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For A Whole Generation Of Young People, The 1916 Centenary Is Tainted By A Sense Of Lost Hope

By niallharbison

December 20, 2016 at 12:10am


We’ve been prepped for this weekend for years, and in recent months have been inundated with everything from period dramas on RTE, special edition newspapers through to commemorative chocolate bars.

Hollywood A-listers like Colin Farrell and Liam Neeson have provided voiceovers and tour buses have flooded the city reminding us how this wonderful country was formed – and we’ve been told it should be a joyous celebration it should apparently be. 

The only problem? It all feels incredibly flat.

For some reason, the celebrations just aren't resonating with the general public – despite the best efforts of organisers, brands, marketeers, small businesses, and of course, political parties who have been ramming them down our throats for quite some time now.

The so-called 'millennial' generation seems especially uninterested – and it’s not hard to see why. 

For them, looking out over the lapsed values of that Proclamation some 100 years on – and seeing brands jump aboard the bandwagon so unthinkingly – is all a bit to swallow. 

"I'm extremely proud to be Irish but I'm just not buying into the 'commemorative' aspect of these celebrations," said Sarah Kavanagh, a 30-year-old designer based in Dublin.

"It feels more like a marketing campaign than a commemoration. I saw a "Rising Burger" being advertised on a sandwich board last week! The only people in my circle of friends who seem to have any interest in this weekend are my foreign friends."

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Add in a failing of the institutions like churches, banks and government in recent years and you can understand why there's a whole generation of young people who would rather forget the past than celebrate it.

And because the celebrations are being promoted from the top down, rather than through a groundswell of public interest, they're not being roundly embraced.

"At the moment we have elected representatives determining who they will share power with, fighting over small irrelevant meaningless issues while in the meantime people are suffering," says Eimear McCormack (33), MD of BDifferent Marketing.

"I feel as if we’ve lost sight of the real issues, the issues affecting the citizens of the Republic of Ireland."

"As the addicts are pushed out of our city for the commemorations, and half O’Connell Street is closed to the general public, it’s evident we have a disjointed society – one for the rich and one for the poor."

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It echoes the now-famous words of Blindboy Boatclub of Rubberbandits, who said on the Late Late Show:

"My generation can’t afford houses, they can’t afford to have children and my generation are either leaving the country or jumping in rivers."

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Of course, when you try to manufacture celebrations they sometimes feel empty – think New Year's Eve.

Euphoric outpourings of joy are more spontaneous and not planned years in advance, like the Italia '90 homecoming or that sunny day in May when we celebrated the result of the Equality Referendum.

But for emigrants like 29-year-old accountant Eoin, these celebrations couldn't be further from that truth.

"I'm 29, a history buff, an emigrant, and a Gaeilgóir with relatives who fought in Dublin during the rising, and more who served in the rebel armies in the civil war," he says.

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"But this version of republicanism does not make me feel part of the centenary.

"We've ignored the socially egalitarian and progressive elements that existed in the spirit of 1916. The Government has ignored the opportunity to address the new republic (on the 8th amendment, social equality and true republican ideal of equality for all) and has instead taken the 'Oirish', tourist-friendly, short-sighted version of what should be OUR centenary."

Of course, you'd be naive to think that the whole thing has failed to make any sort of splash. There's been a huge surge in interest in the historical aspects of the Rising – and I can see it first-hand from the readership figures on our articles about bus tours, walking tours and so on that it's certainly thrown the stories and the characters of that fateful week into a fresh, sharp focus.

And that's all well and good. But this is the centenary of the birth of our nation – it should be about so much more than just a glance back to a week in history. It should be about looking at where we are today, and celebrating all we've built.

It's not particularly hard to see why this generation is finding it hard to get on board with that.

As Eimear McCormack puts it: "I'm really proud to be Irish and to be part of this republic, but I am not proud of where we are in 2016.

"We have come a long way as a country but we have so much more to go to make Ireland great, a country to be 100% proud of."

I'm fiercely proud of this country's history, and I'll be raising a glass this weekend to those brave men and women who paid the ultimate price for Ireland a century ago.

But for me, and for so many others, it's all going to be tainted with a sense of lost hope and lost opportunity.

And that, I think, rather spoils the party.


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