Over 2,000 people gathered in New York City’s Battery Park yesterday, before the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, to celebrate a century of Ireland’s freedom, 100 years to the day that the 1916 Rising began.
“It’s the perfect spot,” Captain Peter Kelleher of the Irish Defense Forces, the man tasked with reading the Proclamation of the Irish Republic before all those assembled, told IrishCentral.
“The Proclamation itself it mentions Ireland’s ‘exiled children in America,’ and so much of Irish history resonates so closely with this one particular spot. The support that the US provided – financial and political support; the revolutionary period just before the Rising. . . Being here means a lot because of the very close links between Ireland and the US. And in particular the support they had for the militant element of Irish Republicanism at the turn of the last century. It’s very moving seeing so many people here today.”
Sgt. Seamus Fennessy, one of the group representing the NY 69th regiment, the 'Fighting 69th,' agreed. “The links are very strong, and it’s a pleasure and an honor to be here 100 years after to commemorate the deeds that our soldiers had, that our soldiers performed, to further Irish independence while at the same time being loyal to the United States and fighting in all our major wars from the Civil War right up until Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The solemn commemoration ceremony began with pipers from the NYPD and FDNY, as dignitaries from Ireland and New York took to the stage. Irish Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly; Ireland’s Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson; Consul General of Ireland in New York Barbara Jones; former US Senator George Mitchell, who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland; New York’s Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; NY City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; President of the Battery Park City Authority Shari Hyman and Fr. Gary Donegan.
Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has roots in Co. Kerry, noted the links between Ireland’s struggle for independence and that of the Unites States. “100 years ago, a crowd of courageous men and women, in fact not much larger than the crowd we see here today, issued a call for freedom, independence, and justice,” she said. “And as Americans, whose country was born in a remarkably similar fashion, we fought the identical struggle 140 years prior. So we shared an unbreakable bond between our two nations.”
Reflecting upon her recent trip to Ireland as part of a delegation for the Easter Sunday 1916 commemorations in March, Speaker Mark-Viverito touched upon her how it impacted her perspective as a Puerto Rican American.
“I have to say as a non-Irish, non-Irish American, the trip was very profound. We hear that cliché that there’s more that unites us than divides us. And it’s more than a cliché, it really is a fact of life. We need to really be able to reflect on the shared experiences that we have – what are the lessons that we learn? And as someone that is of Puerto Rican descent, a proud Puerto Rican whose island has struggled for independence itself and continues to also fight for independence, we know that the story of the Rising is the story of all people who seek freedom and gather strength from those struggles.”
Minister Kelly spoke to the significance of the New York 1916 commemorations being the largest outside of those that have taken place in Ireland.
“It is truly appropriate that the largest commemoration of the Easter Rising taking place outside of Ireland today is happening right here in New York City,” he said. “This great city has had such an absolute profound influence on Irish history, including on the Rising and the leaders of the Rising, and on Ireland’s journey to independence and a lasting peace.”
Read more: America’s role in the Easter Rising
It was 100 years to the day, he said, that Padraig Pearse “stood outside Dublin’s General Post Office, and in proclaiming an Irish Republic, recognized the crucial support of America and Ireland’s children in America. At that moment, there were over two and a quarter million Irish-born people in America. And it was to this great community that generations of Irish leaders came in search of support for independence and inspiration for justice for the people of Ireland.”
He called the Rising a profound moment not only in the history of Ireland but also in the history of Irish America.
“We’re all gathered here today, in many ways the modern Clan na Gael, the family of the Irish. One hundred years on, the bonds of family and friendship between Ireland and America are stronger than ever. Every Irish family has somebody in America, from one generation or another. I’m no different – my only sibling in life lives in this great city.
“And as we look back a century and remember the events of 1916 and celebrate the connections between our countries and peoples, we will also look ahead and, with hope and confidence in our hearts, imagine what the next 100 years will bring for Ireland, for the United States, and for all the Irish here in America.”
Writer and historian Peter Quinn had the last word, asking a variation on the question asked around New York City during Passover seders on Friday, “What makes this day different from all the rest?”
His conclusion: “What makes this day different is if we Irish Americans remember our exodus, where we came from, the journey that took us here; if we insist on seeking for others what our forebears sought for us – liberty, equality, inclusion; if now and at a time to be, wherever green is worn, we uphold the right of everyone to live without fear of ridicule, reprisal, or persecution, no matter who they are, or who they love, or what god they worship or don’t, we know that the men and women of 1916 dreamed and are dead.
“But their dream is alive. It’s alive here; it’s alive in us, in our willingness to see in the millions who stand at the door where we once stood, not a faceless horde of strangers, not an alien race, but the image of our ancestors, an image of ourselves.”
After a powerful blessing from Fr. Donegan, four young students from the New York area – Laura and Evan Mulgrew, Mairead Peele and Sarah Sweeney, laid flowers by the Irish and American flags as violinist Gregory Harrington played “Danny Boy.”
Thx to Laura, Mairead, Kelly, Evan & Sarah from Yonkers who laid Easter lillies as part of today's Commemoration pic.twitter.com/yDnZG5PnDe— Irish Consulate NYC (@IrelandinNY) April 25, 2016
Captain Kelleher then read aloud the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
Minister Kelly and Ambassador Anne Anderson laid a wreath at the foot of the Irish and Irish American flags before the Irish flag, which had been at half mast, was raised into the air and singer Maxine Linehan performed the Irish and American national anthems.
Finally, a minute of silence was held for all those lost in the Rising.
And with that, the crowed turned away from the State of Liberty and Ellis Island, which welcomed so many Irish, including some of the 1916 rebels and their descendants, and towards the streets of Manhattan, where they met, built communities, planned and prevailed.
A few seconds later, over at the main stage just beyond the gates of Wagner Park, Irish rhythm and trad group Hammerstep kicked off a long and joyous afternoon of music, conversation and celebration.
The crowd multiplied in size as the day went on, filled with more performances in Wagner Park and lectures, screenings and more live music in the nearby historic Pier A Harbor House.
Did you mark the centennial of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising yesterday? Tell us how in the comment section, below.