As a nation we should remember those who fought for its ideals, writes Senator Mark Daly
“I haven’t time but for a few hurried lines…..all that I now say is that you must not worry about me….I may have been more conscientious in my service of Ireland than in God’s, but the service of both are so closely identified that I trust in His Mercy for forgiveness…..I feel that I have done my best in both capacities and hold no vain regrets…… the three other lads are splendid. Anybody looking in would hardly believe that we will be with God in a couple of hours from now.”
Letter from Commandant – General Charlie Daly to his father on the morning of his execution
My cousin Charlie’s letter hangs in my office in Leinster House he was 26 when he wrote it. Every time, I read this letter, the calmness of his words strike me. The bravery of his generation shines even facing death on a grey March morning in 1923.
In Easter 1916, we had lost so many of our young people fighting a global power to secure independence. By 1923, many more young people, like my cousin, were again dying for the future of our new nation. Every time I read his words, they remind me that many of them, our greatest generation, gave their short lives and poignant deaths to the nation I now serve. As such, we are all guardians of the values of the 1916 proclamation. “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”
What we should also remember is that what we are commemorating this year is what we were trying to achieve, not who we were struggling against to achieve our nations full potential. Those aims and objectives of the 1916 proclamation are timeless and universal. Today, Nations and peoples all over the world still struggle to attain those aims and have those responsibilities as contained in our proclamation. The ideals and those responsibilities with in the proclamation are as relevant to our nation, our society and our world today as they were when Pearse first read them aloud.
In 2016, our society has been reshaped beyond the comprehension of Pearse and the other participants of the Rising. The lesson of 1916 for today is that once Pearse and his fellow signatories wrote those words they both challenged and directed future generations to retain these ideals when facing a world they couldn’t imagine. This year we must celebrate but also benchmark ourselves against the standard set in 1916.
This important opportunity was largely missed on the 75th anniversary of the Rising in 1991. Some took the view that our greatest generation should not be honoured for fear the Troubles in the North would drown out the important messages of 1916.
I was doing my leaving certificate that year and, instead of study, my good friend Conor Murphy and I rose at 6.30am on Easter Monday morning to organise the remembrance. We hung seven Irish flags my grandmother made on Main Street, Kenmare. Previously in the week along with others we had cleaned the memorial to Lieutenant Denis Tuohy who was captured and killed after the Headford ambush. My view then and now remains that as a nation we should remember and honour the members of our greatest generation who fought for the ideals of the 1916 proclamation.
25 years later, I’m honoured to be able to play a part in the 100 year commemorations for 1916 rising as a member of the Government’s All Party Consultation Group on the Decade of Commemorations.
This group is also exploring how to remember other young Irish men who lost their lives in World War 1. In the words of Sean Lemass in 1966 ‘they were motivated by the highest ideals’. To my mind, in prioritising who and how we celebrate those who fought and died for causes, we should remember that while there is no hierarchy of victims there is a hierarchy of ideals and causes. Those who died in Easter 1916 for the aims of the proclamation are rightly considered the pinnacle of this hierarchy in Ireland.
I expect local communities will mark the celebration of 1916 in their own way. Diarmuid Gavin, the world famous landscape artist and I worked together, in the design of 1916 Gardens of Remembrance for the occasion. These Gardens can be installed easily and inexpensively by communities, councils and indeed our diaspora and have three common elements; a granite stone replica of the proclamation, a flag pole for the tricolour and seven trees to signify the signatories.
The tricolour will be an integral part of the 1916 celebrations. The flag’s creator, Thomas F Meagher, created an elegant and enduring symbol where peace (white) unifies the nationalist (green) and unionist (orange) communities in Ireland.
On 7th March 2016, working with the Thomas F Meagher Foundation, led by Church of Ireland Reverend Michael Cavanagh and the Department of An Taoiseach we will present every secondary school with an Irish tricolour that has flown from 33 the Mall in Waterford, the building Meagher first flew the tricolour from. As part of ‘Flag-week’ 10th – 17th March all schools across Ireland will be invited to raise funds for projects that benefit their communities. Awards will recognise students, teachers and schools and seven universities will provide scholarships for outstanding students.
President John F. Kennedy once said:
“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also the men it honours, the men it remembers”.
I hope our efforts to celebrate 1916 honour those men and women of our greatest generation, who gave us our state. We must never stop trying to meet the standard they set – no matter what the challenge.