Mixed emotions evident among onlookers at Rising event in Dublin

Souvenir hunters of all ages scrabble amongst the rubble in the streets of Dublin in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. PA/PA Wire
Souvenir hunters of all ages scrabble amongst the rubble in the streets of Dublin in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. PA/PA Wire

Some of the attendees at an official 1916 commemoration in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance on Saturday voiced unease about the violence used by the rebels, with one describing acts of bloodshed in general as being “horrific”.

The News Letter asked a number of those present for their views, with one Northern Irish woman saying she regretted the absence of unionist figures from the state event, which was attended by President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Thousands of spectators watched as a guard of honour from Oglaigh n h’Eireann (as the official Armed Forces of the Republic are known) welcomed the dignitaries and descendants of the rebels to the park in the city centre shortly after midday.

As well as the official state commemoration – which involved poetry, music and a minute’s silence – there was another gathering taking place in the city centre, with marchers clad in black clothing and dark glasses descending on the GPO.

Owen O’Connell, a 41-year-old secretary from Dublin, was at the official Garden of Remembrance event with his father Liam.

“A lot of people at the time didn’t appreciate a lot of the fighting. There were more civilians killed than British Army or rebels,” he said, adding that if the leaders had been jailed, not executed, the outcome may have been quite different.

“John Redmond told the British not to execute them, because it would only make it worse.”

Asked if the Rising had been the right thing to do, he seemed ambivalent.

“It all led to bloodshed and murder and fighting,” he said.

“They wanted a united Ireland, which they didn’t get.

“At the time, the people involved probably thought they were doing the right thing... but after the War of Independence, and the Civil War, Ireland was divided.”

He said it led to, not just partition, but to the country being split along pro-Treaty/anti-Treaty, Fine Gael/Fianna Fail lines for decades.

Dublin landlord Patrick Heavey, 54, said the state gathering at the garden of remembrance was the second such event he had been to.

The other had been a Sinn Fein-led event, which was “kind of semi-military”.

“I suppose I’m just celebrating it. It’s fundamental to the Irish state, as it were,” he said.

When the widely-held unionist view that the Rising was illegitimate was put to him, he said: “Killing and war is horrific. But Ireland was under an enforced military occupation itself for centuries. The only way they could become free was to take freedom by military means. But it is horrific.

“Certainly people who say the violence of the Rising was wrong, they don’t tend not to condemn the violence of the world wars, yet that violence was much greater than this.”

He added that Redmond had encouraged many Irishmen to go to fight in the far-bloodier Great War on the British side.

He concluded: “A lot of unionists don’t seem to realise a lot of [Irish independence] leaders were Protestant, like Countess Markievicz. It’s definitely not a sectarian thing down here.”

Stephen Scollan, a 30-year-old Dublin plumber, was at the event with son Cillian, aged four months.

“We’ve always been taught it was the start of the road to freedom – not 1922, but 1916.

“It probably was the right thing, because we ultimately got our freedom in the end. It was going to happen sooner or later.

“[Dublin had] the worst tenements in Europe at the time. People wanted equality. It was probably the same in the north in the 1960s. It’s all about civil rights more than anything else.”

Dave Rowland, a 29-year-old Dubliner working in marketing, said: “The atmosphere in the city is fantastic. There’s people coming from all parts of the world to see it. For me, that’s what I think is brilliant. It’s getting the attention it deserves.”

Asked about the legitimacy of the Rising, he said: “It was going to happen at some stage. For me, I’d be of the opinion it was the right thing to do.”

There were also a number of Northern Irish people present.

One 27-year-old woman from Co Tyrone was with some female friends when she spoke to the News Letter.

She did not want to be named, but said: “I was a little bit disappointed there was no unionist presence in terms of Mike Nesbitt or the DUP. It’s all about remembering – it’s respect.”

A lot of people did not agree with what had happened, she said, but added: “It is not simple.”

Mark Sampson, a 28-year-old engineer from Omagh <