The first official commemoration of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme took place on Saturday with President Michael D. Higgins leading a ceremony to mark the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa 100 years ago in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
'His funeral remains one of the pivotal moments in Irish history and was an occasion that would be hugely instrumental in shaping the future of our nation.'
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was born in Rosscarbery, Co Cork in 1831. In 1858, he was among the first to join the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood when it was founded in 1858, and from 1853 to 1865 he was the business manager of the newspaper The Irish People.
Rossa was arrested in November 1865 and tried for high treason. He was found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for the term of his natural life. However, he was released after six years of imprisonment on the understanding that he would leave Ireland. Along with four other exiles, he left for the United States where he edited the United Irishman. He died in Staten Island, New York on 29 June 1915.
His funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on 1 August 1915 was stage managed for maximum effect and Pádraig Pearse’s oration at the graveside was considered deliberately provocative. It included the lines: 'the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.'
As Pearse finished the crowd stood in silence for some moments before breaking into applause and cheers. Then, in a further act of defiance, the firing party stood forward and fired three volleys over the grave, followed by the Last Post.
Many would later see those volleys as the first shots of the 1916 Rising.
The commemoration was hosted by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys TD, who said: 'Over the coming year, we will hold more than 40 State events as we commemorate the events of 1916, consider our achievements over the last 100 years, and look ambitiously to the future.
'The funeral of O’Donovan Rossa was a milestone in Irish history and its impact on the mood and motivations of those in attendance cannot be underestimated. Ireland 2016 is a wide programme of events which will be underpinned by appropriate and respectful commemorations to reflect on the events 100 years ago which led to the foundation of this State.'
(Document of the Month at the Military Archives is a reprint of Rossa's first speech in early 1858.)
See video from Irish Times.