Lessons of 1916

Yesterday my daughter came home from school.  She’s doing the Leaving Cert in a few months and had been covering the 1916 Rising in her history class.  “Dad”, she said, “I felt so sad in school watching a documentary on the leaders of the 1916 Rising. They knew it was a futile gesture, but they went ahead with their plans because of their commitment to the idea of a Republic. And did you know that when they were being led away afterwards by British soldiers, the people in the streets spat on them and shouted at them. They didn’t live to see that their efforts were not entirely in vain.”


My daughter’s ready engagement with the Rising of 1916, her empathy with the lost leaders of that botched revolution, got me thinking.


Once again, we are at another crossroads in the history of our country. The people are rightly angry, they are disaffected.  I know this from talking to them, and from encountering those who are beyond talking.  Whose stony silence and averted eyes speak volumes. People who just want the whole debacle of the last few years to go away.


But we can’t afford to give up.  In five years time we celebrate the centenary of 1916.  Will we do so as a failed democracy? Or as a country that, brought to the brink of disaster, found a way back?  We need to re assert the principles that underpinned our founding democracy. We need to restore the belief in the virtues of a Republic where all are cherished equally and where trust, honesty and dignity are hallmarks of how we do business in government and beyond.


Sometimes, even when things seem futile, we have to keep going.  We don’t really have a choice.  When the history of this era is written are we to be the people spitting from the footpaths, or the people who committed to building an alternative?  Let’s pledge ourselves to building a new Republic, one that my children and your children can be proud of.  Hope must triumph over despair in 2011.