Address at an Ecumenical Service to Commemorate the Children who died during the Easter Rising
St Patrick’s Church, Ringsend, 5th May 2015
Ministers (Alex White and Aodhan O’Ríordáin)
Ladies and Gentlemen
Is cóir, agus muid i mbun deich mbliana dírithe ar chuimhneacháin, áird a thabhairt ar iadsan nach déanadh machnamh orthu - fiú gur caileadh iad i mbláth a n-óige i 1916 agus iad ach amháin i mbun imeachtaí an oige.
[It is fitting, as we undertake our decade of commemorations, that we remember those whose loss in 1916 has been less thought about and less spoken about, even though they were killed in their full flush of youth, while they went about the pursuits of children. ]
Engaging with the past is rarely a simple or easy process. It can involve a complex negotiation of the memories, hurts, legacies and emotions of all those affected by events; most of all the cataclysmic events such as the Easter Rising and the response to it, whose consequences were profound and tectonic.
The 1916 Rising is, of course, a seminal event, preceded by both parliamentary and military actions at home and abroad, and driven by a vision of independence for Ireland which, many believed, might be built on the foundations of equality, justice and respect for all.
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.
We are, as a nation, greatly indebted to Joe Duffy and to all those who assisted him in our being given the opportunity of reclaiming the memory of the children who were mourned so silently in the days and months following the Easter Rising, their deaths often unknown to later generations of their families, their names absent from the history books of Ireland and from our foundational stories as a nation.
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 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.
Commemorations such as this have a great significance, and indeed should not be seen solely as formal occasions or sombre ceremonies; but rather as an encouragement for citizens to come together and to remember collectively, and with feeling, the people and events of the time.
Today we remember, by individual name, each of the 40 young citizens whose tragic deaths in 1916 did not bring forth memorials or plaques or indeed songs or poetry. This then is an occasion of recovery, of reclamation and is not one of recrimination. We are invited to remember in a way that, through recalling the loss of these young lives, will grant us the freedom to deliver the best versions of ourselves in the present, and we hope that it will allow our past to inspire a moment of grace and even, at a distance in time, healing; and for some, perhaps, forgiveness.
Today we have an important opportunity to reflect on citizenship, the public world and the public space, the importance of each individual member of our community, and of our own duty and responsibility to seek to play a role in the creation of a fair and equitable society, one in which all citizens have the opportunity to flourish.
Ní an óige amháin a bhí i gcoitinne ag íobartaigh dearmadta 1916.
Ba chuid den aicme oibre iad. Bhí cónaí ar formhór dóibh i dtionóntáin i lár na cathrach, go leór dóibh ag roinnt tithíochta den sort sin le hiliomad clainnte eile sna coinníollacha tithíochta ba mheasa san Eorap. B'fhéidir gurb é sin an chúis gur déanadh dearmad orthu féin, ar a mhuintir agus ar a aicme agus muid a macnamh ar scéalta Éirí Amach na Cásca.
[As to some of the forgotten victims of 1916, they shared more than youth. Many of them shared a working class background. Most of them lived in inner city tenement buildings, many of them sharing such accommodation with several other families in some of the worst housing conditions in Europe. It is perhaps for this reason that they, and their parents, and their class have remained obscure in stories of the Easter Rising.]
The children, like so many children of the world today, were left to be the survivors of the street. Many were simply about the tasks of generosity and care that come so naturally to children. It is also true to say that children, at that time, were not accorded a childhood as contemporary society knows it. They had to take to the tasks of survival early. In our own time, allowing an equality of citizenship to our children has been a slow process and for many children and their families achieving equality of opportunity is an, as yet, unfinished task.
The tragedy of the loss of a child is twofold: it is the gravest of all possible hurts to those who love the child, and it is also the quenching of possibilities before they have the chance to blossom.
The children we celebrate today were denied their potential, their possibilities. Today, we restore to those forgotten children their rightful place in the story and the celebration of that founding moment of our State that was the Easter Rising. 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.
A century has passed since the Easter Rising, and many more chapters will be written in the story of our independent nation. We have recently faced times of great challenges; challenges that have left us wounded as a society. This experience should have encouraged us to recognise the assumptions which have failed us, of the necessity to close a chapter on what was not the best version of ourselves, our taken for granted assumptions, our institutions; inviting us to commence a new chapter based on a different version of our Irishness.
Today, as we recall the innocent lives that were lost during the traumatic events of the founding period of our nation, let us all re-double our efforts to ensure that we fashion together a Republic of which they would have been proud.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.