Letter: Reflecting on the history of divisions in Ireland at Easter time

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A letter from Dr Gerald Morgan:

Ireland with some justification is known as the land of saints and scholars. Hence we define historical landmarks by reference to the holiest days in the Christian Calendar. We have an Easter Rising in 1916 and a Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But Easter is a moveable feast and reference to it can lead to confusion in our understanding of the historical past.

When was Good Friday in 1998? 10 April. Hence the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement is 10 April 1998 and on Monday we mark its 25th anniversary. Easter Sunday can fall on any date between 22 March and 25 April. The commonest date is 31 March. In 1915 it was 4 April and in 1916 23 April (a rare date). Hence in 1915 and 1916 the religious festival of Easter is entangled with historical events in the First World War, events of the greatest importance for Ireland. Rupert Brooke's 'The Soldier' was read out in St Paul's Cathedral on Easter Sunday, 4 April, 1915. The catastrophic British invasion of Gallipoli was planned by its chief architect Winston Churchill for 23 April 1915, St George's Day, the national day of England. It was delayed by bad weather for two days until 25 April 1915. On the 23 April itself England's national poet, Rupert Brooke, died in a French Hospital ship off the coast of Scyros. A place more worthy for such a poet than V Beach with the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers on 25 April or at Suvla Bay in the beginning of August with the Tenth (Irish) Division, a baptism of fire for Kitchener's First New Army.

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Gallipoli was a disaster for Ireland in 1915 with some 3,000 Irishmen killed in battle, a toll that destabilised the nation and provided the background to the Rising of 24 April. Among the dead were 54 graduates of Trinity College Dublin, a loss that we still struggle to come to terms with. The first anniversary of the Gallipoli Landings took place in London, Australia and New Zealand on 25 April 1916. The Irish rebels set out to ensure that it did not take place in Dublin, and indeed Dublin itself was at the centre of the fighting throughout the week of 24-29 April 1916. By one of those extraordinary chances the 24 April 1916 was Easter Monday and the Irish Rising has accordingly gone down in history as the Easter Rising. Now on Easter Sunday 2023 we still struggle with the divisions that go back to those historic events. Some of us will be in church and others outside the GPO.

My own thoughts as an Englishman from the Forest of Dean are with the sacrifices made by Trinity College Dublin in 1914-1918. Assuredly our heroes in Gallipoli as on the Somme in 1916 deserved a greater reward than history has yet to record for them. Perhaps it will come with the peace and reconciliation in Ireland for which we still labour.

Dr Gerald Morgan OM FTCD, Dublin 4

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