Thursday, April 7, 2016

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A Blow Against Empire And Imperialism

Liam O'Ruairc submitted the following as a response to this query by the Irish Times, adding that "unsurprisingly it was never published."

Reflect on what the events of 1916 mean to you as an Irish person living today. Do you applaud or deplore the rebels' actions ? Does today's Ireland conform to the vision of 100 years ago ? Do centenary celebrations stir emotions -of nostalgia, or anger- in you ? Share you account in no more than 500 words.

The 1916 Rising is to be applauded for delivering a blow against the very idea of Empire and imperialism. Because of its influence on movements in Asia and Africa, it created a template that changed the world. Its universal significance is to have hastened the end of the imperial and colonial age and made a significant contribution to the emancipation of colonial and racially subaltern groups globally. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, decolonisation was one of the chief advances of the 'short twentieth century', and a key achievement of the 1916 Rising is to have accelerated this process. This world historical significance of the 1916 Rising gives it much more weight than just some particular nationalist rebellion in Ireland : a page in the history of universal emancipation was written. This is why people of Asian or African origin living in Ireland today can celebrate the Rising.

What is to be deplored is that the 1916 Proclamation falls short of the Fenian 1867 Proclamation of the Republic or the radical ideas of 1798. The 1867 Proclamation was explicitly secular and had none of the religious language of the 1916 Proclamation, resists ideas of either religious or ethnic solidarity as the basis for the Irish Republic. Its references to the country are concrete, mentions certain things absent in the 1916 Proclamation such as a republican form of government; economic injustice and social equality. Despite the Easter Rising being a blow for democracy, one can also deplore that the word 'democracy' or 'democratic' does not appear in the Proclamation.

Does today's Ireland conform to the vision of 100 years ago ? Ireland today does not find its foundation in the Easter Rising but in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which set up two states in opposition to the all-Ireland Republic proclaimed in 1916. Today's Ireland is much more the product of what professor John M Regan called "the Irish counter-revolution" than the realisation of the ideals of the Easter Rising. The result has been a "carnival of reaction" feared by Connolly as witnessed today for example by the increased sectarianism in the six counties north of the border and mass emigration in the 26 counties south of it. The Union has never been stronger. Successive generations of politicians in Ireland have abandoned the high ground of the Republic for the practical acceptance of partitionist institutions with the resulting pathologies of power this entails. Today's Thermidorian climate is far removed from the revolutionary energy of 1916.

If the centenary celebrations stir any emotions in me, it is the melancholy of defeat. Like in many other post-colonial countries, national liberation has given way to national recreancy. But the centenary should encourage us to re-connect with and retrieve the creative imagination and what is most radical and democratic in the project of the insurgents: Pearse's pedagogy, Connolly's labour movement activism, or Casement's defence of human rights in Africa and Latin America. Like modernity, 1916 remains an unfinished project and retains an emancipatory promise.


Henry JoY said...


with respect, what record is there that the leaders of the Easter Rebellion had any coherent and workable plan to address the Unionist position?

Save that they were concerned not to provoke sectarian confrontation in the north and had effectively prohibited any uprising there by directing northern volunteers to make their way west to join with Mellows what vision had they for preventing partition which was already well fagged even in 1916?

If we are to evaluate whatever propensity that may have existed for achieving the All-Ireland Republic proclaimed in Easter 1916 these concerns need to be addressed. I'd welcome your thoughts, opinions and any information that you can offer in answering these central and fundamental questions.