President Michael D Higgins has said a commemoration for the 40 children killed in the Easter Rising should spark a redoubling of efforts to build a Republic they would have been proud of.
The youngsters – aged from two to 16 and largely forgotten in the decades since – were mainly killed in crossfire on the streets of Dublin and were among 374 civilians who died in the six days of the rebellion.
The president addressed a special ecumenical service at St Patrick’s Church in Ringsend, Dublin, and said it was an occasion of recovery and reclamation but not recrimination.
“Today, as we recall the innocent lives who were lost during the traumatic events of the founding period of our nation, let us all redouble our efforts to ensure that we fashion together a Republic of which they would have been proud,” he said.
Much of the detail of the children was forgotten until it was researched by RTE broadcaster Joe Duffy.
Mr Higgins said it was fitting to use Ireland’s decade of commemorations to remember those whose loss was less thought and spoken about.
“The history of 1916 and its decade is, of course, made up of many different stories, and today we are invited to remember the neglected, but not lost, stories of the families ruptured, and the young lives cut short, of some of the forgotten victims of the Easter Rising – the children who lost their lives during the final days of April 1916,” he said.
“Many years and decades now separate us from April 1916, and it is critical that we not only recall that past, but remember it in a way that is ethical and honest, that is inclusive of the stories of all, including those who filled the streets, and played and made friends on the streets of Dublin at that time.
“Now that we have new material and fresh research, we must use it in a way that will enable us to engage with our history of the period in all its complexity.”
The president remarked how the children’s deaths were being remembered by name even though their loss did not inspire memorials, plaques, songs or poetry.
“We can perhaps best honour their memory through the rebuilding and renewal of our society and the creation of an ethical foundation on which our Republic can grow and thrive and, most importantly, by making ours a country in which our children can fulfil their potential in peace and security, in health and in happiness,” he said.
A campaign has been ongoing for a permanent memorial to the children and to trace all relatives of those who died.