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Ireland’s commemoration of its fight for independence in 1916 still stirs pride in country and in emigrants thousands of miles away in 2016. Writer Edel Mooney explains her love of her native land.
Text : Edel Mooney
Country: Ireland

hen I watched the video that showed Irish emigrants from around the world reading our Proclamation of Independence in April 2016, I could not help but weep in my small, one-bedroom apartment in my current home at the end of the world, miles apart from Ireland. As lonely as that moment sounds, it was impossible not to be moved by the fact that our Irish Republic was celebrating 100 years of the uprising against the imperial rule of Great Britain.

Many people who are part of the modern Irish diaspora have commented on how they feel “more Irish” when they are living away from the Emerald Isle, and as one of them, I cannot begin to describe how my pride, my awareness, and the appreciation of my roots has evolved in my time spent away. We Irish have scattered throughout the world for over three centuries and continue to do so, infusing our new homes with Celtic music, literature, Gaelic Games, Irish language, St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations, and the Catholic faith.

In comparison to many of my ancestors, I could not be more privileged. I left Ireland in 2012 after graduating college with an itch to travel, explore, and experience other cultures. I did not have to bear crossing the wild Atlantic because of the famine or extreme economic depression. I did not fear dying before reaching my new home, or never seeing my family again. I did expect my new life to be thrilling, challenging, and transformative, but I never imagined the responsibility I would carry in representing my culture to every single person I encounter on this time spent abroad.

When I moved to South America, people commonly asked me, “Which part of Ireland are you from: the North or the South?” It’s quite a sensitive question for any Irish person to be asked directly, as our memories of this time and the troubles in Northern Ireland still haunt us today. We are apprehensive to give our opinion on such a sensitive subject for fear of being challenged or upsetting someone else.

I had never been asked this question while living in the U.S., so why was it interesting for these people to know which part I was from? What were their ideas of the cultural differences between the north and south? I wondered: how is this divide of our island perceived in other parts of the world?

Irish history is not a topic we like to discuss around the dinner table. It is not something to be “celebrated”. We prefer to keep our thoughts about the past to ourselves. But a pride of where we come from lies deep within us. Our sport, art, language, and music highlight our unique culture. We are separate from the rest of Europe, a small island on the western edge of the continent, surrounded by roaring sea, swept by wild winds, and pelted by rain. We have been battered by the natural elements and our infamous, tragic history.

The Great Famine in the 1840s in Ireland saw a drop in population like never before. Approximately 1 million people died, and another million emigrated from the country. My late grandfather, who was the youngest of 14 children, never met two of his older sisters who emigrated from Ireland to the United States before he was born. This painful event in our history strained relationships between the Irish people and the English rule in place in the country during this time. We felt abandoned, as food was exported out of our country during this time while people were starving.

Irish nationalism hardened through the 19th and 20th centuries. With the distraction of the First World War, the Irish Volunteers, a rebel group, organised a rising, which took place during Easter week 1916. Rebellions in the smaller towns around the country ensured that Britain’s attention wasn’t only focused on Dublin. My great-grandfather, at age 17, was involved in the rising in Galway. My grandmother, his daughter, now keeps his medal.

The Rising, which lasted five bloody days, was a catalyst for the creation of an independent state, which finally was achieved in 1922. Recently, the nation of Ireland, and Irish people around the world, reflected in a rare national spotlight on a poignant time in our history.

The commemorations included re-enactments of The Rising and parades with participants dressed in the uniforms of the day. Pipers led the processions and children played the Gaelic game of hurling. The Irish flag, known as the tricolour, flew.

Joe Murphy, a local history enthusiast from my village of Clarinbridge, describes the celebrations at a local level:

“We were so lucky to be approached by the Monageer Commemoration Group who wished to come to our celebration day and parade, dressed in the uniforms of the 1916 Volunteers and carrying facsimile arms. They were awesome —so disciplined and well- trained and they paraded on the 20th March after mass in Roveagh Church, where Liam Mellows, a local rebellion leader, had brought his troops on Easter Sunday 1916 with the intention of beginning the Rising. After marching to the graveyard where they saluted the dead—including veterans of the Rising—they went to Clarinbridge and marched from Scoil Mhuire School (Saint Mary’s) to the church where the tricolour was.

Next was Killeeneen where there was a commemoration at Liam Mellows monument. Nobody could have predicted such a large crowd—one estimate suggested 500 people. It began with the march through Killeeneen Village of the Monageer Group led by 10 pipers from the Loughrea Pipers—what a scene this was and it set the atmosphere for the ceremony in which the musicians played traditional airs and sang ‘West’s Awake’ and ‘Ar nAthair’. I will never forget the laying of the wreath, the reading of the Proclamation, the speakers conversing in Irish and English, and the children with their hurleys taking it all in.”

Síle Ní Choincheanainn, a Ph.D. candidate studying modern Irish prose, reflects on how this event will leave its mark on young Irish people:

“I feel that the children in 5th and 6th class (10 to 12 year olds) will have had the best experience and knowledge of the celebration. From the days I spent in some schools, it seemed as if the children now realise the severity of colonisation and the sacrifice of the men and women of Ireland. The centenary was also a perfect platform to explore the importance of the Irish language and where and when it was used. For example, it was a requirement in entering the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The language was one of the most powerful weapons as they could communicate without the British understanding.”

Gary Sweeney, a student from the Republic, describes the experience of these celebrations living in Northern Ireland:

“The atmosphere in the North was not really any different to the rest of the year, but it could be sensed that the mood was apprehensive given past disturbances. Before living here, I did not expect the current state of sectarian disturbances to still be so apparent in Northern Ireland, as it seems that it is unreported in the Republic. This has surprised me. However, I have not noticed many differences between the people of the North and South, but many similarities such as the support for Irish success, be it in sport or business. The younger generation here seems to be passionate about building a better Ireland for all, as are the generation of the Republic.”

I cannot help but wonder how this special commemoration will influence the culture of younger Irish generations and future Irish travellers who will embark on their exploration around the world. Will they show their pride in being Irish in a different way to previous generations? Will they seem “prouder”?

In Ireland today, we work hard, actively participate in our unique sports and arts, and more than often, take the privileged opportunity we have to discover the world around us. We are also a nation of rapid progress, the first country in the world to vote in favour of gay marriage last year and the first country to exit the EU Financial Bailout Programme following the recession in 2013. We complain a lot—the weather, the government, the health system—but we are a country that values humility above many things.

Martin Luther King once said “We are not the makers of history. We are made by history”. Every single Irish person, at times without realising it, has been shaped by the events of our past, particularly in the years preceding and following 1916. Although I am guilty of romanticising my country when living abroad and being prouder than the Irish norm, I genuinely hope that our people continue to develop our island as a strong country, a welcoming country, a resistant country—a country that I can continue being grateful for when away.

I hope for an Ireland in which children grow up truly valuing our beautiful native language and the green areas we have to play, rather than waiting to live away to recognise all our country has to offer them and the world. I wish for an Ireland in which we are historically knowledgeable, and proud, but never arrogant. Soon this special centenary celebration will be discussed less, and wind its way into the magical history books and memories of the people who experienced it. But it will make us. It will leave its mark forever, not only on the people in Ireland, but on the many people like me, who will carry it with them to other places.

Fact Box:

● All seven men who signed the Irish Proclamation of Independence were executed in the weeks following The Rising.

● During The Rising, the rebels occupied the General Post Office in Dublin as their headquarters. Bullet holes from The Rising can still be seen on the exterior walls today.

● Countess Markievicz, a female leader of the Easter Rising, became one of the first women in the world to enter into a government, as the Minister for Labour from 1919 to 1922. Markievicz, among other women, fought alongside the men during The Rising.




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Éire go brách · Irish Forever


I left Ireland for South America after I graduated from college in 2012 because I wanted to travel. I was surprised that many people would ask me "Which part of Ireland are you from: the North or the South?"

They don’t realize that this is a very sensitive question for an Irish person, since our memories of this time and the troubles in Northern Ireland still haunt us today. We are different from the rest of Europe in our sport, art, language, and music; but we don’t like to talk about our painful history.

In the 1840s Ireland suffered the Great Famine where nearly one million people died and another million emigrated to find a better future. The Irish felt abandoned by the crown because food was still exported out of the country while people were starving. In the 19th and 20th centuries Irish nationalism became even stronger.

During Easter week of 1916 an Irish rebel group called the Irish Volunteers led a rebellion. The Rising lasted five bloody days and led to the creation of an independent state in 1922.

Last April, Irish people all over the world celebrated 100 years of this uprising. I wept when I saw videos of emigrants reading the Proclamation of Independence. Many Irish people say that they feel “more Irish” when they are living abroad, and this happened to me too.

The longer I am away from Ireland, the prouder I feel of being Irish; I have more awareness and appreciation of my roots. I hope that in the future we Irish can reflect on our past but work to make a better future for all of us.

 

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