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Easter 1916 - When to Celebrate?

The Correct Date to Celebrate the Easter Rising in Ireland - When?

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Rebels Monument in County Roscommon

Rebels Monument in County Roscommon

© Bernd Biege 2014

Easter 1916, the Easter Rising, one of the most important dates in recent Irish history. When should this historical event be celebrated in Ireland?

A slightly confusing issue, as the rather secular fight for Irish freedom seems to have become swamped by religious connotations. So much as to make it a movable feast ... which a historical event should never be.

Or should it?

The Actual Date of the Easter Rising

The attack by armed Irish rebels on the British forces in (mainly) Dublin took place on April 24th, 1916 - or Easter Monday. By accident rather than planning. Original schemes had called for the revolution to start a day earlier, but conflicting orders and counter-orders issued by fractions within the rebels' leadership meant that the "manoeuvres" planned for Easter Sunday were called off at the last minute. A hastily re-drawn plan of attack then made Easter Monday the day ...

... which actually might have been a stroke of luck, as many British officers were enjoying the races at Fairyhouse (County Meath), leaving just a skeletal command structure in place.

The Commemoration of the Easter Rising

After 1916 and the War of Independence, an annual commemoration (mainly in the form of a military parade) was held on Easter Sunday. The largest celebration was in 1966, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. The Irish government, however, discontinued the annual parades in the 1970s, mainly due to renewed violence during the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Another change of political climate re-established the official commemoration, the 90th anniversary in 2006 was celebrated with a parade in Dublin - again on Easter Sunday.

Currently planning is going ahead for the 100th anniversary of the Rising in 2016, which will (more than likely) culminate in a parade on Easter Sunday, March 27th, 2016. Nearly a month too early.

The Wrong Day, the Wrong Date

Now, my grandmother was born on Christmas Eve, so we always celebrated her birthday on Christmas Eve. Which was somehow logical: Christmas Eve falls on December 24th with some regularity. Christmas is not a movable feast. But would she have been born on April 24th, 1916 ... we would have celebrated each year on April 24th, not on Easter Monday.

This (slightly whimsical) example shows a major problem: Anniversaries are commonly celebrated on the calendar date they happened. There might even be adjustments for changing calendars, examples being the celebration of the Battle of the Boyne on July 12th (the battle happened on July 1st) and the commemoration of the October Revolution in November.

In Ireland, however, the date of the Rising is unimportant - what seems to be more important is its connection to Easter. Adding further confusion by choosing Easter Sunday in place of the historical Easter Monday does not help.

I would hazard a guess that when interviewing a thousand Irishmen and -women in the streets of Dublin, maybe only a hundred would be able to actually pinpoint the date of the Easter Rising. And many of the remaining 900 would struggle to make the correct choice between Easter Sunday or Monday when pressed for details.

Why Easter Sunday?

Easter Sunday might actually be an inspired choice when you think of the economy and transport issues - most shops are closed on Easter Sunday in Ireland, there is no major footfall in Dublin and closing off the streets for parades is no issue. And the commemorations don't collide with the Fairyhouse racing festival (which is still held at Easter).

But Why Easter at All?

As mentioned before, (historical) anniversaries are usually celebrated on the day they happened all those years ago. So changing the date when a historical event is celebrated every year, the celebrations coinciding with the actual anniversary only once in a blue moon, is bordering on the hysterical. Enter stage left Patrick Pearse ...

One of the leading lights of the Irish movement for independence and one of the military commanders in 1916, Pearse developed his own philosophy regarding the armed struggle. In short: To be successful, you did not have to win. It would, instead, be enough to give a "blood sacrifice" to ensure the independence of future generations. This rather mythological view of revolutionary activity was highly popular in the early 20th century.

No more so than, perhaps, in Ireland - where Catholicism espoused a similar concept of self-denial and salvation. As exemplified by none less than Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to save mankind. His "blood sacrifice" (though this idea seems rather pagan) led to the salvation of man.

In a swift (and often unconscious) move the insurrection was connected to the resurrection - the "blood sacrifice" leading to freedom. Religious imagery and ideas combined with nationalistic fervour made Pearse, a brilliant dreamer and orator, but a less-than-mediocre strategist, the saviour figure of Ireland.

This is exemplified nowhere more than in the fairly new cathedral of Galway. Here, in the Chapel of the Resurrection (!), you will find a mosaic of Patrick Pearse. Alongside a mosaic of JFK ...

Time for a Change?

2016 would be a good place to start - why not declare a new National Holiday on April 24th and henceforth celebrate the Easter Rising on the right date, without forcing it into the lunar calendar alongside Easter?

Agreed, there would be some logistical problems with closing Dublin off for a parade ... but those have not stopped Saint Patrick's Day from becoming the party it is today.

What Do You Think?

Join the discussion (and be frank) - when should the Easter Rising be celebrated? On Easter Sunday, on Easter Monday ... or on the correct calendar date?

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