The 1916 commemoration here on Easter weekend was quite a party! The parade on Sunday was an impressive, sometimes moving spectacle, and the Reflecting the Rising cultural events on Monday widened the appreciation of what it was all about, as well as being hugely entertaining.
On Sunday, despite an ominous weather forecast, the sun shone, huge crowds lined the route of the parade in the center of Dublin and the atmosphere was one of celebration as much as commemoration.
People were celebrating the birth of the nation, being Irish, being together, being happy after all the doom and gloom of the past few years. But talking to people in the crowd around me, a few blocks from O'Connell Street, it was clear that many had only a hazy idea of what had happened at Easter 1916, which was supposed to be what we were all there to commemorate.
There's nothing wrong with that. The Irish love a party or a parade.
And it's not that surprising that many people here know little about our history beyond a simplistic narrative of the heroics of the 1916 rebels. After all, the history taught in Irish schools for many decades only told half the story. The wider story of what was happening at the time in Ireland and beyond was deliberately suppressed.
When I was in school, for example, we were told repeatedly that the Rising was absolutely necessary because even though Home Rule had been passed in the British Parliament, we were never going to get it. Even as a kid at the time I remember wondering why, if that was so clear to everyone at the time, the unionists in the North had set up the armed Ulster Volunteer force to stop Home Rule happening. And in response in 1913 the Irish Volunteers had been set up to make sure that it did.
We were never told that the vast majority of the Irish Volunteers (around 140,000) had backed John Redmond and his support for Britain in the First World War as a way of copper-fastening the commitment to Home Rule. And we were not told that only a small minority (about 10,000) had split away to become the National Volunteers. Nor was it explained to us that the group that actually started the Rising was a tiny minority of a minority, a small, secretive IRB cabal within the National Volunteers, and that they had acted without authorization.
So not only did they not have any mandate from the Irish people at large, they did not even have the support of the small National Volunteer movement to act when they did.
Instead of this being discussed in our school it was airbrushed out of our history books. We were not told either that the initial reaction to the Rising from the vast majority of Irish people was not just shock, but angry opposition.
Of course there was no mention of any of this last weekend. It's far easier to stick to the simple heroic narrative.
These days the inconvenient fact that the 1916 leaders did not have a mandate for action is sometimes dismissed by pointing out that there was no vote before much earlier revolutions in other countries (America, France, etc.). But the comparison is fatuous.
Unlike in those earlier times, there was a democratic path available in 1916 in Ireland which was ignored by the leaders of the Rising. And earlier revolutions elsewhere had wide popular support; the 1916 Rising had almost no popular support.
The situation here which resulted from the Rising was tragic, given the number of Irish people who died as a result -- 485 people died in the Rising including 262 civilians, 107 British soldiers, 58 rebels and 13 policemen.
Until reinforcements were shipped in, all the British Army soldiers here who responded when the Rising started were Irishmen in Irish battalions. All the police, who were unarmed, were Irish. And of course all the civilians who were killed, including 40 children, were Irish.
No doubt it was with this in mind that the acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny in his speech on Sunday said that the commemoration was for "all those who had died" during the Rising.
In spite of this, there was little or no remembrance during Sunday's ceremonies of those who had died as a consequence of the Rising. The first person who died was an unarmed policeman on duty at the entrance to Dublin Castle who stood in the way of some rebels trying to gain entry.
He was a Limerick man, Constable James O’Brien. One wonders how his descendants feel about the weekend commemoration in which he was forgotten.
Or what about the unarmed 28-year-old Constable Michael Lahiff, shot dead at point blank range by “Countess” Markievicz at Stephen's Green when he was slow about handing over the keys to the Green where the rebels wanted to dig in. Radical chic before the term was invented (with her privileged Anglo-Irish background) she was one of the Gore Booths who lived in the magnificent Lissadel House in Sligo, a long way from Lahiff's humble background.
One wonders how his descendants were feeling last weekend as the commemorations were underway. Or how they were feeling during the admiring speech about the countess made by Sabina Higgins (wife of the president) last weekend which neglected to mention her victims or how, in contrast to her cavalier attitude when she had a gun in her hand, she broke down in tears and begged for her life when she was court martialed. (By the way, there's a bust of Markievicz at Stephen's Green, but of course there's no memorial to poor Michael Lahiff.)
Then there are the descendants of the innocent civilians who were shot by the rebels, whether they were interfering with street barricades or were looting, as many of the poorest from the slums did when the unarmed police were taken off the streets. One wonders how their families felt last weekend when no one remembered them.
But the difficulty is much wider than just the 485 people who died during the Rising (around half of them forgotten civilians). There are many more people who deserve to be remembered.
Given that tens of thousands of Irish Volunteers were fighting with the British Army at the time, partly to gain Home Rule, is it right that they should be written out of our history, as they were excluded from last weekend's commemorations? Surely that is, 100 years later, perpetuating the gross injustice that was done to them when they came home after the war and were shunned. How did their families feel last weekend?
One wonders also how the families of the thousands of Irishmen in the British Army who died in the war must have felt when the Irish Army officer reading the Proclamation on O'Connell Street last Sunday got to the bit referring to "our gallant allies in Europe" (the Germans). It's probably best not to think about that one too much.
In addition to all this, of course, it was difficult last weekend to ignore what had happened in Brussels just a few days earlier and the worrying parallels there are between the men of 1916 and the suicide bombers there.
The 1916 leaders chose to die for Ireland in what is frequently called their "blood sacrifice" -- they knew they would lose and would be executed. The bombers chose to die for ISIS, blowing themselves up. In both cases they had no mandate or popular support for their actions but felt what they did was justified by the higher cause they believed in.
But the most worrying part of last weekend's heroic commemoration of the 1916 leaders without placing what they did in the wider context of the time, is the boost it gives to legitimizing violence for political ends, including recent IRA violence, when there is no popular support for such action.
If the men of 1916 needed no mandate for the Rising, why was the recent campaign by the IRA not also legitimized by the "dead generations" mentioned in the Proclamation and the ideal of a 32-county free United Ireland?
How can one give unqualified admiration to what the men of 1916 did and condemn what the IRA did more recently, including the IRA pub bombings in Britain in the 1970s? And what is the difference between those bombings in which so many innocent people died and the bombing of the airport and metro in Brussels?
Commemoration is good and there is no reason not to commemorate what happened in 1916 as long as it is part of the much wider story of the birth of the Irish Republic.
And talking about the republic, is it right that the ordinary people of Ireland (like this writer) were not allowed into O'Connell Street to view the parade last Sunday and had to do so several streets away from the main ceremonies at the GPO? Only our version of VIPs -- politicians (including the ones who nearly wrecked the country) and invited guests (not including the descendants of all those who died back then but were not part of the Rising) --were allowed in.
Crowd control and security were the reasons given, but it looked like the usual preference for the well-connected and the self-entitled. Some republic!
Finally, the saddest part of last weekend's commemoration was the news that some of the descendants of those who took part in the 1916 Rising are to press ahead with their objections to the inclusion of other names on the 1916 Remembrance Wall. The wall, to be unveiled in Glasnevin Cemetery next Sunday, will carry the 485 names of those who died during the Rising, including soldiers and police, and that is a step too far for some of the 1916 descendants.
One hundred years on, some people are still fighting the war, still trying to be more purely nationalist than everyone else. And that is not only sad, but depressing.