Hundreds of republicans and socialists gathered in Belfast’s Milltown cemetery on Monday [April 9] to mark the 96th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
The crowd was joined by the Volunteers Patricia Black & Frankie Ryan Memorial Flute Band and the Pollok & Thornliebank Republican Flute Band as they made their way from the cemetery gates to the Harbinson plot in the heart of Milltown.
The commemorative event was chaired by éirígí’s John McCusker, who spoke of the importance of Easter as a time to remember the sacrifices of the past and to recommit to the struggle now and into the future. Paraphrasing the Irish-born socialist and union organiser ‘Mother’ Mary Jones, McCusker urged the 800-strong crowd to “to remember our dead, not only today but always, and for all of us to redouble our efforts to fight like hell for the living.”
Amhrán na bhFiann was then performed by the Pollok & Thornliebank RFB, and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read by Armagh ex-prisoner Fionnuala Perry of the Irish Republican Martyrs Commemoration Committee.
Following the lament and a minute’s silence in memory of the dead, wreaths were laid on behalf of the IRMCC, éirígí, republican ex-prisoners, Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners Maghaberry, James Connolly Republican Society, and éirígí Newry.
McCusker then introduced the main speaker of the day. Cathaoirleach éirígí Brian Leeson was unable to attend due to a family bereavement, and condolences were expressed from the platform to Leeson and his family. Daithí Mac an Mháistir of Dublin then gave the main oration.
In his address, Mac an Mháistir declared that Irish freedom could not truly be achieved under capitalism. He said, “While it is important to reflect upon and remember the heroism and sacrifice of those we are gathered here to commemorate, what is required more than anything today is that we recommit to strive & struggle in whatever way we can for the realisation of the Irish Socialist Republic that the Easter Rising in many respects proclaimed. It is for this objective and nothing short of it that Ireland’s pantheon of freedom fighters fought and died throughout the last hundred years.
“Recommitting ourselves to this objective is the only form of homage appropriate to the memory of those who fell in that fateful week in 1916, and in all subsequent periods of struggle for Irish freedom. Ireland is not free, and recommitting ourselves to actively struggling for its freedom is the only logical way to conceive of this objective being realised.”
1916 commemoration speech by Daithí Mac an Mháistir
Ar dtús báire ba mhaith liom mo fhíorbhuíochas a ghabáil do éirígí Béal Feirste as ucht iarraidh orm teacht anseo inniu chun labhairt ar an ocáid cuimhneacháin seo ar Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916. Go raibh maith agaibh.
Is ollmhór an onóir dom bheith i gcroí-lár ghluaiseacht na Poblacta, Iarthar Bhéal Feirste, i measc laochra na saoirse – i measc shaighdiúirí na Poblacta on nglún seo agus ó na glúin a tháinig romhainn atá ina luí sa chré thart timpeall orainn, agus libshe, na daoine uaisle a choimeádann muinín sna cuspóirí álainne ar son a thug said a gcuid saol luachmhara.
Firstly, I would like to express my sincerest thanks to éirígí Béal Feirste for inviting me here today to speak on this the occasion of the commemoration of the 96th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.
It is a true honour to be here in the heart of Republican West Belfast amongst the heroes of Ireland – amongst the martyred soldiers of Ireland from this and previous generations who are buried here in the hallowed grounds of this cemetery – and amongst you, the noble, risen people who have kept faith with the objectives for which they gave their precious lives.
I would particularly like to take this opportunity to salute the memory of Volunteer Daniel Burke, of the Irish Republican Army’s Belfast Brigade, 1st Battalion, who died on active service on this day in 1974.
We come here today on this Easter Monday not alone to reflect and remember, but to recommit also.
While it is important to reflect upon and remember the heroism and sacrifice of those we are gathered here to commemorate, what is required more than anything today is that we recommit to strive & struggle in whatever way we can for the realisation of the Irish Socialist Republic that the Easter Rising in many respects proclaimed.
It is for this objective and nothing short of it that Ireland’s pantheon of freedom fighters fought and died throughout the last hundred years.
Re-committing ourselves to this objective is the only form of homage appropriate to the memory of those who fell in that fateful week in 1916, and in all subsequent periods of struggle for Irish freedom.
Ireland is not free, and recommitting ourselves to actively struggling for its freedom is the only logical way to conceive of this objective being realised.
It will not fall from the sky, nor will it be achieved through wishful thinking or attempts to kill unionism with kindness. Neither will it be achieved by the donning of sackcloth and ashes, or by talk of reconciliation with the forces of reaction.
Given the fact of the ongoing occupation of the six-county area and the catastrophic effects that the crisis of capitalism is having on people right across Ireland, it should be self-evident to all right thinking people that the goal of revolution in Ireland is as justified and necessary today as it ever has been. It is certainly the case that more and more people are coming to believe this.
In recognition of this reality, it is essential that we prepare our forces in earnest for the coming period of struggle before us. The class struggle is at its most heightened in decades. The battle lines are drawn very clearly for all to see between the ‘masters of the universe’ and the ‘wretched of the earth’.
We must prepare our forces well because we have ‘a world to win’ and our enemy is strong.
We must redouble their efforts to build a revolutionary movement that is capable of sweeping away once and for all the rotten edifice that is the political and economic system in Ireland, north and south. In this regard we are firmly of the belief that the primary, and as yet still elusive, objective of the glorious Rising of Easter week – that being the liberation of the people of Ireland – is impossible under capitalism.
In this regard, we are firmly of the belief that is impossible to talk of freedom under capitalism.
It is our firm belief also that we will have to fight is we are to successfully achieve our primary objectives of removing the British presence from Ireland and casting off the scourge of capitalism once and for all.
It will fall upon people just like those of us gathered here today to step into the breach and do the fighting – it will be people like us who come from the revolutionary Fenian tradition who will fight for Ireland’s freedom, or it will be no-one. It has always been this way.
Just as the men and women of 1916 struck out for Irish freedom, so too will this generation have to.
To come here and commit to do anything less or anything different than struggle for full Irish freedom would be an affront to the lessons and legacy of 1916, and to the memory of all those interred here.
By our deeds and actions we must show that we are as worthy of belonging to the same august tradition of service to the cause of Ireland’s freedom and the exaltation of its people as the martyrs we remember here today proved themselves to be.
If, as James Connolly noted, “The national movement of our day is not merely to re-enact the old sad tragedies of our past history, it must show itself capable of rising to the exigencies of the moment.
“It must demonstrate to the people of Ireland that our nationalism is not merely a morbid idealising of the past, but is also capable of formulating a distinct and definite answer to the problems of the present and a political and economic creed capable of adjustment to the wants of the future.”
In this respect we must set ourselves apart from those who pay lip service to the true meaning of 1916.
We must show the people that we are deadly serious in our commitment to a Socialist Republic, where our socialism will in practice equate to “the application to agriculture and industry; to the farm, the field, and the workshop, of the democratic principle of the republican ideal”, and not merely some vacuous, empty rhetoric about an ‘Ireland of equals’.
We are entering into a period of historical commemoration of the centenaries of some of the formative events of the last hundred years of Irish history, the 1913 Lock-Out and 1916 of course being two of the most significant for socialist republicans.
You can be assured that the establishment and the political parties that support and defend it will each vie to appropriate the legacy of the revolutionary period that spanned the years from 1913 to 1921.
Well. Let me say one thing with absolute certainty.
The volunteers of Easter week would be scathing of the hypocrisy of those who claim to be Republican yet practice politics that see them supporting a British police force that harasses Irish republicans preparing to remember their dead, as happened to éirígí activists here in this city and in Newry in the last week.
They would be scathing also of those who ”bubble with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland’, and can yet pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and the suffering, the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland, wrought by Irishmen upon Irishmen and women, without burning to end it”.
They would be scathing too of so-called socialist republicans who endorse Tory slave-labour ‘workfare’ proposals from the vantage point of their Stormont ivory-tower committees.
These people are, are Connolly declaimed them to be, frauds and liars in their hearts.
We however know what we are. We are of the same faith as those who gave their lives in pursuit of the noblest of causes.
We have remained true to the fight to free humanity for evermore from the bonds of oppression and injustice.
Of 1916 it is indeed no exaggeration to state that ‘never had man or woman a grander cause, never was a cause more grandly served’.
Never was there a grander cause than the cause of freedom. Never was it more grandly served than by those who are buried here in Milltown cemetery.
The martyrs of the Irish freedom struggle, of 1916 and beyond, died that the nation might live; that the British political and military presence in Ireland be obliterated; that the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland be vindicated and made a reality; that a free People’s Republic take its rightful place amongst the nations of the world.
They have set the benchmark for all of us in struggle. Their sacrifice is an enduring reminder of the lengths that we must be prepared to go to in resisting that which is wrong and in attempting to bring about that which is right.
Their example is a testament to the fact that there can never be compromise with imperialism and occupation, and that there can never be compromise with injustice.
Their memory steels those of us who are dedicated to rebuilding a revolutionary socialist republican movement in that firm conviction. It steels us, to paraphrase Bobby Sands, “to fight back our tears and scorn our fears, and cast aside our pain. For loud and high we must sing our cry, ‘A Nation once again!’”.
I measc laochra na nGael go raibh a n-anamacha dílse uilig.
Beirigí bua agus Tiocfaidh ár lá.