An Féile….the annual West Belfast Festival of Culture, Debate, Concerts etc took place earlier this month. In my role as a “political” blogger, it is one of the highlights of my year. I think it is fair to say that it is increasingly dominated by the thinking of one political party, Sinn Féin.
Of course, this Blog is about Irish Stamps etc. And I am careful to keep Politics out of THIS Blog….but this is an occasion when it is inevitable that Stamp Collecting and Politics come together. How ?
Well next year sees the Centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916…a key date in Irish History.It proclaimed the Republic of Ireland and started a chain reaction that led to the British General Election of 1918 and a retrospective endorsement of the rebels of two years earlier, the establishment of the illegal (in British eyes) first Parliament in 1919,the War of Independence, a Treaty which created the IrishFree State and “Northern Ireland” and a bloody Civil War between pro and anti Treaty forces that echoes thru the decades to the present day.
Irish nationalists and British unionists have different narratives about these events. Disturbingly for me…an Irish citizen and a trained historian, who has lectured on and written about Conflict Resolution …there is too much “revisionism”, effectively re-writing History for a new political imperative…we must talk about “shared history”.
Sometimes there can be no compromises. The founding fathers of the Irish Nation proclaimed a Republic. It was the right thing to do. They fought and died for that ideal and we do not serve their memory well if we allow this singular event in Irish History to be undermined by allowing it to be just one more event in a series of events related to World War One…Galipoli and the Somme example. Conflict Resolution should be honest and the point that Robert Ballagh was making in his lecture is that “Official Ireland” is compromising the Centenary too much by placating British and northern unionist sensibilities.
Let me be clear that I agree with this analysis and let me emphasise that too much compromise createsa vacuum to be exploited by Sinn Féin, who maliciously hold the view that they are the true heirs of the Legacy of Easter 1916. Every Irish Citizen is the heir.
Although Robert Ballagh’s lecture was focussed on the plans for commemoration and celebration next year, I took the opportunity to ask him about the likely way that the Irish Post Office will commemorate the Easter Rising. Neither of us has “inside information” and we must rely on established and recent precedent.
The 1941 Commemoration (25th Anniversary) occurred during World War Two (simply known as The Emergency in Ireland) and shortages of paper and ink resulted in a two stamp “provisional” issue, followed by a striking one-stamp issue later in the year.
The 1966 Commemoration (50th Anniversary) was a lavish eight-stamp issue. I remember buying these stamps in Monaghan Post Office.
In contrast,in 1991 (75th Anniversary) and 2006 (90th Anniversary) the single-issue stamps were low key…some might apologetic. Why? Well, violence had broken out in Norn Iron in 1969…to some extent unfinished business fro 1916 and there is an ambiguity in Ireland about “physical force Republicanism”.
Frankly, I dont think that the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 is anything more than a respite from Violence. It was sold to nationalists as a stepping stone to a United Ireland and sold to unionists as a barrier to a United Ireland. It may be one. It may be neither. It is not both.
The Decade of Centenaries is effectively a controlled exercise in “shared history” but when we commemorate things in general like the Easter Risingof 1916 (a nationalist event) and the Battle of the Somme 1916 (a unionist event)….then nothing is special and by any standards the Vision and Bravery f those who lost their lives in 1916 so that I can proclaim my Irishness, is a unique event.
If we look at the stamp issues from 2013 to date…those that might be crucial events…we see that the stamps commemorating the founding of the Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army and Cumann mBan (Womens “IRA”) were single issue stamps based on photographs.
At a guess, I would say that the 2016 stamps will be a multiple issue. There will possibly be a miniature sheet based on the Proclamation and possibly aPrestige/Premium Booklet. I think the contribution of the women who took part in the Rising as nurses will be recognised. And almost certainly the civilian deaths. The Dublin Metropolitan Police is more controversial but in the context of the reconciliaton of post Civil War years mightbe acceptable. But it would be disgusting if there was any recognition of the suffering of British Imperial Army during that week.
We wait and see. Controversy is assured.