It has been fascinating to watch television and read the newspapers these past few days. As Ireland has marked the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, there has been a huge amount of examination of the past, and some questions as to whether the leaders of 1916 would recognize Ireland today.
Last year I heard a recording of a speech made by Eamon de Valera’s on Radio Eireann, on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1943. De Valera outlines his vision of Irish society,
“The Ireland which we would desire of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as the basis of a right living, of a people who were satisfied with frugal comfort and devoted their leisure to the things of the soul; a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and valleys would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youth, the laughter of happy maidens; whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of old age. It would, in a word, be the home of a people living the life that God desires that men should live. For many the pursuit of the material life is a necessity. Man to express himself fully and to make the best use of the talents God has given him, needs a certain minimum of comfort and wealth. A section of our people have not yet this minimum. They rightly strive to secure it and it must be our aim and the aim of all who are just and wise to assist in that effort. But many have got more than is required and are free, if they choose, to devote themselves more completely to cultivating the things of the mind and, in particular, those that make us out as a distinct nation”.
There is a sense in deValera’s words, less than thirty years after the Rising, that he feels that the ideals are being lost in a shift towards material values, “many have got more than is required”.
There was an irony that the very newspapers where some columnists in this past week have been bemoaning the loss of ideals, are the ones who in their colour supplements, lifestyle features and extensive advertising maintain a vision of Ireland far from frugal comforts.
Perhaps the question is not so much about what 1916 has to say, as it is whether a consumerist generation has the slightest interest in any history whatsoever.