The kickoff to the 2016 100th year anniversary of the Easter Rising has been poorly managed, to say the least.
The initial video was widely canned for paying no heed to 1916 itself, but rather presenting a puzzling array of figures such as Queen Elizabeth and Bono who had nothing to do with the event.
In addition, the Irish government, while finally embracing the concept, has left it very late and has already alienated many families of 1916 survivors who have refused to cooperate. One good development is the hiring of John Concannon, widely viewed as the architect of the highly successful Gathering initiative two years ago, as the main instigator behind the commemoration.
The Gathering was a powerful message which created huge community involvement often at very little cost and created new chapters in the lives of many Irish both at home and abroad.
The same should be done with Easter 1916. It transformed the Irish nation both at home and abroad and its foundation document, the Easter Proclamation, is one of the finest civil and equal rights documents ever created by the birth of a nation.
It started by equally acknowledging men and women – “Irishmen and Irishwomen,” unheard of at that time – recognized the Irish abroad (“supported by her exiled children in America”) and spoke of “religious and civil liberties and equal rights and equal opportunities.”
As a blueprint a nation could not have had a more auspicious start. How it is interpreted today is critical to the onward progress of the Irish nation at home and abroad.
The commemoration must encompass the openness, inclusiveness and aspiration to greatness of the original document. That must include all the island of Ireland and the nation abroad. This cannot be an Irish Republic celebration only.
It is not for any party, from Sinn Fein to Fine Gael, to lay exclusive claim to the legacy of 1916. It belongs to all the Irish people no matter where they are.
What is needed in America is threefold. First a large scale educational campaign about the upcoming centenary and all that will involve which should start in time for March 2015, in order to give a year or so to plan. Many Americans would surely want to be present in Ireland when the centenary is celebrated in April 2016.
The Internet, community awareness and major media is the perfect way to create that awareness to make sure the event expands beyond the narrow island of Ireland horizon. Local events need to be planned in all major centers across the U.S.
Second, these Americans need to be hooked up to the history of the period particularly as it reflects on their ancestral area. While the Rising was confined to a narrow swathe of the country, its aftermath was not and that history shows the very foundations of the modern Irish state emerging. There was not a village or town unaffected by the events.
Thirdly, there has to be an ability to connect with Ireland, not just old Ireland but new Ireland too. Events featuring culture, history, roots and the arts should be planned on a nationwide basis and information about them widely disseminated. Attracting the younger generation is critical.
Millions of Irish persons, whether in Ireland or among the 70 million diaspora, were influenced in some way by Easter 1916. The commemoration of that event needs to think big to encompass it all.