This year marks 100 years since the Easter Rising – the event that would eventually kick Ireland’s fight for independence from Great Britain into full gear. But at first the uprising was extremely unpopular. You see, when Patrick Pearse first stood on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin’s city center on April 24, 1916 and read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to the people gathered outside, he did so with the conviction that it was time for the Irish to stand free of the British oppression. He was right, but the struggle had only just begun, and they would brutally lose this fight.
The British response was fierce. They sent for reinforcements and thousands of British soldiers landed in Ireland, bombarding the city center occupied by the Irish Republicans with heavy artillery. The resulting carnage and wreckage where people’s lives and homes had been ruined did little to win the public over to the Republicans’ side. However, that was soon about to change.
What swayed the public was the incredibly inhumane treatment the British gave the insurrectionists as a response. They must’ve felt that a harsh punishment would act as a deterrent to any future uprising. There are many better places to read about the uprising and the treatment the prisoners were given, so I will not go into detail. On my recent visit to Dublin I took a tour of the Dublin gaol (jail) and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and obviously moved by the history of the place. He told us of the atrocities with a great passion and at times stifled, inflamed, anger. He was so good he made us feel the pain, physical but mostly the psychological pain of the prisoners and the Irish people in general. We stood outside the cells looking in at the rooms that had been occupied by the ring leaders of the uprising feeling the hopelessness the men must’ve felt in their last moments, waiting to be dragged out of their cells to face the firing squad.
The fury of the Irish had been awakened, and soon the terribly oppressed people would gain their independence, but only after years of struggle and a bloody civil war. Even then, the 6 counties of Northern Ireland remained in the UK. To “protect the protestant population”, mainly heirs to the protestant Scottish and English landowners that had been “planted” there as a way to stifle the Irish spirit and will to gain independence (a recurring theme it seems in the entire history of British occupation of the island). This division of a people lead to even more bloody atrocities and for a long time, terror in Europe was synonymous with the Irish (and the Basque) among simple minded people that can’t live by anything other than generalizations – just as today those same people draw the very same parallel with Muslims. The pattern we see today of fear, distrust, a feeling of righteousness and building of walls has happened before as this story proves.
Today, the fighting seems to have stopped. The walls are still there, even though they are being torn down, but it’s not only physical barriers maintaining the separation. I crossed the border from the Republic into the 6 counties by road, in a rental car with kilometers per hour on the speedometer. While there were no soldiers or customs agents checking my credentials, and I needn’t even slow down to cross from one part of the same island to the next; I knew I was in the UK as the road signs greeted me with the information that all speed limits would now be given in miles per hour. I wasn’t surprised, I’d prepared a mental conversion sheet beforehand but it made a stark contrast and a first sign that another will was imposed on this part of the land – even though I had not crossed any physical, visible line.
Soon, as I rolled through the first town, I became aware of something I had not seen before, not in England, not in Scotland and certainly not in the Republic of Ireland; the Union Jack lined the streets of most towns and would only here and there be replaced by the flag of the county I was in, or the Northern Irish flag. But the greatest reminder of all that this was not a free country was the presence of one thing in particular: the Queen’s portrait 3 or 4 meters above ground in almost every town, the royal head of oppression reminding her subjects of their bondage to an undeserving individual who has done nothing other than being born into the right house.
I could go on about the taste of the air being different, the mood of the people even their friendliness being less, but it is no longer needed to tell my point of view – I think it is clear already. I know this is a much more complex matter and a lot of spilled, bad blood stands in the way of a reunification. But that might be about to change.
You see, the Irish stood for something when they sprang into action back in 1916 and proclaimed the republic with independence from the Union. They had been mistreated for generations, exploited and left to starve in their own land. Now, 100 years later, the English and the Welsh also feel like they need to stand up against oppression by a larger union. The atrocities and insults committed on the British people – and the shade of their former glory as world invaders – by the citizens of various European Union member states has gone too far.
As a person who strongly believes in unity I can’t say I stand with the English. But then, how can I say that I stand with the Irish? The answer lies in the union. Of course a union that leads to suffering and pain can’t go on. So fair enough, if the English and Welsh really feel like the “massive wave” of European migrants that come in and “steal their jobs”, or beg in the streets, is too much to handle for a country that has invaded the majority of the planet throughout it’s glorious history; then so be it. Good bye, adieu England and Wales.
But this is where it becomes interesting. You see, they don’t share the same notion in Scotland – a nation that just recently declined the chance to gain independence peacefully – nor are they so sure in the 6 counties of Northern Ireland. In fact, this very act of defiance by the British, this wish to stand on their own and once again be as glorious as the turn of the century (the previous one of course), might be the undoing of the United Kingdom and final nail in the coffin of England’s claim to greatness. This in turn would have to mean the end to the Union Jack – a flag my Irish friend termed as “illegal” due to it’s use of the cross of St Patrick (the diagonal red cross of the famous flag) which represents the entire island of Ireland – something they do not have claims on.
All this aside, it is interesting how we like to draw lines in the sand. Invisible for the eye to see, and ban people from entering or leaving without proper documentation. Although we are all the same species, originating from the same, exploited continent we cannot be allowed to move about freely, be it for love, money or freedom. Instead, we need to build walls and protect what is ours.