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The fading myths of Easter 1916

The Irish public’s considered commemoration of the Easter Rising reveals a country that wants to live for the future

Ireland being Ireland, the centenary of the Easter Rising is enveloped in romance, mythology and intellectual argument, much of which is conducted through poetry, prose, song, theatre and striking imagery. The forces behind the rising were complex. They included the 17th-century plantation of Ulster, which brought large numbers of English and Scottish Protestants to live uneasily with dispossessed native Irish Catholics; the fomenting of revolution from 3,000 miles away by an Irish-American diaspora; and, from 1914, idealism and war fever induced by what was taking place on the Continent.

One hundred years ago, 1,600 people, mainly from the nationalist Irish Volunteers, occupied some buildings in Dublin and began shooting police and soldiers. Almost 500 would die in the next few days—mostly civilians—and the executed rebels would achieve heroic status. But in Irish history, little is straightforward. Take the seven leaders of 1916, lazily considered to have been a homo-genous group. The two Fenians (Tom Clarke and his young pro-tégé Seán MacDiarmada) were violently Anglophobic and despised democracy; the Irish Irelander Eamonn Ceannt wanted an island with no outside influences other than the Vatican; the three mystical poets Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse and Joseph Plunkett valued European influences and toyed with having a German Catholic king. And Scots-born James Connolly, once a British soldier, wanted to light the spark that would ignite a worldwide Marxist revolution.

There are plenty of disputed issues about the violence in Dublin in Easter 1916, including whether it should be celebrated or commemorated at all—and, if so, when? The “when” is perplexing for outsiders: the insurrection, revolution, uprising—whatever you choose to call it—began on 24th April, yet while that date will be marked, the main centenary ceremony was held on Easter Sunday, 27th March. This is because in the mind of Irish Catholics, the événements quickly became entangled with Easter and concepts of sacrifice and resurrection. To confuse the issue further, the Rising actually began on Easter Monday—but the current Irish government held the formal events on Sunday so Monday could be given over to a day of culture.

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In Prospect’s May issue: Simon Taylor and Bronwen Maddox on why Hinkley Point C is an expensive gamble that might not pay off. Philip Collins examines Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Lionel Shriver reveals why she stopped fighting being female. Alan Rusbridger responds to last month’s piece on the Guardian by Stephen Glover. Also in this issue: Nicholas Soames says there’s no such thing as "Project Fear” and Howard Davies reviews Melvyn King’s new book and suggests that we are vulnerable to another financial crisis. Plus Ruth Dudley Edwards examines the fading myths of the Easter Rising and Owen Hatherley suggests it’s time to look for a Plan B to solve London’s housing issues.