There should be little to fear from the coming centenaries

Morning View
Morning View

The first of more than 40 events to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising happened on Saturday.

It remembered the funeral of the Irish revolutionary Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, which was held 100 years ago on August 1.

He was best known for the graveside oration given by Padraig Pearse, in a rallying cry to republicans.

Unionists have spent the last century reminding people that the Easter Rising had little support in Ireland at the time, and also reminding people of the atrocities carried out by republicans in the aftermath of the bloody rebellion (principally in the War of Independence, after the end of the Great War, and in the civil war that followed independence).

But while supporters of Britain are right to challenge myths about republican history, they should be relaxed about this coming critical phase of the decade of anniversaries.

It is surprising to think now that the series of anniversaries kicked off three years ago with the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant. That commemoration, which meant much to unionists, was uncontroversial among nationalists, although there will always be disagreement about the legacy.

For all the concerns on both sides of the border about Sinn Fein exploiting the memory of Easter 1916, it is plain that hardline republicanism is no closer to achieving Irish unity than it was on the 50th anniversary – arguably less so, given that many Ulster Catholics now identify as Northern Irish.

In fairness to most mainstream republicans today, there is a much greater willingness to show respect to British war commemorations than there was a decade or more ago.

There is no doubt that Britain’s response to the rising, while understandable, made the situation worse (and probably guaranteed 1918’s election result). The history is complex.

The rising has been put at the heart of the narrative of the Republic, whether we like it or not. The Queen laid a wreath at the garden of remembrance in 2011 in recognition of that fact.