Britain should look at imperialist past says Irish president

100 years on, members of the armed forces march along OConnell Street, as part of the 1916 centenary commemorations in Dublin. Picture: PA

100 years on, members of the armed forces march along OConnell Street, as part of the 1916 centenary commemorations in Dublin. Picture: PA

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Irish president Michael D Higgins has suggested Britain’s “imperial triumphalism” be re-examined in the same way as Irish republicanism has been over recent years.

In a keynote speech at an event marking Ireland’s Easter Rising a century ago, Mr Higgins said there has been much discussion of violence by Irish nationalists at the turn of the last century.

The shattered remains of the GPO after the Easter Rising. Picture: Getty Images

The shattered remains of the GPO after the Easter Rising. Picture: Getty Images

But he noted the “supremacist and militarist imperialism” of Britain over the same time had not been met with “the same fault-finding edge.”

“In the context of 1916, this imperial triumphalism can be traced, for example, in the language of the [British Army] recruitment campaigns of the time, which evoked mythology, masculinity and religion, and glorified the Irish blood as having ‘reddened the earth of every continent’,” he said.

“But this is for another day.”

In his talk at Dublin’s Mansion House, Mr Higgins said there “has been a great deal of critical reassessment of aspects of the Rising and, in particular, of the myths of redemptive violence that were at the heart, not just of Irish nationalism, but also of imperial nationalism”.

He added: “While the long shadow cast by what has been called ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland has led to a scrutiny of the Irish Republican tradition of ‘physical violence’, a similar review of supremacist and militarist imperialism remains to be fully achieved.” 
Mr Higgins described the leaders of the 1916 rebellion - who were executed by Britain - as “advanced thinkers, selfless women and men, who took all the risks to ensure that the children of Ireland would, in the future, live in freedom and access their fair share of Ireland’s prosperity”.

But he added their vision was not realised in the founding years of the new Irish State. Irish people, he said, have a duty to retrieve the idealism at the heart of the Rising.

“We have a greater duty to imagine and to forge a future illuminated by the unfulfilled promises of our past,” he explained.

Mr Higgins made his remarks as wreaths were laid at seven locations around Dublin which were key to the revolt.

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