RTÉ’s ‘Road to the Rising’—more, please!

Published in Editorial, Issue 3 (May/June 2015), Volume 23

Tommy Graham portraitJudging by the massive public response to RTÉ’s ‘Road to the Rising’ event on Easter Monday on Dublin’s O’Connell Street (an estimated 50,000 turned out in bright sunshine), the answer to the rhetorical question posed by Brian Hanley in the last issue—‘Who fears to speak of 1916?’—is (apart from the ‘knaves’ and ‘slaves’ of the original ballad) not many!

Members of the public queued for hours to access the many events, including a packed History Ireland Hedge School. This was a no-holds-barred discussion that cut straight to the chase: ‘Was the Easter Rising justified?’ Did a riot ensue? No! The panellists—Ronan Fanning, Felix Larkin, Padraig Yeates and John Borgonovo—argued their case passionately but respectfully, and the audience responded in the same spirit in a vigorous question-and-answer session. (And don’t worry if you missed it: there’s a podcast on our website, https://www.historyireland.com/hedge-schools/.)

Coming in the same week as the government’s announcement of its commemoration programme this augurs well for the coming year. After a shaky start—with a ludicrous ‘promo’ video (the less said about that the better!), an ill-judged suggestion to invite a British royal (editorialised on previously, ‘Authentic historians’, HI 22.3, May/June 2015, and now thankfully dropped) and an official attitude that seemed distrustful of the general public—we can now get on with the job of what should be unremarkable in any functioning democracy: to commemorate and, dare I say it, to celebrate its origins, in all its complexity.

RTÉ have set the bar high in the arena of public commemoration, so more of the same please, but let’s not underestimate the appetite or the sophistication of the wider public as regards engagement with their history.

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