Time To Start Planning The 1916 Commemoration
When I was growing up in Dublin I never realised we’d be living through the ‘decade of commemorations’. The first one I remember was the Millennium in 1988, notable for the ‘Hoor in the Sewer’, a sculpture of Anna Livia that sadly became a depository for burger-joint detritus, thanks to it’s accessibility and convenience to the gastronomic delights of O’Connell St (she was eventually evicted to a more suitable, if lonely venue, in front of Collins Barracks).
There wasn’t much after that, bar the yearly Bloomsday, which I love, because it celebrates a fictional event like it was real – a brilliantly Irish thing to do. This decade we’ve had massive events dominate every year. Remember 2012? Or have you simply renamed the entire 12 months ‘Titanic’? You couldn’t open the paper or turn on the TV without seeing something about the longest drawn-out shipwreck in history. Personally I'd much prefer to commemorate the Lusitania, which sank in 1915 in 18 minutes after being hit by a torpedo killing 1200 people. It was 11 miles from Kinsale, and loaded with Art treasures, gold and armaments. AND the Germans had taken out an ad in the paper saying they were going to blow it up. Come on! Much better than the old Iceberg malarkey.
Then we had 1913, the year of the Lock-out. I thought there were some great ideas in that, not least providing platforms for people like Panti in the Abbey stage. But it was strangely muted; maybe because it exposed how little had changed in 100 years, as recent al fresco events have shown…
Since then we’ve had a troubled relationship with commemoration. The navel-gazing and self-questioning seems to get in the way of imagination and simple thought. This embarrassment with the past is a peculiarly Irish trait, particularly with 1916, a historical event that drives a tiny but vocal minority of Irish people crazy. It was launched last week in that strange, muted way – but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt. I’m hoping over the next 18 months that the people of Ireland will define the kind of commemoration they want, just as they are defining the kind of water service they want.
Personally I don’t want an apologetic, overly sensitive, revisionist, boring commemoration. If it’s going to be like that, I’d rather spend it in Iceland surrounded by patriots who take care of their own when things go bad. I’m not keen on the Queen visiting, or for any more ‘healing’ between the two Islands. We already did that with the Queen. It was called the Queen’s Visit. This isn’t about now. This is about an amazing generation of educated, artistic, modern, idealistic men and women coming together and saying ‘We’ve had enough’. They were the kind of people you follow on Twitter and Facebook who make you laugh, but also have a serious side. They were concerned about the extreme child poverty around them, the unfairness of the ever-breaking capitalist system, the madness of war and inequality. They came from all walks of life and pretty much represented every kind of person you see in Ireland today, from urban to rural, gay to straight, rich to poor, and from lots of different countries and backgrounds. They were us - and (not that you’d know it!) - they had names! Pearse. Connolly. Markiewicz. Childers. Casement. Just those five are a highly eclectic bunch, who deserve more than a chilly military march and a State Dinner up in Dublin Castle – which I’ve taken to calling ‘The Oyster Rising’. We’ve had enough Dining for Ireland (thank you Tim Pat Coogan). It’s time to get out and march. Get some Street Food. While they’re planning on stuffing their faces, we’re being asked to ‘re-imagine’ the Proclamation. I’m not ‘re-imagining’ anything. That’s like when Tim Burton ‘re-imagines’ your favorite movie and you run out of the Cinema crying at what he’s done to Willy Wonka. No. Like Billy Joel, I like 1916 ‘just they way it is’, and we need to celebrate it for what it is, a momentous thing that changed everyone’s consciousness forever. And the best way to commemorate it is to do something momentous. It’s what we’re good at.
Next week – my plans for 2016. That is, if we’re not all in Iceland by then…