A chairde agus a chomrádaithe,
It is a privilege to join with you today to pay tribute to all those who died for Irish freedom, not only during the Easter rising of 1916 but in every period of our long struggle.
Easter is a time when Republicans gather at gravesides and monuments across Ireland to remember those who have died in pursuit of Irish Freedom.
It is also a time when we recommit ourselves to the pursuance of Republican objectives; objectives which were clearly enunciated in the Proclamation of 1916.
This year and, indeed, this month marks the centenary of the formation of Cumann na mBan.
Most of you are wearing an Easter Lily – an emblem first designed in 1925 by Cumann na mBan to remember Ireland’s patriot dead.
It is only fitting that, this year, as we remember all our Republican dead, we pay a special tribute to all those women who played a full and active part in our liberation struggle.
Ireland has a long and noble record of many women who played, and who continue to play, prominent and leading roles in the struggles for national freedom, for social justice and for economic equality for all.
Women in Ireland took up arms, raised funds, and hid fugitives during the Rebellion of 1798.
In Wexford, Antrim and Down, women marched into combat beside the men and died beside them on the same battlefields.
Betsy Gray, Mary Ann McCracken, Anne Devlin, were but a few of the many courageous women of that era.
The great strikes of 1913 that led up to the Dublin Lock-Out included many women workers who, later that year, founded the Irish Womens’ Worker’s Union.
The Irish Citizen Army, first formed as a workers’ defence force during the Lock-Out, included women in its ranks and accorded them equal status with the men.
The founding of Cumann na mBan in 1914 was an important step forward by women in asserting their own role in Irish politics and assisting in the wider radicalisation of Irish women.
In 1914, Mary Spring Rice and Molly Childers served notice of the latent power that women could bring to the growing revolutionary movement when they were part of the crew on board the Asgard which landed arms for the Volunteers in Howth.
The Proclamation of the Provisional Government read aloud by Padraic Pearse outside the GPO in 1916 was addressed to Irishmen and Irishwomen alike.
That declaration of freedom gave women equal citizenship, equal opportunities and equal rights in the new Irish Republic.
Ireland’s women, through the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan, were directly involved during the fighting of Easter week.
Countess Marckievicz was in charge of Republican forces at Stephen’s Green. Among the last people to leave the GPO in 1916 were Cumann na mBan members Julia Grenan, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Belfast’s Winifred Carney who is buried in this cemetery.
Along with over seventy other women, they each imprisoned by the British for their part in the Rising.
Women’s involvement in the Republican struggle intensified during the Tan War and the period of the counter revolution.
Hundreds of women were imprisoned during that time.
The membership of Cumann na mBan unanimously rejected the Treaty of 1921. All six female TDs of the Dail, including Mary MacSwiney, Margaret Pearse and Kathleen Clarke, voted against the Treaty and partition.
They knew only too well that their quest for freedom, rights and equality would be undermined by partition and by the Free State’s subjection to the British Crown.
In the following decades, during the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, through to more recent times, Cumann na mBan continued to be at the forefront of the struggle for Irish freedom.
All those women made great sacrifices—they gave up their previously peaceful existences for the Republican struggle.
Many of those women lost husbands and sons, lost boyfriends, postponed marriages and other life plans, spent time in prison, on hunger-strikes, and they experienced reprisals against their families by the state.
Some, like the late Maire Drumm and Patricia Black, along with others brave women, ultimately gave their own lives.
In this centenary year of the formation of Cumann na mBan, it is right that we salute and honour all those women who, across many generations, have played a part in our national liberation struggle.
In that respect, it is correct that we acknowledge and send solidarity to those women who are currently imprisoned in Ireland for their political beliefs – women such as Ursula Ní Shionnain in Limerick gaol and Sharon Rafferty, Christine Connors and Nuala Gormley in Hydebank.
We also send solidarity to our Palestinian sisters in struggle imprisoned by the Israeli state.
When Mairéad Farrell stated that Irishwomen had been oppressed both as women and as Irish people, she spoke an undeniable truth.
It is always worth reminding ourselves that women’s participation in the Republican struggle was never just about achieving national liberation, it has also been about the struggle of working-class women for better living conditions, for better working conditions and pay, for a radical political voice and for an end to discrimination and injustice in all its forms.
For our own part, as Irish Republicans and as socialists, we should always strive to fully ensure within our own activities and engagements that our female comrades are treated equally and respectfully, that their opinions are listened to and that their presence, advice and knowledge is valued and appreciated.
We gather here to remember all those died in the struggle for national freedom.
The struggle taken up by Republicans in 1916 was carried on by many other courageous men and women.
All those whom we honour today saw the injustice caused by the British occupation of their country and by the unjust exploitation of this country’s resources by a small minority and they decided to act.
Today, almost a century after the 1916 Rising, Ireland remains controlled by imperialism, albeit in new and more subtle forms.
The livelihoods of the vast majority of Irish people are controlled by unjust and undemocratic forces which stretch from this island to London, to Washington and Brussels.
They are no different to the same undemocratic controlling forces which Connolly, Clarke, Pearse and many other fallen comrades mobilised against during their life-times.
A chairde, the business of establishing the free, sovereign and independent Irish Republic declared in 1916 remains unfinished.
The goals and objectives of those who fought, who were imprisoned, and who were executed, are far from complete.
Those whom we honour today did not engage in struggle to defend or maintain British rule.
They did not engage in struggle to defend or legitimise partition.
Those whom we honour today sought an end to imperialism and monarchy.
They did not seek to dine with, or pay deference to, any figure-head representing those unjust political, social and economic systems.
Over the next two years as the centenary year of the Easter Rising draws near, the modern-day forces of counter-revolution will embark upon an unprecedented revisionist propaganda campaign aimed at trying to persuade the public mind that the objectives of 1916 have been secured through the partition of our country.
We must be prepared to challenge that propaganda campaign both north and south.
We must educate others into the nature of the Irish Republican struggle; our struggle is about achieving real political freedom; it is about delivering social justice; it is about economic equality for all.
The task for all of us is to create a new vision of a new Irish Republic and to re-ignite the inherent desire for true political, social and economic freedom and justice that exists among all people on this island.
As we remember our patriot dead with pride, let their example encourage us all to continue with the struggle to achieve a free, and truly independent, 32 county Irish Republic.
And as we honour all our Republican patriot dead, let us also pause and reflect on all those women of all nations who, in this 21st century, are engaged in struggle around the world – from Ireland to Palestine, Africa and South America.
They still continue with their opposition to foreign aggression, occupation, displacement and deprivation of the most basic human, economic, social and political rights.
James Connolly paid his own tribute to all such women in struggle when he wrote one year before his own execution at the hands of British forces:
“There are none so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter. In its march towards freedom, the working class of Ireland must cheer on the efforts of those women who, feeling on their souls and bodies the fetters of the ages, have arisen to strike them off.”