A quarter of a million people lined the streets of Dublin on Sunday for the biggest ever public spectacle, marking the centenary of the Easter Rising, the rebellion against British rule which Irish nationalists regard as the founding act in the creation of the modern republic.
In the most ostentatious display of Irish nationalism for half a century, a military parade wound through the streets to the General Post Office, the headquarters of the revolutionaries who seized the building on Easter Monday 1916 and proclaimed an Irish republic. A member of the Irish defence forces then read the proclamation from the GPO arcade to a huge crowd assembled on O’Connell Street.
The organisers had sought to make Sunday’s commemoration as inclusive as possible in a testament to the increasingly relaxed way in which people in the Republic of Ireland interpret their history.
Historians noted how the events contrasted sharply with the half-century celebration of the Rising in 1966. That event took place amid bitter divisions in Ireland about the legacy of 1916, was strictly choreographed by the government of the day, and is considered to have played a part in deepening the alienation of Northern Ireland’s Unionist community, which regards the Rising as an act of treason against the British empire.
The Easter rebellion lasted for six days, killed 485, destroyed large parts of central Dublin, and ended in unconditional surrender to British forces and the execution of its leaders. But while it was a military failure, it gave birth to a militant form of Irish republicanism that ultimately led to the partition of Ireland and the creation of the Republic and Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK.
Enda Kenny, Ireland’s acting prime minister, told the crowd at the GPO: “In this centenary year, we honour the memory of those who died in 1916 with the respect and dignity that is their due and we cherish 100 years later the principles and ideals contained in our proclamation for which they fought.”
The reading of the proclamation of the republic by Captain Peter Kelleher of the Irish Defence Forces was greeted by thunderous applause. The ceremony was held amid tight security following the terrorist attacks in Brussels last week. There had also been warnings from police on both sides of the Irish border in the run-up to this weekend that dissident Irish republicans might try to disrupt the event.
Among those attending the ceremonies was Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and leading figure in Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the Provisional IRA. A notable absentee was Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party and first minister of Northern Ireland, who has refused to attend any events related to the commemoration of the Rising.
Unionists regard the Rising especially as an act of treason because it took place while thousands of Irishmen were fighting and dying on the Western Front in the Battle of the Somme during the first world war.
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