Friday, March 25, 2016

1916-2016: Does anyone actually know what this is?

The filamentous achenes of the
dandelion puff ball
Ah, 'tis upon us. A terrible ugly thing is born. We don't even know what it is. It's just, well, it's a thing. I mean, we couldn't do nothing about it. We couldn't really make it about identity, because the nordies would have got uppity about it. We couldn't just make it about commemoration, because that's morbid and we don't do poppies. We couldn't make it a celebration because, well, you know, the shooting and all that.

It wasn't even a military victory, but a military defeat. It didn't result in independence, just a perpetuated dominion that manifested itself in a face saving drift towards non-dependence in 1949, preceded by a long sequence of guerrilla actions, a civil war, and economic emergencies (including a sovereign debt default) that were both unseemly and undignified.

The Office of the Taoiseach describes the events as "1916 Commemorations" with seven 'distinct programme strands': State Ceremonial, Historical Reflection, An Teanga Bheo, Youth and Imagination, Cultural Expression, Community Participation and Global and Disapora.

Here, however, at Easter Weekend, we have a series of events (orchestrated by RTE) which is about two things: Dublin, and the Army. Everyone, everywhere is treading on eggshells. We celebrate the Easter rising, and fret about offending the excluded. The forgotten heroes, and the vilified, the executioners and the mythologised, the families and the 'victims', whatever that means. Niall Humphries in the Irish Times this week said that the relatives of those in the Rising had no greater role to play in this 2016 thing than anyone else. We should ask what is it that we give meaning to, what is it that somehow occupies our consciousness and identity, and causes us to demand some ceremony?

The truth of the matter is that it is a falsehood, it is a story. The tale of the Rising is a concoction that suits our politics, a comfort in our doubting moments, a salve for our self-confidence. Brave men - and women! - with a shared vision; not communist, or socialist, or theocratic, because those things don't suit us today. The irony, of course, is that we have become what we sought to overthrow. We celebrate a bloody, messy, destructive insurrection, and whitewash the summary justice, those who were opposed and stopped their sons from marching, and those who pissed their pants in the GPO when the gun boat came up the Liffey.

We might pass these things off as the realities of war, if that was what it was, but it hides a deeper, hidden embarrassment, one that we persist with today. It is that in celebrating a kind of birth of a nation in war, we replicate the military power fetish of our former occupier, notwithstanding the relative impotence of our forces then as now. We hold aloft the sanctimony of nationalist violence, while pulverising Sinn Féin for their associations with the persistence of that unclean battle. We maintain a tenuous illusion of ourselves as an island nation, with borders as arbitrary as a straight line, drawn instead by crashing waves and disintegrating limestone and freezing and unfreezing glaciers, a rock in the eastern Atlantic, an accident of science and not even a particularly bountiful one.

We're only passing through. We're nothing to those people of 1916, and they are nothing to us. We are multicultural and technological and new world spiritual and European and heterogeneous. We can't seem to define anything about ourselves, we fumble over identity, but perhaps in the fumbling, and the tip-toes, and the deathly silence of our political leaders there is a defining absence. We are indifferent. We are inoffensive. We are the filamentous achenes of the dandelion puff ball, blowing in the wind.

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