Easter being a moving feast, the anniversary of the 1916 Rising does not always fall on its actual date, April 24. This year the anniversary of the Easter Monday event is April 16. The date is doubly significant. On April 16, 1752, the first-ever stagecoach service was inaugurated between Belfast and Dublin. It took six horses three days to make the 100-mile journey. People at the time doubtless decided that this amounted to impressive speed. And indeed it was.
The symbolism of a stagecoach is something that has long impressed Americans. In years past, it dramatically illustrated the essential human need to travel, communicate, trade and exchange. In time, of course, the stage was surpassed by faster, more efficient means of travel. Communications technology, since 1752, and right through 1916, has been on an upward curve.
Sadly, the political history of Ireland has been less consistent in its direction. Communication between Belfast and Dublin these days is far faster in a mechanical sense, but the ability, indeed willingness, of political leaders in a divided Ireland to properly communicate, and efficiently carry out their most basic functions, is often ensnared by the inefficiencies of a political culture more attuned to former centuries than this.
This is not to demean the events of the near and distant past. 1916, a most prominent stage along Ireland’s historical way, remains the single most decisive event in the birth of a modern Irish state that finds itself increasingly confident of its worth and place in the world. That state, somewhat reluctant in recent years to entirely embrace 1916 to the fullest possible degree, now finds itself proceeding on a bold course that, while respectful of the past, is not hidebound by it.
Historical revisionism has spoken loudly in Ireland and has been properly accommodated. So too has the entirely legitimate view that the 1916 Rising must be judged in the context of its time, its participants evaluated in the light of the sincerity of their convictions, and, yes, in the case of some, their ultimate sacrifices.
Eighty-five years is a long time but still less than a lifetime for some. As such, it is also too short a time to justify neglect or forgetfulness. The Irish, wherever they might be in this world, should pause a moment on Monday and give thanks for the fact that they never had to face the might of an empire with a bolt-action rifle from behind the walls of a building that would, within days, be engulfed by the flames of hate and war.