Speech at the Official Opening of the Commemorative Tree Avenue
Phoenix Park, Saturday 30 July 2016
Tá áthas orm a bheith anseo inniu chun Ascaill na gCrann Comórtha anseo i bPáirc an Fhionnuisce a oscailt go hoifigiúil. Tán lá inniu ina chuid de Chomóradh an Chéid a thugann deis ar leith dúinn cuimhneamh orthu siúd a cailleadh le linn tréimhse na réabhlóide. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le hOifig na nOibreacha Poiblí as a gcuireadh dom páirt a ghlacadh san ócáid seo, agus libhse ar fad as bhur bhfíorchaoin fáilte.
[I am delighted to be here today for the official opening of this special Commemorative Tree Avenue, here in the Phoenix Park. Today is an important part of Ireland’s centenary celebrations as we specifically remember all those who lost their lives during the revolutionary period. I would like to thank the Office of Public Works for inviting me to join you here today, and all of you for that great welcome.]
This Commemorative Tree Avenue will stand as a living, and indeed flourishing, memorial, to all those who lost their lives during that turbulent period of Irish and world history. I understand that over 180 Plane trees have been planted on the avenue, considerably adding to the ten thousand trees already established over the last century in the Phoenix Park.
It is uplifting to know that these trees will live on for several centuries, reminding many generations to come of those who lost their lives between 1912 and 1922 – the period which we have been remembering during this Decade of Commemorations.
Mar náisiún, i mbliana tá muid ag smaoineamh ar an mhóimint a bunaíodh an Stát s'againne i 1916 agus a cuimhneamh ar na híobairtí móra a rinne siad siúd a throid ar son na glúnta a tháinig ina ndiaidh, le go mbeidís in ann cónaí mar shaoránaigh i ndaonlathas neamhspleách.
[This year we have, as a nation, been recollecting in particular the founding moment of our State that was 1916 and recalling the many generous sacrifices made by those who fought in order that future generations could live as citizens of an independent democracy.]
The various commemorative events held over the last few months have allowed us to re-engage with the Ireland of the early 20th century, to witness through the prism of time that multifaceted and complex place where many different cultures and ideologies impelled the stories of bravery, vision and determination that comprised that vibrant moment in Irish history.
The Ireland of that time was an Ireland undergoing extraordinary change. Meanwhile, on the European continent, a seismic and historic tragedy unfolded that would see the loss of a generation to war in the collision of imperialist hubris.
It was an era of turmoil that developed in the shadow of the Home Rule Acts, and included the Lockout of 1913, the outbreak of the World War in 1914, the Rising of 1916 and the Battle of the Somme, the end of the World War and the Election of 1918, the War of Independence which commenced in 1919, and finally the bitterly divisive Civil War of the years 1922-23.
In taking a long view of history, we have been reminded of the many unsung heroes and forgotten victims of those tumultuous events, recalling, not just the extraordinary figures who have been immortalised in our history books, but also the ordinary lives defined by extraordinary courage and dignity in the face of adversity. In doing so, we have finally reclaimed those forgotten victims of the Easter Rising – the women of 1916 and the many civilians who lost their lives on the streets of Dublin during the final days of April 1916, including the forty children who were killed in crossfire.
That this commemorative Tree Avenue honours all those who lost their lives during that critical decade between 1912 and 1922 demonstrates a real understanding of the challenges, complications and contradictions that defined an Ireland seeking independence from an Empire engaged in a World War which consumed the lives of so many, and which had postponed parliamentary initiatives for self rule.
In commemorating, this year, the centenary of the Easter Rising, we have aspired to do so in a way that makes space for the multitude of voices which, together, spoke of a new and independent Ireland. We have also viewed the events of 1916 from a distance that has enabled us to grasp the Rising as part of a series of efforts at achieving independence and as part of a broader historical experience. All of the varied creeds, principles and ideals which drove that seminal period of our history are critical elements of the whole, and all are equally important in enabling us to engage with history and commemoration in a way that is ethical and honest.
We can now view World War I as an important context for the Rising. Good social history has taught us that so many of the 49,000 Irishmen who lost their lives in it had not been motivated to fight in the armies of Great Britain by any idealism or a desire for adventure, but were motivated more urgently by a desperate need to support their families as a consequence of their debarment from working in Ireland following the Great Lockout of 1913.
Our period of commemoration has taught us, too, that engagement with the past is rarely a simple or easy process. It is, so often, painful and morally challenging, to engage with and interpret the memories, hurts, legacies and emotions of all those affected by events.
I have also emphasised, throughout this year, how imagining is an essential part of commemoration. Imagination was also a central feature of the period we commemorate, and we have had ample opportunity to focus on the idealism, the dreams, and the creativity of the great Irish men and women of a hundred years ago, who made the bold and courageous decision to strike for Ireland’s independence.
Importantly, we have used this commemorative occasion to take inspiration from their ideas, dreams and deeds, and to forge their words and actions into useful tools for our present circumstances.
This concern with creating something new from the process of ethical remembering resonates strongly, I believe, with today’s event. The founders of our State did sow the seeds of the free Ireland which we enjoy today. Our political system and the social structures which have emerged over the intervening years are organic institutions – constantly growing and adapting, sturdy and resilient, but also in need of care and nourishment.
From our founding generation, we have been given a living legacy; and it is so wonderfully appropriate that we will have these magnificent living monuments to our freedom and the sacrifices of those who gave us that freedom.
Whereas in past centuries, statues of great men and women would be erected, today we mark our past with the planting of these great trees that will provide shelter and oxygen, remembering loss by celebrating life.
Democracy is always organic and must always be a work in progress. The manner in which we use the independence gifted to us by our forefathers is an enduring challenge, morally and ethically, as we continue the work of achieving a Republic of which our founders would be proud; a nation rooted in courage, vision and a profound spirit of generous humanity.
In the coming years we will be remembering the tragedies and great human cost of the War of Independence and the Civil War, which were part of the irreversible momentum towards independence following the tragic consequences of the Easter Rising. As we move towards that next period of commemoration, it is critical that we also continue to meet the challenge of remembering ethically, remaining open to a critical revisiting of the collective myths and beliefs by which we have defined ourselves as a nation.
We will now have this beautiful and peaceful place to remind us of the life that has sprung from past tragedies and loss, and this will be a great resource to us all in the years to come, one that will endure and flourish for future generations.
Mar fhocal scoir, is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh arís as bhur bhfíorchaoin fáilte inniu. Is mór an phribhléid dom é an Ascaill seo a oscailt go hoifigiúil, áit a bheidh ann mar nasc leis an Éirí Amach agus leis an méid a tháinigh ina dhiaidh do mhuintir na hÉireann go ceann na mblianta, agus fiú na céadta bliain amach romhainn.
[In conclusion, may I thank you once again for welcoming me here today. It is a great privilege to formally open this Commemorative Tree Avenue, which will provide such a deep rooted connection to a critical chapter of our past in the years, and decades, and centuries to come.]
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.