The Legacy of Empire

One hundred years ago, on Easter Monday, thousands of ordinary people rose up against the powers that had occupied their country for generations. The uprising was defeated within a week, opposed by overwhelming force.

Nearly three hundred civilians were left dead by the bombs and bullets of the Empire, and many of the rebel leaders were quickly convicted of treason and executed. Against the backdrop of global conflict this could easily have been just a footnote in history.

It wasn’t the first uprising, and it wouldn’t be the last. But the violence of the response, the lack of discrimination with which thousands–many of whom had no involvement–were taken prisoner and interned fostered growing resentment of the occupation and support for the rebel cause and its armed opposition to British rule.

The Easter Rising of 1916 was the turbulent birth of the modern Irish Republic. It saw the issuing of the Proclamation of the Republic, claiming independence from the United Kingdom, and the banner under which they fought was the tricolour that is today the flag of the Republic.

Unlike America’s Fourth of July, the Irish Easter Rising is rarely mentioned in mainland Britain. Irish independence was to take many more years to achieve, and even then the six counties of Northern Ireland were excluded, remaining under British rule: the country was partitioned.

The fallout from this continued to fuel conflict for decades, leading to the Troubles and the equation in mainland Britain of Republicanism with terrorism. However, the Good Friday agreement of 1998 signalled the willingness of most of the parties involved to end the armed conflict and pursue their aims by peaceful means.

That is not to forget all those who died on both sides of the fighting; rather it is to honour them by constructive actions, building a better future for all of us. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the way to achieve this, not the bitterness of resentment and blame.

In many ways for people in the UK, Ireland is our closest neighbour. We share a common language, and many Irish live and work in the UK. Because of this and the status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK, many mainland British hardly think of the Republic of Ireland as a distinct country. But of course that is exactly what it is.

It’s time the UK acknowledged the Easter Rising of 1916 in the same way we acknowledge the Fourth of July for Americans: as the moment when a nation threw off the shackles of Empire and took its first steps towards self-determination and independence. Surely that is something all people deserve the right to, and something to celebrate.

I’d like to thank Tric Kearney for her post Tomorrow we rightly celebrate as the inspiration for this.

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