“The sun always dances on Easter morning,” a 1916 veteran told me many long years ago in the Laguna Honda nursing home in San Francisco where I interviewed him. It was his beautiful way of explaining what Easter 1916 meant to him.
I thought the comment was ironic, given that the Irish forecast called for heavy rain and thunder squalls on Easter Sunday 2016, but the Irish forecasters proved no match for 1916 prophecy. The day dawned bright and clear with the sun dancing, albeit around heavy clouds, which miraculously did not bring the promised rain until the parade was past.
We Americans were all gathered near the General Post Office, site of the center of the Rising, at an event that had the highest standards of organization and accessibility. The two ambassadors – the Irish Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson and US Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley – were both there. Also present in another section was the British Ambassador Dominick Chilcott.
I had made my way on foot through Dublin; no taxis or buses were available. The streets were thronged with young and old. Green flags and tricolors were proudly for sale. A crowd gathered around a man in Grafton Street singing “The Old Fenian Men,” delighted kids sat up on parents' backs, soldiers' families laughed and chattered caught up in the excitement waiting for their hero to pass in the grand parade.
Many had brought picnic baskets for the day. The mood was celebratory, happy and a sense of making history reigned.
The military parade followed the lowering and raising of the Irish tricolour over the GPO and included the entire security and rescue apparatus of the state. They all took part in a two hour parade watched by huge numbers who came in from all over the country and Dublin itself as well as by millions on live television.
I almost felt sorry for the revisionist columnists and historians who have tried for decades to bury the Easter Rising and elide it from popular memory. Sunday was their Armageddon day.
Writing in this week’s Sunday Business Post columnist Frank Shouldice, grandson of a 1916 fighter, recalls
the lonely parades of old men when Easter came around with passers-by regarding them as old and out of touch. He notes that a Dubin bishop just two years ago at the low key commemoration referred to the 1916 men and women as brave but misguided. Never again.
The streets of Dublin on this Easter Sunday and the numbers who came out put paid to the scenario of ignoring or denigrating the Rising forever.
Where once celebrations of the Rising had a government health warning, “Move on, not much to see here,” yesterday it was a full embrace of the day of the birth of a nation. Every important political figure in the nation was there, putting aside their current difficulties in forming a government.
The most popular politician is clearly President Michael D. Higgins, who alone of all the leaders was warmly applauded as he arrived at the viewing area in front of the GPO. But it was a day of fond commemoration rather than a day to gain political advantage.
That is how it should be. It is the Fourth of July and Bastille Day for Ireland, linked to those events through the remarkable Irish proclamation which will endure forever as the cornerstone of the Irish nation. One could see a Jefferson or indeed a Lincoln nodding at the proclamation, understanding exactly its plea for liberty and justice for all.
There was no greater badge of courage in Ireland in the Rising aftermath than to have been been “out” in 1916, part of the tiny army of 1,200 that ultimately helped topple an empire. There was a special area reserved for families of those who had fought and many families had members who had died. It was an emotional scene to watch as they arrived, full of memories of the “Boys of the Old Brigade” and the women of those brigades too.
But what must it have been like that long ago Easter Monday to actually charge the GPO in the center of Dublin where the tricolour now so proudly flies?
There is one superb account by, ironically, an English fighter who fought with the Irish against the empire he despised. Joe Good had met Michael Collins in London and, as an avowed opponent of the Great War, had happily followed him to Ireland along with other patriotic British-Irish who fought bravely for the Republic.
Good also had a writer's eye for detail and his bio “Inside the GPO,” written in 1946 and published in Ireland by O’Brien Press, is the closest thing I have read to what it must have been like to be there.
Good was billeted with other fighters in Kimmage when the order came to begin the Rising, They marched to the tramline and their commander paid “fifty nine twopenny fares” to O'Connell Street. Thus do revolutions begin.
“I remember it was bright, warm and sunny," he wrote. “We were as cheerful as excursionists to the seaside.”
They ended up being sent to Liberty Hall to line up with James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.
He remembers seeing Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the seven signatories, “beautifully dressed with riding boots and spurs, tall and aristocratic with Pince Nez glasses.”
Connolly, in contrast, was “unsoldierly in appearance, rather pot bellied with bandy legs and disorderly mustache” – a working man’s hero no doubt.
Patrick Pearse was there too, but Good was too far away to see him as Pearse, Connolly and Plunkett marched in front and the rest followed
They went by a side street, Abbey Street, to attract less attention before emerging onto O’Connell Street. At the Post Office they were told “A Section-right wheel-left turn--charge.”
Thus began the insurrection.
One hundred years later I was delighted to tread the same ground along with hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens, sacred ground now, where the Irish revolution began. Easter Sunday 2016 was a day to remember, and the sun danced.