The Centenary of the Foundation of the Irish Volunteers

Published: Mon 25th Nov, 2013 | 14:04

Remarks By President Michael D. Higgins at the State Ceremony Marking the Centenary of The Foundation of The Irish Volunteers, Garden of Remembrance, Dublin
Sunday, 24th November, 2013

A Thaoisigh,

A Ardmhéara,

A Airí,

A Dhaoine Uaisle,

Táimíd bailithe anseo chun omós a thuirt dos na hÉireannaig a tháinig le chéile chun Óglaigh na hÉireann a bhunú i mí na Samhna 1913. Is cart agus is coir an bhunú sin a chomóradh mar bunchloch i nua stair ár dtír, agus cheann des na foinsí d’ár saoirse inniú.

The plaque in front of which we are gathered today carries a poem entitled “An Aisling,” written by Liam Mac Uistín in 1976. It reads:

I ndorchacht an éadóchais rinneadh aisling dúinn.
Lasamar solas an dóchais
agus níor múchadh é.

I bhfásach an lagmhisnigh rinneadh aisling dúinn.
Chuireamar crann na crógachta
agus tháinig bláth air.

I ngeimhreadh na daoirse rinneadh aisling dúinn.
Mheileamar sneachta táimhe
agus rith abhainn na hathbheochana as.

Chuireamar ár n-aisling ag snámh mar eala ar an abhainn.
Rinneadh fírinne den aisling.
Rinneadh samhradh den gheimhreadh.

Rinneadh saoirse den daoirse
agus d’fhágamar agaibhse mar oidhreacht í.

A ghlúnta na saoirse cuimhnígí orainne, glúnta na haislinge…

That final line – A ghlúnta na saoirse cuimhnígí orainne, glúnta na haislinge: O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision – is an invitation to all of us to keep alive the memory of those who sought and fought for freedom.

It is an invitation to recall, among all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom, Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Volunteers, who, a hundred years ago, on 25th November 1913, were called into being at a massive public meeting in Dublin’s Rotunda Rink, the grounds of which we are standing on this morning.

It is appropriate to honour these founding volunteers who thought beyond themselves and their own lives, towards an Irishness beyond their own welfare. This was an army drawn from people who were motivated to rise and to vindicate the unfulfilled hopes and aspirations for freedom, of the previous generations, men and women anxious to live up to their responsibilities, as they saw them, towards future generations. Through the foundation of Olaigh na hÉireann they were envisioning a brighter future for our citizens in freedom.

This occasion, then, is a fitting time to place ourselves, in public imagination, in the great sequence of generations which precede us and will succeed us. While it is a time to reflect on the legacy we have inherited from our predecessors, it is also surely a propitious time to reflect on how we are challenged to use that freedom which was handed down to us for the generations to come in a way that serves all of our people.

In seeking freedom, and in volunteering to fight for it, the hopes of the women and men who formed Óglaigh na hÉireann were to awaken “the light of hope” and offer a liberating vision in what Liam Mac Uistín poem describes as “a desert of discouragement.”

Through succeeding events that vision became a reality – a reality that would eventually lead to independence, thus making it possible for all of us to stand here.

The vision which animated the Irish Volunteers a century ago, at one of the most soul-stirring junctures in the history of Ireland, not merely describe previous struggles; it also makes an emancipatory promise which remains available, will remain available, offered to us as an instrument that can inform our present and future.

Iarann sé orainn ár leas a dhéannamh ar son muintir na hÉireann i gcoitinn agus ach go háirithe na glúnta atá le tíocht.

The greatest moments in our history were always those when our people turned towards the future, and were motivated by a sense of what might be possible. It is such a spirit which inspired the Irish Volunteers in 1913. It is that vision which sustained the workers of Dublin during the Lockout. It is that same vision of a better and achievable future – of a future reclaimed as an arena of hope – which calls forth resilience and sustains the Irish people during every period of hardship.

The founding events of any national community, call out to us to be revisited in a critical manner. They enable us to recall the possibilities which the subsequent unfolding of history may have forgotten. They enable us to envisage again how the ideals of justice, equality and freedom, encapsulated in the Republican promise, can be restated and further pursued, while at the same time carving out a space for the narrative of those who differ, or the stranger, and the newcomer.

This state ceremony in honour of those who formed the Irish Volunteers, Óglaigh na hÉireann, thus invites us to reclaim our collective past, and in doing so to appropriate and reinterpret it critically, so as to broaden our understanding of our present condition and rekindle the ideals which, we hope, our children and grandchildren will see brought to fruition.

We live in a very different world to that of the generation of 1913. One century later, our relations with our near neighbours, our place in Europe and in the world, has been transfigured. We live with our independence granted, connections offered to us, or blooming already, which would have been unimaginable to our forefathers.

One hundred years on, many wounds have healed; new possibilities are opening up. We are now ready, in 2013, not only to cherish the memory and the stories of those who fought for the cause of Irish Freedom as we do today but are ready to endorse, in imagination and sympathy, the narrative of the other.

Tá an t-am tagtha chun slí a dhéanamh d’insintí éagsúla ar an stair chéanna. Tá an t-am tagtha don chuimhneamh eiticiúil.

[The time has come to make space for several stories directed at the same past. The time has come for ethical remembering.]

Perhaps, the pattern of broken spears which paves the floor of the pool carved at the centre of this Garden of Remembrance is an appropriate symbol for this new ethos of narrative hospitality. It refers after all to the Celtic custom of throwing weapons into rivers and lakes, as offerings, signifying the end of hostilities. It invites us, in our time, to lay the foundations for open and humane remembering.

Let us cultivate memory then as a tool for the living, and as a sure base for the future – memory at peace.