It was a different commemoration of Easter 1916, the 98th anniversary, this year.
President Michael D. Higgins' state visit to Britain earlier this month saw, for the first time since around 1169, an Irish leader standing on equal ground with a British monarch.
The powerful symbolism of that would not be lost on the 1916 leaders, who, above all, saw the British claim of supremacy over Ireland and the Irish as their biggest reason to rise up.
It took almost 100 years for the British crown to recognize and invite the Irish head of state to Britain. Some thought it would never happen. Yet it has and not a moment too soon.
The presence of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness at the state dinner was deeply symbolic. The fruits of the Good Friday Agreement are often buried amid a welter of resentments, but the sight of a Republican leader on equal terms with the British establishment would surely have gladdened the men and women of 1916.
The other extraordinary development was the agreement of the British royal family to attend the 1916 centenary celebrations.
We can expect Irish dignitaries to attend the First World War commemorations in upcoming years as well, part of the parity of esteem between the two countries that have such a long and tragic past.
We are looking at nothing less than a New Departure in Anglo-Irish relations.
The original New Departure was a term coined in 1878 by the old New York Fenian John Devoy, who first saw the potential of joining together the physical and political forces of his time in the cause of Ireland. It almost resulted in Irish Home Rule as Parnell, the Land League, the Fenians and Irish America made a powerful quartet which, but for Parnell's downfall over Kitty O'Shea, would surely have resulted in achieving the Holy Grail.
Over a century later, in 1998, many of the same elements in a new New Departure helped bring about a peace settlement in Northern Ireland which has essentially endured since. Sinn Fein, Irish America, which activated President Bill Clinton, John Hume, the Parnell of his day, and the Irish government helped forge a Nationalist consensus which allowed a united front in the negotiations with the British government and the Ulster Unionists.
Devoy's dream had been realized. When Senator George Mitchell stepped outside the negotiation room on Good Friday 1998 and announced a settlement, the immensity of the successful creation of that Nationalist coalition became apparent. Now we have the logical outcome of that second New Departure, the acceptance by the British at the highest level of the new relationship crystallized by last week’s historic state visit.
As an editorial in the British Guardian put it, “Overall, however, the visit can usefully be seen as part of an uneven but generally positive process in which the different peoples of these islands are attempting, with some noises off, to establish richer and more generous mutual relations appropriate to the modern era.”
There is much to celebrate this Easter season as historic moments continue to resonate from the Irish peace process. More to come.
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