Sinn Fein member Sean Conlon, who spent part of his childhood in Delaware County, graciously shared with irishphiladelphia.com the remarks he made at the grave of Luke Dillon at the Easter Rising Ceremony at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon.
It is an honour for me to be here, on the occasion of the centenary year of the 1916 Easter Rising and stand with true friends of Ireland, and advocates for her liberation, to commemorate the contribution and sacrifices of Ireland’s patriot men and women associated with the Rising, and in all campaigns of resistance waged against the foreign occupation of our homeland. Today here at Holy Cross Cemetery, we invoke in particular, the memory of those who resided in the Philadelphia region, and that despite the distance of separation and communication, remained firm in dauntless spirit, and action, in supporting the efforts of their comrades in Ireland.
Since our last assembling here twelve months ago, we reflect on loved ones who have would regularly have attended events such as this commemoration or other opportunities to raise the flag for Ireland and her total independence. As a fellow activist who I recall in years when I lived in this area is the name of Tommy Flynn, along with the name of Sean Rocks, who as a member of the Breen family, is also especially missed today.
The city of Philadelphia over the decades and generations, can proudly stake its claim in the line of the Proclamation that states…. ‘supported by her exiled children in America’ as we all know of the significant role the membership of Clan na Gael, ancestors of some of you attending here this afternoon, had in supporting the 1916 Rebellion, most notably through the leadership of Joe McGarrity. And equally significant, the continuing role today of Clan na Gael, Irish Northern Aid, Ancient Order of Hibernians and all associate organisations who continue with organising annual events such as planned for today that ensures the pursuit of uniting Ireland, is as relevant today throughout this region, as it was a hundred years ago.
As an elected representative of Sinn Fein, I extend greetings of solidarity from our continuously increasing membership and electorate who, along with supporters from around the world, join with increasing momentum and determination, in seeking the absolute independence of Ireland, completing the task declared in the Proclamation and fought for by patriot men and women of Ireland whom we commemorate this evening. These brave Volunteers, among them, tradesmen, tailors, academics, nurses, entered the foray of battle, not for schillings, defence of monarch, or self glory, but in challenge to the British Empire’s policies of subjugating the will of Irish people into resources of trade and commerce and cannon fodder for the benefit of fulfilling their imperialist colonisation agenda.
Their devious methodology employed again with the outbreak of the First World War with a mischievous recruitment campaign claiming that Home Rule would be secured with the support of Irishmen, resulting in 200,000 joining the British army, almost a quarter of them losing their lives. Fighting for an empire built and sustained over centuries on the backs of an enslaved workforce, harnessed by landlord and bailiff into supplying overseas markets, while at times causing mass starvation, undoubtedly acts of genocide, as stated on the Great Hunger memorial garden in New York as it reads, ‘While to most people scarcity means suffering, to others it means profit’.
The practices and policies inflicted upon our ancestors in the centuries prior and leading up to the Rising proved a ruthless training ground as to how the Empire torched and terrorised indigenous civilisations across the globe. Is it any wonder the Irish people rose once again to defy their slave masters, as with other nations throughout the far reaches of their doomed empire. It was of course as much a social uprising, as it was a political and military uprising. An uprising that followed previous insurrections against British rule, from 1798 onwards undoubtedly inspired by the actions of the founding fathers of this great country who similarly endured the denial of the basic laws of liberty in achieving government for the people, by the people leading of course to the American Revolutionary War.
The successful rout led by George Washington set the stage for beleaguered nations to follow example, providing for a continuum of resistance. In Ireland it fell to the ‘Father of Irish Republicanism’ Wolfe Tone to emulate Washington’s actions and leading the United Irishmen. Over the centuries and up to recent decades of resistance the doomed empire failed to take account of the indomitable spirit of Irishmen and women in their efforts at seeking independence and basic human rights as asserted in the 1916 Proclamation. It was a revolutionary document of its time, and still remains today the mission statement for modern day Irish republicanism. As with your own Declaration of Independence signed 240 years ago, such documents do not die.
This visionary document is worthy of celebration on any relevant occasion, but on its 100th birthday, it is a landmark occasion if ever there was one. Its interpretation as a statement of intent and inspiration has enriched with age. Regrettably, with the passage of time and in the hands of administrations indifferent to the needs of its citizens, many facets of its implementation continue on a path and at a pace that is anything but inspirational.
Of particular note over the past year and more have been the abysmal efforts by government departments in making preparation for Centenary commemorative events. The denial by office holders within officialdom and establishment Ireland in providing for appropriate and relevant acts of remembrance speaks volumes as to how state authorities are determined to create a revisionist narrative in place of historical fact. Instead of recognising the origins of the State and paying respect to the memory of courageous men and women who took on an empire that at the time governed over a fifth of the earth’s population, government ministers and departments hurried themselves in seeking to include British monarchs onto platforms, creating a promotional video featuring enemies of Irish unification such as Ian Paisley, David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth. Not one mention of Pearse, Connolly or any mention of the Rising. And more recently, despite efforts by developers colluding with city planners to demolish a large swathe of property recognised by historians as a battlefield site during Easter week and converting into a shopping centre, relatives of the heroes of 1916 secured a High Court victory to have this area of Moore St preserved, after an astonishing 10 year planning debacle. Examples are plentiful and I could go on at length as to how those in authority would quicker adopt a pro-British storyline to the actual events and tragic outcomes for those attempting to free our country in 1916. Truly a case of them suggesting ‘whatever you do, don’t mention the war’.
Recalling acts of war, not for purpose of glorification, however to remind ourselves that with conflict comes suffering, and as so many will know here today of friends neighbours and loved ones who suffered as a result of conflict and that Ireland has seen enough of that over too many lifetimes.
Thankfully today progressive and increasingly unified voices are intent on reversing the damage done by previous governments who denied the Proclamation by overseeing the partition of the island, embedding inequality and the forfeiture of natural assets and resources, robbed of ownership by the people, rights and royalties sold off to the highest bidder. The days where the ethos and objectives enshrined within Irish Republicanism and ignored by successive governments are numbered, as witnessed with recent general election results that saw a phenomenal 60% increase in Dail seats secured by Sinn Féin representatives, and further to that, the shattering of the dominant hold that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have traditionally secured over too many years. Across the island of Ireland Sinn Féin are now THE largest political party.
With our membership, that includes former combatants, ex-political prisoners, policy strategists and elected representatives working with the grassroots activists, Sinn Féin abounds with confidence in conveying sound arguments and proposals towards uniting the island that will serve the interests of ALL its inhabitants. A statement I feel best expressed in a poem by Bobby Sands scripted from the confines of his Long Kesh cell titled, The ‘Rhythm of Time’ as the last two stanza read
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 might,
It is ‘the undauntable thought’, my friend,
That thought that says ‘I’m right!’
And when I say uniting the island in the interest of ALL its inhabitants, it is equality that is at the core of guiding our principles, regardless of race or creed, the latter being particularly divisive as hostile forces too often dismiss the so called national question as a sectarian dispute. In the words read from the GPO on Easter Monday… ‘We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies’, the fulfilment of this declaration is the task ahead for each and every one of us assembled here. As with a hundred years ago, the role of the diaspora is integral to a successful outcome. To rely on the establishment parties of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will result in another hundred years of partition and failure for our people.
It has to be acknowledged that throughout our tragic history, divisive issues and strategic differences on how best to achieve unification have been allowed to foster, with outcomes that only serve the British securocrat agenda and through methods that have turned Irishmen against each other. These maligned forces will always seek to destroy our genuine efforts. In facing down this threat we must accept that the obligation is on us all of us to build relations to overcome these differences, to reconcile with the past and build an inclusive society where we all work together for the common good. Irish Republicans will need to remain focused, patient and determined as we acknowledge, the pace of progress can be frustrating. The Proclamation makes clear, there cannot be any place for those who dishonour the republican cause, with criminality or by engaging in counterproductive militarism that offers nothing but suffering, imprisonment and death. We now have a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish Unity. The historical agreements endorsed by the overwhelming majority on the island over the past eighteen years, provides for referenda north and south to end partition and the union. We need to build support for unity and highlight the continued failure of partition for if we are a movement of partitioned forces within Irish Republicanism, we will never succeed. I make the appeal that in association with the grassroots activism of Irish communities and individuals throughout this region, elected representatives similarly use all influence available to them in advancing our shared endeavours.
In Conclusion, having spoken at a number of events in Chicago and New York over the past week, and having missed the centenary events in Monaghan, to be back again in my second home town and witness the robust efforts and strong support that continues for the cause of Irish freedom is a fulfilling experience. I commend all for turning out in less than ideal conditions and especially the members of the Irish Easter Rising Centennial Committee for their preparations over recent years in ensuring the commemoration and celebration events would be worthy of the respect and dignity deserving to all those either in Ireland or the US and elsewhere. I appeal to all here today to attend in larger numbers, by encouraging family and friends, to the Centennial Commemoration event being held on Sunday April 24, assembling at the Irish Memorial at Penns Landing at 10 am and proceeding to Independence Hall. Guest speaker for this iconic event is Sinn Féin Councillor Seán McManus. As I have been made so welcome, I similarly ask you to come along to welcome Sean, and be part of creating history in this great city, the birthplace of your own country’s liberation from Britain.