Speech of Éamon Ó Cuív TD at Solohead Commemoration, 20th Janaury 2019
Published on: 21 January 2019
A Chathaoirligh an Chontae, A Aire, A Theachtaí Dála, A Chomhleoirí, A Aithreacha, A Ghaolta de na daoine a raibh baint acu leis an eachtra stairiúil seo, A phobail na hÉireann.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh i dtosach don chuireadh bheith libh inniu i Sulchóid, lámh le láthair luíochán Shulchóid Bheag agus an óráid seo a thabhairt.
Tá muid ag comóradh inniu tús an fheachtais deireadh le saoirse a bhaint amach dár dtír; feachtas ina raibh gníomhartha mileata i gceist, bunú Dháil Éireann agus Rialtas Dúchasach, Bunú Rannaí Rialtais, bunú cúirteanna dlí, bunú córas taighleoireachta agus ceann de na feachtais bailithe airgid is mó ariamh.
Beagainín ós cionn dhá chéad bliain ó shin tharla éirí amach 1798. Mar thoradh ar sin scríobhadh ceann de na hamhráin is cáiliúla ó Thiobraid Árann – Sliabh na mBan
I véarsa amháin go speisialta faigheann muid léargas ar an síor throid, bochtannas, coimhlint agus fulaingt ar son na Saoirse a tháinig chun tosaigh arís i 1848, 1867 agus idir 1916 agus 1921.
Seo é an véarsa:-
Sé Ros do bhreoigh is do chloí go deo sinn,
Mar ar fágadh mórchuid dínn sínte lag,
Leanaí óga ina smólaibh ann dóite,
Leis an méid a d’fhan beo dhíobh cois claí nó scairt;
Ach geallaim fhéin daoibh, an té a dhein an foghlach,
Go mbeam i gcomhair dó le píc is le sleá,
Is go gcuirfead yeomem ar crith ina mbrógaibh,
Ag díol an chomhair leo ar Shliabh na mBan
Tá sean ráiteas ann “Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows” agus is fíor é sin i gcomhtheacs an mian láidir chun na saoirse a taispeánadh ó 1798 i leith.
I would like first of all to thank the organising committee for the work they have done in organising this 100th anniversary event to commemorate the beginning of the last phase of the struggle for national independence and for the signal honour you have bestowed on me in asking me to give the oration at this event.
As I have said when the history of the 19th century is examined it is seen as a period of repression, famine and failed risings. Parallel to that you have, despite this, a constant struggle for self-rule, national identity and re-awakening. Tipperary was the home of Charles Kickham and also the birth place of one of the greatest influencers of the national revival the GAA.
When judging historical events it is easy to take them out of their historical context and the experience people had of their families struggles in previous generations. There is also a temptation to judge events in the light of present day circumstances and opportunities rather than the world experienced at the time.
I believe the events of 1916- 1921 are much better understood when we look at the historical background of the participants and the world they lived in.
There is an opinion floated in modern times that England would have allowed the breakup of the United Kingdom without a fight. This, in my view, is easily discounted on a number of fronts including the fact that England had just been involved in the bloodiest war in history to that date with a fair bit of self-interest involved. In that war her leaders and generals had shown scant regard for the lives of even her own soldiers who were literally sent like lambs to the slaughter. Therefore to believe that the leaders in Britain in 1919 were just going to walk out of Ireland is naïve beyond belief.
Between 1916 and 1919 there was virtually no violence in Ireland perpetrated by the Volunteers. Despite this you had the death of Thomas Ashe by forcible feeding, the arrest of many volunteers, the banning of assemblies and hurling and football matches and when the people began to be successful at the ballot box you had the arrest of their leaders and their detention without trial.
On the day the first Dáil met, the same day as the Soloheadbeg ambush, 32 of the members were in prison including de Valera, Griffith and Markievich.
Despite an overwhelming mandate for the new Dáil the British resolutely refused to recognise the right of this small nation to independence.
Comment has been made that the action here was not sanctioned by headquarters. This fails to recognise the nature of the struggle about to be embarked on and the fact that the volunteers had been instructed to arm themselves in any way they could.
Dr. Mansergh has spoken about the actual events that happened here on the day one hundred years ago today and I am not going to cover that ground again save to say that this event played a significant part in triggering the last phase of the independence struggle.
As he said when he gave the oration here 21 years ago “This ceremony is in a small way-and here I speak not politically but personally- a symbolic act of reconciliation.” It is particularly so this year with relatives of the volunteers who were led that day by Séamus Robinson and included Seán Tracey, Dan Breen, Tadhg Cowe, Sean Hogan, Patrick McCormack, Paddy O’Dwyer and Michael Ryan here alongside relatives of the two constables James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell who were killed here, present on this historic occasion.
As I have said 21st of January 1919 was a historic day in Irish history. On that day a set of events were set off that changed this country for the better and led to the state we have today.
The independence movement was extraordinary in its depth and breath. Despite the most powerful empire in the world at the time opposing it the movement set up civil and military structures some of which we still have today.
As well as the military struggle you had the parallel replacement of foreign government over those years. The Dáil debates of the period give some idea of the breath of organisation and vision involved.
As well as operating a well-oiled parliament the Dáil set up a cabinet and government departments which immediately set to work. Money was provided by the national loan that was floated to run these departments. Alternative courts were set up to administer both criminal and civil law. The government had a very sophisticated counter propaganda machine in place, which is testified to by the wealth of detail in the volumes of the Irish Bulletin they published. They also set up a world-wide diplomatic offensive with Sean T Ó Ceallaigh and others going to Versailles, Larry Ginnel to South America and of course Éamon de Valera to the USA. As they had no access to taxation money was a challenge. It is worth noting that over $5m was subscribed to the Irish National loan in the US which was an enormous sum of money in those days.
A further characteristic feature of the struggle was the widespread support of the people for the effort despite the hardships they were suffering.
Independence came at a price and with many falls on the way but looking back with the long view I think it is important to note some of the major achievements of an Independent Ireland.
– The first one that is particularly noteworthy is that after centuries of sporadic violence this state has had a largely peaceful existence since 1923 with general acceptance of democracy.
– Unusually our constitution is truly the peoples constitution with the power to change it resting solely with the people
– Irish democracy has been incredibly stable during a period when many countries, including in Europe, experienced dictators and the overthrow of governments by undemocratic forces.
– Our army has always been subject to government and the Dáil, a thinking that developed during the war of independence
– The creation of an unarmed police force An Garda Siochána in the twenties, unlike its armed predecessor, was in my view one of the real keys to creating an acceptance of the rule of law in the country.
– For a country that was incredibly poor in 1919 we have become one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
– Irish identity is now recognised worldwide through our music, dance, games and language
– We have preserved in Ireland that sense of community which has been seen on so many occasions from the Special Olympics to the weekly voluntary work in so many parishes, villages, towns and cities.
– We have avoided as a nation any part in the destructive wars of the last century and our defence forces have become models of good practice in the work of peace-keeping world wide
These are all legacies of our founding generations and should be maintained. I do recognise that mistakes were made; things done that should not have been done and other things that should have been done not done. However looking at the bigger picture and at other countries we can be proud of many achievements.
Just as the generation of a hundred years ago faced challenges we too face many challenges in our generation-:
– In a rapidly changing world we must not take our cohesion as a nation for granted. We must in particular welcome those new people who live here recognising their cultures but also asking them to embrace our culture and feel fully at home here.
– We must ensure that the wealth of the nation is divided fairly and that nobody goes without adequate housing, health care, educational opportunity or income no matter what their circumstances are.
– In an era where the world resources are being stretched to their limits we must ensure that we use these resources wisely and without unnecessary waste so that future generations can also prosper.
– We must protect the environment- one of our great assets and mitigate climate change. In doing so we must ensure that no unfair burden is placed on those who cannot afford it.
– The world is changing rapidly with economic shifts taking place that could mean that today’s successes will not sustain a high standard of living in the future. We must be creative and inventive in our future economic policies building resilience and flexibility into our agricultural and industrial policies.
– Our culture, in all its facets, is one of our greatest treasures and makes us what we are. In a globalised world we must ensure that we support this important heritage while sharing it proudly across the world.
– The road to independence was preceded by the language revival movement. Irish is perhaps our most unique heritage containing within it over 2,000 years of literature and thought. We must continue to foster Irish and support its re-growth in all parts of Ireland
– The bringing together of all the people of this island in peace and harmony is something we must re-dedicate ourselves to. This must not only be done by peaceful means but also by the active creation of friendships across all divides without rancour or recrimination.
– One of the challenges of the modern world is the transfer of power at home and abroad away from democratic bodies to unelected bodies largely populated by elites. We must fight to retain real democracy and answerability to the people as a basic tenet of our democracy
– The continuing arms race lead mainly by rich and developed countries is a threat to peace worldwide and threatens those particularly in poor and underdeveloped countries. Ireland, as a country that suffered much in its history, must once again become a voice on the world stage for an end to the arms race and the changing of “weapons in to ploughshares” to feed the hungry.
– Finally in this time of commemoration of major events in our history let there be no excuse for re-opening old wounds but a new determination by everyone on our island to build peace, prosperity and happiness for everybody at home and abroad and let this island become once again the land that others look to for example.
I quoted from the Irish version of Sliabh na mBan at the start of my speech. I now quote from a very old song that comes from Irish folklore and that sums up the achievements of the last hundred years and that is that at last we can say:
“Gurb é deireadh mo scéal-se ná go bhfuil Éire anois ag Cáit Ní Dhuibhir.”