Irish advocates: Pictured are (from left) William Ivers, City Council representative; Paul Doris, grand marshal of the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day Parade; Bob Dougherty, co-chair of Irish Easter Rising Centennial Commemoration Committee; and Ranger Andrew McDougall, National Park Service. SOURCE: CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE
The cradle of American liberty will stage a testimonial to Irish freedom on Sunday in the shadow of Independence Hall as Philadelphia commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising.
Leaders of the region’s Irish-American community, Mayor Jim Kenney, local elected officials, figures from the Irish Republican movement and descendants of those who backed the 1916 rebellion in Dublin will take part in ceremonies at the Irish National Memorial in Old City, as well as the grounds of Independence National Park.
“It’s going to be solemn at both sites, but both will have special meaning,” said Bob Dougherty, co-chairman of the organizing committee. “We will definitely recognize that the Irish played a huge part in American independence and that Americans played a big part in Irish independence that even today has not been fully achieved.”
The ceremonies will commemorate the events of April 24–29, 1916, when about 1,200 armed Irish men and women seized numerous public buildings and sites in Dublin, with hundreds more fighting elsewhere in the countryside, to end oppressive British rule of Ireland. In launching the insurrection, rebel leader Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic publicly on the steps of the General Post Office, an exercise likely inspired by the readings of the United States’ Declaration of Independence 140 years earlier. Indeed “America” was the lone foreign nation named in the text by Pearse and his co-author, James Connelly, who wrote of the strong support of Ireland’s “exiled children” here for their cause.
In six days of fighting, 66 rebels and 143 British soldiers were killed, as were 260 civilians. Ultimately, the British deployed 16,000 troops to suppress the uprising, which ended in surrender. Though the effort failed militarily and was initially viewed with contempt by a large portion of the Irish public due to its violence, Britain’s heavy-handed punishment of the rebel leaders (14 were executed by firing squad within 13 days of surrender) swayed public sympathies in favor of the Republicans. The Rising is often credited as a precursor to the Irish War of Independence, which began officially in 1919 and resulted in the political partitionment of the island nation. Today, 26 counties comprise the independent Republic of Ireland, while six northern counties remain constituents of the United Kingdom.
“We will be celebrating what is essentially the start of the Irish War of Independence,” said U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle of Somerton. “It will be a tribute to all of those in Philadelphia and elsewhere who contributed to the fight for independence.”
The three-hour program has been about four years in the making, an effort spearheaded by the Irish Easter Rising Centennial Commemoration Committee.
“We wanted to make sure it was a fitting tribute relative to historical events without getting politics involved,” said Dougherty, a Broomall resident who also leads Tar Anall America, a group that advocates for Irish political prisoners and their families. “Over 25 Irish-American organizations are involved. We have so many different groups involved with different Irish politics, but everybody was on the same page and that was a pleasure.”
The program will begin at 10 a.m. at the Irish Memorial, Front and Chestnut streets, where state Rep. Mike Driscoll will serve as master of ceremonies. City Councilman Bobby Henon will lead the Pledge of Allegiance before Driscoll recites a state House resolution recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Rising. The legislation earned broad support in the House. Northeast-based Reps. Kevin Boyle and Mark Cohen, along with Gene DiGirolamo from Bensalem, signed on as sponsors.
“The Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed in my hometown and now we’re celebrating what is really the Irish Declaration of Independence in my hometown, so it’s pretty special,” Driscoll said. “The resolution has a lot of co-sponsors, Irish and non-Irish, people who believe in freedom.”
The Irish Memorial gathering will also feature guest speaker Patsy Kelly, a wreath laying by descendants of Irish patriot Luke Dillon, the raising of the Irish flag by reenactors of the American Civil War-era Pennsylvania 69th Irish Brigade and a performance by The Emerald Pipe Band.
Spectators will be asked to take part in a walking procession to Independence National Park at Fifth and Chestnut, where state Rep. Kevin Boyle will assume master of ceremonies duties.
“It’s a great honor as an Irish-American to be given a role at Independence Hall,” Boyle said. “It’s an appropriate location because of the role that Philadelphia’s Irish-American community had not only in the Rising, but in the Irish War of Independence. My grandfather was a veteran of the Irish War of Independence.”
Mary Beth Ryan will perform the Star-Spangled Banner there, then Henon will recite a City Council citation. Brendan Boyle will read a congressional citation, before remarks by the mayor.
A Sinn Fein party councilor from Sligo, Sean McManus, will serve as the primary guest speaker. McManus is a longtime leader of his party and veteran elected official on the national and local levels in his homeland.
There will be two readings of the Proclamation at Independence Hall. Dr. Brian O’Murchu of Temple University will deliver the Irish gaelic version, then the granddaughters of another prominent Philadelphia-based Rising supporter, Joe McGarrity, will read the English language version. The ceremony will conclude with a reading of the names of the executed leaders, the tolling of a memorial bell, the playing of Taps by the 69th brigade and a performance of the Irish national anthem.
“I think the event will be a shining example of the strength and vitality of the Irish-American community in Philadelphia,” Kevin Boyle said.
“It is a true honor for the 100th commemoration of the Irish Easter Rising to be held in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection — home to one of the largest Irish populations in the nation,” Henon said. “As the birthplace of democracy, our city has stood as a beacon of hope for other nations struggling against tyranny and oppression. The ties that bind the American story to the story of Irish people are strong. The Irish helped build Philadelphia and our nation. But more importantly, the Irish uprising resonates with Americans because it is similar to our own fight for freedom and independence.” ••
MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO
Strength of the Irish: Philadelphia will honor the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising on Sunday. Commemorations will take place at Independence Hall and the Irish National Memorial (pictured), which honors immigrants to the United States and victims of the Irish famine. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO