By Sarah Mac Donald - 20 January, 2016
The Easter Rising is a reminder of the danger of deafness and it was also a curtain-raiser to a century of astonishing change, the Very Rev Dr Kenneth Newell OBE, the former Moderator of the Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast has said.
In his address for the Inaugural Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Monday at St Paul’s Church on Dublin’s Arran Quay, Rev Dr Newell asked what lessons can be learnt, what progress can be celebrated, and what vision do we need to embrace for the future in order to shape an Ireland that is confidently inclusive, peaceful, just, compassionate, and prosperous.
He said the Rising catapulted Ireland into seven years of violent confrontation, partition and civil war on the rocky road to independence.
“It was a moment of great national pride on 10 September 1923 when Ireland took her place among the League of Nations as the Irish Free State.”
He recalled that the armed insurrection which began in Dublin on Easter Monday 24th April 1916 with 1,250 members of the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizens Army ended by Saturday 29th April with an unconditional surrender in the face of 16,000 British troops.
Sixty-four rebels and 132 British soldiers had been killed; 254 innocent civilians had lost their lives and 2,000 had been wounded. Within days of the surrender, fourteen of the leaders of the Rising were executed; a further 3,500 men and women were rounded up and imprisoned.
He noted that Dubliners were divided in their responses to the conflict.
A Dublin businessman James G. Douglas, hitherto a Home Ruler, wrote that his political outlook had changed radically during the course of the Rising and that he had become convinced that parliamentary methods would not be sufficient to remove the British presence.
“Support for physical force Republicanism grew steadily and within two years Sinn Féin had won a majority of Irish seats in the 1918 UK General Election.”
Rev Newell also noted that “From the time of the Great Famine of 1845 to 1847, certain sections of the Irish population had lost all faith in the British Government. They felt that it neither listened to their complaints nor cared about their grievances. To them, the Irish had become second class citizens in the world’s greatest empire builder. Arguments presented to London about freeing up Ireland from British Rule fell on seemingly deaf ears.”
“Part of me wants to scribble across the pages of carnage within Ireland North and South over the last one hundred years two words – ‘Never Again’.”
But he said “that is much too easy”.
He said the challenge is to listen carefully and respectfully to those sections of our community that today are in pain and groan for understanding, acceptance and hope.
“Our lives begin to disintegrate morally, spiritually, socially and politically when we become silent about the things that really matter to ordinary people.”
“Pray for ears to pick up the cries of distress today within our country and together work to transform the lives of those who feel excluded and in pain.”
“Revolution is much more than smashing something; it is bringing something beautiful to birth and watching it grow for the benefit of all, not just the few.”
He also paid tribute to the healing of relations between Ireland and the UK over the years since 1916.
“Since Ireland won the freedom to determine democratically and peacefully its own future, the tide of revolution has continued to rise, not in terms of seizing power, but in the astonishing transformation of the often fractious relationships within this island and with our closest neighbour in the UK.”
Rev Newell recalled his two friends Frs Gerry Reynolds and Alex Reid of Clonard Monastery in Belfast with whom he had played a role in fostering dialogue with senior republican and loyalist figures in the 1990s.
The three clergymen’s joy had been to see a ceasefire in 1994 agreed by the IRA and the Combined Loyalist Military Command which paved the way for the peace agreement of April 1998.
He also referred to the State Visit of the Queen to Ireland in May 2011, “the finest contribution to reconciliation by the President of Ireland, Dr Mary McAleese”.
“All of these luminous moments inspire us as Christians to reach out and work for an Ireland that is inclusive, compassionate, just, reconciled, peaceful and prosperous. They act like rockets of hope exploding in the night sky into shards of colourful light and dropping into a thousand lives.”
“They are the glimpse that God gives us of a brighter future for all, and he always promises to guide us along the route to it; grace-nav is the Gospel’s equivalent to sat-nav.”
“Let us commemorate Easter Rising with respect and humility, but let us continue working for that continuing revolution of self-giving love and generous service of others that we see shining to brightly in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.”