Celebrating O’Donovan Rossa – A continuum of struggle

Celebrating O’Donovan Rossa – A continuum of struggle


In February Sinn Féin launched our national campaign to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising. It was and is a first class programme which included a re-enactment of the funeral of veteran Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.In stark contrast the initial launch of the Irish government’s centenary programme last November and especially of its 80 second promotional video, was widely criticised. It failed to mention the Rising, the executed leaders, or the Proclamation but managed to include David Cameron, Bob Geldof and the English Queen. The government’s programme also neglected to mention O’Donovan Rossa. The video was withdrawn and the government was forced to go back to the drawing board. One consequence of this was that a new improved government programme, which I welcomed, was produced. It included a government sponsored re-enactment of the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa to take place on the same day as the Sinn Féin event. Some comrades expressed concern at this but most took the view that it was right that the government honour the memory of O’Donovan Rossa and it was a challenge to Sinn Féin to make the maximum effort to make our event a memorable and different type of event from that of the state.Two weeks ago we succeeded in doing that. The official Irish state commemoration, which was attended by hundreds, was full of the pomp one would expect from government planned events. Consequently it was a rather sterile and stuffy affair. In marked contrast Sinn Féin’s full funeral re-enactment was a popular people’s event. Thousands participated and many travelled from every corner of Ireland, north, south, east and west. Many also dressed in period costume.

There was great good humoured rivalry between comrades over who had the best and most authentic costume.Huge crowds gathered inside and outside the rotunda of Dublin City Hall where Rossa’s ‘lying in state’ was held and from where the funeral procession departed.The atmosphere was electric with everyone, young and old, getting into the spirit if the occasion.A stirring prayer was delivered at City Hall by Sligo priest Fr Michael Flanagan, played by actor Alan Keating, as two of O’Donovan Rossa’s great-grandsons, Rossa Williams Cole and Williams Rossa Cole listened.The procession to Glasnevin cemetery, along O Connell street,was a an amazing sight with onlookers enjoying the wonderful pageantry provided by the Cabra Historical society, which included uniformed Volunteers and cavalry outriders. Four splendid black-plumed horses drew the funeral carriage through the streets of the capital to Glasnevin. The hearse was flanked by 22 members of the Cabra Historical Society in Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army uniforms.At Glasnevin Cemetery Mary Lou McDonald introduced singer Red Hurley who gave a stirring rendition of a specially commissioned song – The Spirit of the Gael – by Pete St John. I welcomed everyone and remarked on the historic significance of O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral before Edward Cosgrave gave the now famous and powerful graveside oration of Pádraig Pearse.Three volleys of shots were fired by the Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army and the Cabra Historical Society finished proceedings with a rousing performance of Amhrán na bhFiann.The Sinn Féin event showed what a real commemoration of the life and death of a national hero can and should be – no corralling of people behind barriers, no elitist segregation and no policing of popular pride in Ireland’s revolutionary heritage.The media largely ignored the Sinn Féin event or used images from it to illustrate the government one.

Fianna Fáil stupidly went so far as to accuse us of competing with the government which is a bit daft given that the government had clearly forgotten about O’Donovan Rossa until they saw our programme. The Sinn Féin event also exposed the shallowness of the government’s and Fianna Fáil’s approach to commemorating the struggle for independence and sovereignty.

The reality is that the leaderships of Fine Gael, of Labour and Fianna Fáil long ago abandoned any real belief in or commitment to a united, free and independent Ireland. Partitionism dominates their politics. They have forgotten or chosen to ignore the real meaning of Pearse’s famous remarks at the graveside.“Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”Peace is not just the absence of violence it is the presence of justice. It is the resolution of those core issues that lie at the root of conflict and division in Ireland – the denial of national self-determination, partition and the British government’s continued interference in Irish affairs.The Proclamation, with its demand for a republic based on the island of Ireland, inclusive of all its citizens and founded on equality and civil and religious freedoms and rights, is an embarrassment to a southern political establishment which long ago decided that ‘Ireland’ and the ‘republic’ were 26 counties. For them the struggle for Irish freedom ended with the Treaty vote and the Civil War. Of course, it didn’t. That struggle continues today. And the centenary celebration for 1916 is a reminder of the unfinished business of the Proclamation and the Rising. There is a continuum of struggle which today takes a different form from that of 1916 or of the Tan War or of the three decades of recent conflict.  Whether in the Assembly or in Local government; or in the Dáil or in Europe or Britain; Sinn Féin representatives and party activists across this island, in neigbourhoods and communities in rural and urban Ireland, are pursuing a strategy which is about ending the union with Britain and building the republic envisioned in the Proclamation. To paraphrase the Proclamation the struggle for Irish unity and sovereignty today summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. We are those children. I invite you to join in this great historic enterprise.


Below are my remarks at the re-enactment of O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral.

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach duine a ghlac páirt san ócáid speisialta seo inniú – daoine a tháinig ó gach cuid den tír agus daoine a tháinig anseo ó thar lear.I want to thank everyone who has taken part in this very special event.  I want to thank our organisers and reenactors. Especially Bartle and Mick and God who organised the weather.Who was Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa?He was from a family of tenant farmers from Roscarberry, County Cork.In 1856, not long after the Great Hunger, he established the Phoenix National Literary Society whose aim was the “the liberation of Ireland by force of arms”.In 1858, he was jailed without trial for 6 months. In 1865, he was charged with plotting a Fenian rising, and sentenced to penal servitude for life.He served his time in Pentonville, Portland and Chatham prisons in England.His prison conditions were horrendous. Infamously he was manacled with his hands behind his back and had to eat his food like a dog from a dish on the prison floor. In an

1869 by-election he was elected by 103 votes for the constituency of Tipperary, but the election was declared invalid because Rossa was a prisoner.  In 1870 he was exiled to America with other Fenians. There he established The United Irishman newspaper and organised a bombing campaign in England known as “the dynamite campaign”. He also organised a fund to support the fight against British rule.Isn’t it great that this morning the Irish government celebrated this old Fenian and his activities?Jeremiah was married 3 times and had 18 children. He was in many ways a very active republican. At the time of his death, aged 83, a new generation of revolutionary republicans were organising and preparing for a Rising. They were determined to have Rossa brought home and buried in Ireland. Rossa’s funeral mobilised and galvanised all sides of progressive opinion.  The funeral committee included 11 of the leaders of the Rising who were executed 10 months later. They stood where we are standing today.This afternoon we have with us people whose parents or grand-parents or other relatives stood here exactly 100 years ago.  Fáilte speisialta do na daoine sin. Like us, they were men and women who believed in Irish freedom. They were in the IRB, the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, Conradh naGaeilge and many other organisations, as well as tens of thousands of citizens. There were trade unionists, feminists, writers and artists, labourers, the working poor, intellectural and poets.Their common cause was the unity and independence of Ireland.At that time Ireland had been dragged by England into an imperialist war. Even the most limited form of autonomy had been denied to us. Partition was being plotted and planned by the ruling class.But those who gathered at Rossa’s graveside resolved not to accept this, to protest, to resist and, ultimately to take on the might of the British Empire. The funeral of O’Donovan Rossa was a prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916.Today almost a century later we have many gathered here, like O’Donovan Rossa, who spent years as political prisoners, or were on the run or were forced into exile.Fáilte mór romhaibh.We remember also all those who suffered and died in the most recent conflict, including our patriot dead, some of whom are laid to rest in this cemetery.We also welcome members of O’Donovan Rossa’s family.We have with us also many younger people who, thankfully, have not known directly the terrible reality of armed conflict in our country.Let us be very clear that the Peace Process and the political progress we have achieved were made possible because of the sacrifices of countless republicans over the generations.Mar thoradh ar an bPróiséas Síochána tá bealach siochánta agus daonlathach chuig Éire Aontaithe ann.Agus tá sé mar dualgas orainn dul ar aghaidh le chéile ar an mbealach sin.It is hugely positive and progressive that we today can pursue the complete unity and freedom of the Irish people, by peaceful means.And we are pursuing that cause.Today is a reminder, as the events of the Centenary of the Easter Rising in the coming months will be reminders, that the business of Pádraig Mac Piarais and James Connolly and Constance Markievicz and Bobby Sands, Maire Drumm and Máiréad Farrell is unfinished business.Some people in high places do not like to be reminded of that unfinished business. It is a pity about them.The fools. The fools. The fools.Our country is still partitioned. And Ireland divided never can be free. We do not yet have a national Republic.

But republicanism is growing, as never before. The Proclamation has yet to be implemented.Equality has yet to be achieved. But we are living in a time of great change and great hope, and great potential. Níl Éire saor agus Gaelach againn, i bhfocail an Phiarsaigh ag an uaigh seo. Ach bí cinnte go mbeidh. Because we are as determined to move forward and as determined to achieve complete freedom as the men and women who gathered here 100 years ago today.

Bobby Sands put it well,

“There’s an inner thing in everyone,Do you know this thing my friend?It has withstood the blows of a million years, And will do so to the end.

It lies in the hearts of heroes dead, It screams in tyrants’ eyes,It has reached the peak of mountains high,It comes searing ‘cross the skies.

It lights the dark of this prison cell,It thunders forth its mightIt is ‘the undauntable thought’ my friend, That thought that says ‘I’m right!’Thank you Bobby. Thank you Padraig MacPiarais, and James Connolly.

Thank you O’Donovan Rossa.

Thank You For Being Right.

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