Many people, Irish, migrant and tourist, are questioning the decision to erect banners on the Bank of Ireland building, former site of the Irish Parliament, displaying the heads of four politicians, three of whom were dead long before 1916. These were prepared by Dublin City Libraries, a department of Dublin City Council, at the behest of the office of the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister) and as part of the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.
The images of Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell & Redmond constitute a coherent collection, deliberately chosen — each represented a parliamentary approach and so are in direct opposition to the revolutionary approach in 1916 of the IRB, the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna and, in practice in Dublin, of the Hibernian Rifles.
Furthermore, each of the four politicians in their own time had a revolutionary opposition within the movement — Grattan had the United Irishmen, O’Connell the Young Irelanders, Parnell the Fenians though he flirted pretty heavily with the revolutionaries and vice versa for a while. And of course Redmond …. had the Irish Citizen Army, the IRB, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and Fianna!
While some may be puzzled by the choice of images and others annoyed by them, the message of the Taoiseach’s office and of the State is very clear: “Follow the parliamentary path and not the revolutionary one.” The subsidiary message could have been: “If you are forced into revolution, give over complete power as soon as possible to the capitalist class”. In that case, they could have put the pictures of Collins, Griffiths, Mulcahy and Higgins up, followed perhaps by De Valera’s.
Interestingly, each of those four displayed by Dublin City Council — except Redmond — used the threat of revolution to try to get what he wanted: Grattan, to get a united Irish bourgeoisie and civil rights for Catholics, in order to win greater autonomy for the Irish capitalists; O’Connell, in order to win greater power for the Irish Catholic capitalist class and greater autonomy from England; Parnell, in order to win tenant rights and win back an Irish parliament. Instead, Redmond tried to appeal to the colonialists’ gratitude.
Even more interestingly, EACH of the four FAILED SPECTACULARLY. While this can be said about the 1916 Rising leaders also, the revolutionary struggle initiated by the Rising which began three years later had in another three years won more concessions than had all the many preceding decades of parliamentary effort.
In feeling the need to post their message so crassly and clumsily, the Irish bourgeoisie have revealed also their fear. They are not ignorant of history and therefore know that commemorations are not only about the past — they very often play a role in shaping the future. Prior to the 1916 Rising, commemorations of the centenary of the 1798 and 1803 Risings played a part in building a revolutionary patriotic atmosphere and working associations, while O’Donovan Rosa’s funeral procession in Dublin and Pearse’s famous oration at the grave of the Fenian preceded the Easter Rising by less than a year.
As throughout Ireland, all 32 Counties, the Centenary has awakened a feverish interest, the Gombeen State, which since the 1980s has been trying to downplay the whole unfortunate Easter Rising business and now finds itself obliged to somehow manage the centenary commemorations, is deeply troubled that revolutionary patriotism has been awoken too. That too many people are comparing the various visions of the insurgents of 1916 with the reality which the gombeenmen and compliant politicians delivered us ….. and wondering whether they might not be able to make a similar vision come true, in another bid, 100 years after the previous attempt.