Easter is the principal feast day of the Christian religion, and, like the Jewish feast of Passover – which immediately preceded the first Easter, it is rooted in an actual event. Like Passover, it represents a passage from darkness to light, from death to life. The Crucifixion of our Lord and his subsequent Resurrection are events both of physical and of spiritual significance.
Just as the Old Testament foretold the coming of the Messiah, so there was, for centuries, a messianic tradition in Irish literature, looking forward to the rebirth of the Irish nation in a bright new day of Freedom. Perhaps the best example of this is found in the prophetic play, “The Singer,” by Pádraic Pearse, in which the sacrifice of but 15 men redeems the nation.
Analogous to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, even more so than the Christ-like sacrifice of Robert Emmet, the 1916 Easter Rising provided the blood sacrifice, which resulted in the resurrection of the national consciousness of Gaelic Ireland, and set the country on the road to freedom. Just as the work of Christ on earth remains unfinished, so too does the bright dream of the men and women of 1916 remain unfulfilled. England’s first overseas colony remains her last, both in fact and, sadly, among too many, in spirit as well.
On Easter Monday, 24th April 1916 -- like those who stood and fought in defense of American Liberty on the 19th of April in 1775, leading to the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on the 4th of July 1776 -- brave Irish men and women, with the support of Ireland’s “exiled children in America,” took up arms to rid Ireland of its cruel English invader. The Irish War for Independence, which followed, gave hope and encouragement to other victims -- the beginning of the end of that particular “evil empire” had its commencement on that fateful Easter Monday morning in 1916.
Those who went out on that Easter Monday in 1916, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish National Foresters, the Hibernian Rifles and the ladies of Cumann na mBan, without regard to their own personal safety, went into the gap of danger, made the sacrifice, set the example.
(Right: A group of Irish Volunteers in the GPO - 1916.)
Just as the way to properly respect the sacrifice on Calvary is not merely to read about the historical Jesus, but to live a Christian life, as both preached and exemplified by Christ himself, in order that we might be saved, so too is the proper way to honor those who rose up during Easter week 1916 to follow their example, each according to his or her own unique talents and abilities (for Irish America, within the constitutional liberties of the United States), in order that we, in the end, might be found faithful to the Fenian Faith that motivated them.
The supporters of the connection with England have worked well in secret, and in the open. In classic imperial form they seek to divide and rule, cultivating differences in fear of Theobald Wolfe Tone’s aim of replacing divisive labels with the separate, common title of Irishman. Bribes, offices and so-called honors are part of their stock in trade. Yet, just as in every generation there have been those foolish enough to accept these counterfeit compromises, so too is there a continuity of Irish resistance to alien domination, which has always regarded English pretension to sovereignty over any part of Ireland as ab initio, and fundamentally, illegitimate, as the “fruit of the poison tree.”
As Pearse said regarding those who collaborate with English rule, "theirs may be ... a safer gospel, but it is not the Gospel of Tone." At the grave of the Fenian, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Lá Lughnasa 1915, in Glasnevin, Dublin, Pearse also insisted that we must stand together “in brotherly union for the achievement of the freedom of Ireland. And we know only one definition of freedom: It is Tone’s definition, it is Mitchel’s definition, it is Rossa’s definition. Let no man blaspheme the cause that the dead generations of Ireland served by giving it any other name and definition than their name and their definition.”
(Left: Pádraic Pearse at the funeral of Rossa.)
Just as Holy Week should be a week of prayer and of holy reflection for all Christians resulting in a renewal of our Baptismal vows, so too should Easter Week be a period of reflection on the promise of the bright dream of Easter Week 1916, and of rededication to advancing the cause of Irish freedom. In conclusion, let us reflect once more on the following excerpt from the Luan Cásca 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic:
“We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonor it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.”
† Mac Dara, do scrí