’ll be on the 16th April, and the following year it will be the 1st April.
In 2066, the commemoration will be on the 11th April, and we all look forward to attending.
How do I know this?
Well, there’s no mystery to it. You can work out every date in the future for yourself with the formula our government uses to calculate when we should commemorate the seminal political event of modern Ireland.
Here it is: We commemorate the 1916 Rising on the day after the first Sunday following the first full moon after the 20th March.
Simple, isn’t it?
Now, of course, as everyone knows, that’s how the Roman Catholic church calculates Easter Monday and as everybody knows the Rising took place at Easter 1916, so why not commemorate it at Easter? The answer, of course, is that Easter is not the anniversary.
It would be easy if we had a Christmas Rising.
25th December. The end. No confusion.
But with 1916, we face a hard question: was it an Easter Rising or a rising that happened at Easter?
Was it a political event or was it religious?
We truly, desperately need to make a decision about this so that everyone on this island can decide where we stand, and I say this not only for myself, but for all those who profess religious views.
Was it an Easter Rising or a rising at Easter? Pearse’s writings make it clear that he saw the Rising as primarily a religious event in which blood would be shed to cleanse the new Ireland. In one poem he compares himself to Jesus and his mother to the Virgin Mary.
Dear Mary, that didst see thy first-born Son
Go forth to die amid the scorn of men
For whom He died,
Receive my first-born son into thy arms,
Who also hath gone out to die for men,
And keep him by thee till I come to him.
Dear Mary, I have shared thy sorrow,
And soon shall share thy joy.
In his speech at Rossa’s grave, Pearse made it very clear.
And we know only one definition of freedom: It is Tone’s definition; it is Mitchel’s definition; it is Rossa’s definition. Let no one blaspheme the cause that the dead generations of Ireland served by giving it any other name and definition than their name and definition.
It couldn’t be clearer. Anyone who attempted to redefine the Pearse vision of freedom was committing blasphemy, and to that end, he co-opted the dead in the form of Tone, Mitchel and Rossa.
In modern times, we read such statements with a shiver of fear. These days, when political activists describe opponents as blasphemers, we call them religious fundamentalists but that was then and this is now. It was a pity that Pearse chose Mitchel, a racist and supporter of slavery, as a paragon of freedom but perhaps it reveals a naive side to Pearse rather than a dishonest one. On the other hand, some would ask, if he could sink to such crass idiocy as thinking Mitchel championed freedom, what else might he be wrong about?
One way or the other, however, Pearse leaves no doubt that the struggle was inspired by his God, that he himself was to be a martyr, perhaps even the new Messiah, while his brother Willie was a convenient Baptist to be beheaded at the behest of the new Salome, Kathleen Ni Houlihan.
But Pearse was just one man. If people weren’t looking for a new Jesus he would never have been elevated from Patrick in life to Pádraig fifty years after his death. We create our own mythologies but now as the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising approaches, we need to decide once and for all if our Republic is based on a religious war or on a political uprising motivated by a desire for fairness and equality.
Were those revolutionaries serious when they claimed to cherish all the children of the nation equally?
This is not a trivial question. It goes to the very heart of what our nation is and how it perceives itself. It needs to be answered honestly by everyone and perhaps most of all by the government.
We need to decide whether we prefer to commemorate the seminal event in modern Irish history on its anniversary or according to the phases of the Moon.
Once we make that decision, we’ll know where everyone stands in our new republic.
It took Patsy McGarry writing in the Irish Times to jolt me out of my complacency on this.