Sunday, April 24, 2016

Easter 1916—William Butler Yeats

Irish Volunteers on the March, April 24, 1916.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law in Dublin after the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen’s Army, the 200 women members of Cumann na mBan, and a small force of Hibernian Rifles seized key buildings in Dublin, including the General Post Office and read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.  It was, by no coincidence, Easter Monday.

In the five bloody days that followed the Royal Navy shelled the city and thousands of troops poured in eventually crushing the rebellion with heavy casualties.  All seven signatories of the Proclamation including Padraig Pearce  and the wounded socialist and radical labor unionist James Connolly and seven others, including men who were not even directly involved, were executed by firing squads.

Over 1,500 rebels were placed in virtual concentration camps where they met in secret and plotted  revolution.  

The official Dublin observance of the Centennial  included a military parade past the General Post Office, site of the most intense battle of the Rising.

In Ireland the centennial will be celebrated and observed all year.  There are ongoing museum exhibitions, academic conferences, broadcast programing, and loads of cultural events. There have been and will continue to be street demonstrations and political manifestations that tie the Rebelion to today’s events.  But the official Dublin observations of the anniversary will not occur today.  They happened weeks ago centering around a grand parade, fireworks, and oratory on Easter Sunday.  If following the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar that made Easter a movable feast seems odd, you fail to comprehend the iron cultural grip of the Catholic Church on the Irish Republic which only now is beginning to crumble. 

When the crypto-fascist  and hyper Catholic Eamon DeVallera and his Fianna Fáil political party took power after the Irish Civil War, all authority over Irish education, health care, and social welfare programs was simply turned over to the Catholic Church which also dictated moral and social legislation.  The strictest bans on divorce and abortion in Europe have continued long after social change overtook the rest of the western world.    

But in recent years the Church’s dominance has been severely weakened  first by wave upon wave of revelations of pedophilia and sexual abuse by the clergy and more recently the scandals around the Magaline laundries where single mothers were sent, kept in virtual slavery in harsh conditions, and where thousands of their children died of neglect, disease, and malnutrition or were adopted out without the mother’s consent or knowledge.  In addition, young Irish men and women are among the best educated in Europe and many have spent years living and working abroad.  They have come back to Ireland with the cosmopolitan values of the wider world.  Many have adopted the secularism that is the European norm.  Apostasy is up, church attendance has plummeted, and even among the remaining faithful there is a rejection of many traditional Catholic social teachings.  

One result is, for the first time, a secular movement in favor of strong church-state separation including, among other things, moving future Easter Rebellion commemorations to the calendar anniversary.

In 1918 led by American born DeVallera and Michael Collins, both Republican veterans formed the Sinn Fein political party which swept elections for the Irish members of the British Parliament.  Instead the erstwhile MPs met in Dublin, established the revolutionary parliament, Dáil Éireann and a made a new Declaration of Independence in January 1919.  That set off a bloody revolutionary war.

There is far more to the tragic story than there is space here to tell it.  The sacrifices of the men and women of the 1916 Rising continue to reverberate to this day on the still divided island of Ireland.
William Butler Yeats, generally listed along with Anglo-American T.S. Eliot  as one of the greatest English Language poets of the 20th Century, witnessed the Rising but did not participate.  In fact at first he was ambivalent at first as were many surprised Dubliners.  But he was moved by the executions of the leaders.  Easter, 1916 is one of his most powerful poems and became a Republican rallying cry.  It is always read at annual commemorations of the Rising in Dublin.

William Butler Yeats.

Passover/Earth Day
April 23, 2016

What if there were no Passover?
            What if no sacrificial blood
            smeared on the lintel
            offered any protection?

What if there were no Us and Them?
            What if the Pharaoh’s son
            and our sons fell alike
            from the same dark curse?

What if the Dark Angels were not Yahweh’s?
            What if they were our creation,
            evoked by our carelessness
            and fed by our greed?

What if there were no where to flee?
            What if no haven or Promise Land
            lay waiting even after wandering
            because we have laid waste to it too?

What if there were no Milk and Honey?
            What if our goats all starved,
            we killed the bees
            and parched the earth bare?

What if there were no Seder tables to lay?
            What if there were no progeny
            to ask what makes this night different,
            no generations ever again?

What if this is no mere nightmare?

—Patrick Murfin

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