The Easter Rebellion and Lessons From Our Past

I had planned today to write something commemorating the centenary of Ireland’s Easter Rising; the quickly-crushed insurrection which paved the way for the Irish Free State.

But such reflections seem somewhat callous against the grim backdrop of current world events.

Just this weekend, a suicide bomber killed at least 70 – mostly children – in an attack on a park in Lahore, Pakistan.

I debated this morning whether to write about that instead. Whether to grieve the mounting death toll from attacks around the world, or whether to question, again, our seemingly preferential concern for places like Brussels and Paris. Or perhaps to highlight the inequities evident in such headlines as CNN’s In Pakistan, Taliban’s Easter bombing targets, kills scores of Christians.

The majority of those killed were Muslim.

Perhaps these details hardly matter; it is all of it a horror.

But if I were to write about every global tragedy, these pages would find room for little else. There is no end to suffering, no limit of atrocity.

Perhaps I should write instead about Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, who – twenty years after orchestrating the ethnic cleansing of Srebrenica – was just convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by a United Nations tribunal.

Of course, such news also serves as a reminder that Omar al-Bashir, the current, sitting president of Sudan, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is also widely considered to be a perpetrator of genocide, though the ICC demurred from making that charge. The ICC issued its arrest warrant in 2009, citing numerous crimes committed since 2003. Bashir won reelection in 2010 and again in 2015.

It is all too much.

Perhaps I should write about the Easter Rising – a notable event for my own family – after all.

In the midsts of World War I, on Easter Monday 1916, 1,600 Irish rebels seized strategic government buildings across Dublin. From the city’s General Post Office, Patrick Pearse and other leading of the rising, issued a Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic:

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.

The overwhelming superiority of British artillery soon put an end to the provisional government.  Over 500 people were killed; more than half were civilians. In The Rising historian Fearghal McGarry argues that Irish rebels attempted to avoid needless bloodshed, while, according to  one British soldier, the British troops, “regarded, not unreasonably, everyone they saw as an enemy, and fired at anything that moved.”

During the fighting, the British artillery attacks were so intense that the General Post Office (GPO) was left as little but a burnt-out shell. As an aside, the GPO housed generations of census records and other government documents – making my mother’s efforts to recreate my family tree permanently impossible.

After the the rebellion had been crushed, fifteen people identified as leaders were executed by firing squad the following week.

This week is rightly a time of commemoration and celebration in Ireland. The brutality of the British response galvanized the Irish people – among whom the uprising had initially been unpopular. The tragedy of the Easter Rising thus led to Irish freedom and, after many more decades, ultimately to peace.

It’s a long and brutal road, but amid all the world’s horrors, confronted by man’s undeniable inhumanity to man, perhaps it is well to remember: we do have the capacity for change.

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