1916 celebrations: a mixed basket of Easter eggs

Easter Monday 1916 Revolutionary celebrations in Dublin had its up and downs, its successes and its disasters.

And I was fortunate to have experienced many of them.

First prize goes to Mother Nature. Realising the heroic efforts of the men, women and children of the Rising had been pretty well ignored by the average JoeMacBlow in Ireland back then – it decided to put on a special show for the centennial.

And what a show it turned out to be, perhaps the brightest, prettiest, sunniest day this year. One that brought out thousands of Irish people to walk the sacred walkways tread by Connolly, Pearse, Plunkett and co., with many of the people wearing turn-of-the-20th century clothing, including tweed waistcoats, flat-caps, bonnets and brogues.

Being from West Belfast, I was also delighted to learn that security for Easter Monday’s 1916 commemorations in Dublin was organised by MICAB, the company owned by Andersonstown-based, former Republican prisoner, John Trainer. I guess all that experience in ‘security operations’ we got over the last few decades up North helps.

1916 commemorations Dublin

Meeting friendly security guards from Ardoyne at the Dublin 1916 Easter Monday celebrations was an utter delight.

Last prize on the sacred day goes to highly-paid, long-time RTE Loyalist, Miriam O’Callaghan. Behaving like a Russian doll with seemingly nothing inside but herself, she got smaller and smaller as an event she hosted entitled “Reflections on Exile – How we are viewed by our American cousins” at The Gaiety Theatre near Stephens Green wore on.

Miriam O'Callaghan, RTE presenter, 1916 Rising events, John Lee historian

Oops! Overpaid RTE presenter, Miriam O’Callaghan, made a few screw-ups on Easter Monday- none more woeful than to eminent historian John Lee at a packed event at The Gaiety Theatre during Dublin’s 1916 Rising tribute events.

Dear Miriam, salary in excess of 300,000 euro, plus expenses, made so many gaffes, she became comical entertainment embodied.

First of all, she had the talented musician-cum-singer Mick Moloney perform his lovely rendition of the ballad, ‘James Connolly,’ twice as RTE’s ineptness meant it had failed to record him properly.

Then, speaking to eminent New York University Irish history professor John Lee, she said, “Is that the proclamation of independence you have there on your knee? Do you know how important that is?” The solemn professor looked aghast.

Later, in a pathetic transplanted D4 attempt to redeem herself, the misguided O’Callaghan asked the same unfortunate, “Let’s talk some more about 1916? How important was it?” adding for assertive emphasis, “Spell it out for me.”

Mairead Mooney of Donegal-based Altan fame deserves strong credit for her words and her singing, though dressed as she was in an All-Black outfit, one might have thought she was a cheerleader for the New Zealand rugby team. But with that sulky-blonde-hair-all-down-my-back look lending her that unique sexy-sensual-come-get-me-wide-eyed-innocence combo, she sang a beautiful, unaccompanied version of ‘Roisin Dubh.’

Mairead Mooney, Donegal-based Altan, 1916 Rising events

Entering the political arena, Mairead Mooney, lead singer and fiddle-player with Donegal-based Altan, said at an event at The Gaiety Theatre on Easter Monday that the 1916 Irish rebels would “turn over in their graves” if they saw what Ireland had become.

Then, sitting on the ‘intellectual’ couches with Lee and Armagh-born Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, Paul Muldoon, for the Q&A session (probably under her PR minder’s guidance to raise her profile for a future Senator’s spot on the Arts and Culture panel when Sinn Fein rises to Government status), she said, bravely enough, “the rebel leaders of 1916 would probably turn over in their graves to see what Ireland has become today,” adding, as a matter of course, “more money should be given for the arts. After all, that’s what Ireland is known for throughout the world.” (And there I thought it was for widespread nepotism, corruption and political and financial incompetence).

Joseph Hillen Ashbourne, Irish Citizen Army parade,

My younger brother Joseph practices his routines as a member of the Irish Citizens Army, encouraged by his Brasov-born partner, Angela.

Then there was my brother Joseph. So proud of him, I am. Selected to march up O’Connell Street on Easter Sunday, he was also chosen to be a member of the Irish Citizens Army and promptly dressed up in suitable 1916 attire the very next day to re-enact the Battle of Ashbourne, the only victory in the entire revolution. And that was just a few of his duties over the Easter celebrations.

Dublin Easter Rising events

Two against one isn’t fair, but having commandeered my brother’s Lee Enfield, I obviously have the upper hand against Joseph and our nephew. Dara.

When I left Dublin this morning, he was headed to Liberty Hall for yet another event he had been asked to participate in at which President Michael Higgins spoke.

And last, but not least, my Transylvanian-born wife, Columbia, now an Irish citizen, who duly took up with a Republican group and marched proudly (with me alongside as dutiful husband) past the GPO, Dublin Castle and the Four Courts to Kilmainham Jail where rebel leaders were executed.

Columbia Hillen, Sinn Fein, Easter Rising Commemorations

My Transylvanian-born wife, Columbia (in blue, with scarf, and the only person with such a name among 21 million Romanians) displays her Republican spirit on O’Connell Street on Easter Monday.

So let’s wait to see what the next 100 years brings. Considering her birthplace, Columbia may be the only one of us alive then.

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Time for change. Real, lasting change. Time to grow up, we Irish have prevaricated enough

Today, you and I – along with several million other Irish people – will enter a voting booth, pick up a pencil and start X’ing.

In doing so, we’ll help seal the Fate of the Republic of Ireland for the next five years, and probably far beyond.

That is a daunting responsibility for all of us and we need to be clear and confident in what we do – for it is not only for whom we give our X but the very action in doing so that could have momentous repercussions. As has been proven scientifically, actions and words have a multiple energy far beyond the effect on the person taking the action or saying a word or phrase.

Without going into further details here, my advice is to be aware of the incredible power you possess that is yours and yours only.

Back to the national elections and one particular influence playing you.

Irish elections 2016, voting in Ireland

It’s time for us to grow up as a Nation. We’ve tried Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour – and they’ve all failed us. Let’s change the game right now.

Established media

‘Established media,’ no matter the country, holds a certain view about social development. Having been in turn, reporter, editor, publisher and journalism professor for over 30 years, I suppose I could easily be lumped in under this heading. I hope not, for the term refers to those media, usually right of left to varying degrees in their political thinking, which support the status quo, regardless of whom is in power nor the far-reaching consequences of that entity staying in power.

Why?

Inevitability it’s because members of the ‘established media’ have well-paying jobs they want to protect at all costs, ones that provide them with hefty salaries, thick expenses and a handsome pension at the end of it all. Change, they feel, means uncertainty. Perhaps, their jobs lost. After all, they are elites and the fall could be a mighty one.

That’s why it is key for us voters to be aware of these factors when we read newspapers, watch TV or listen to radio – especially media supported directly or indirectly by big business (Denis O’Brien at Independent Newspapers) or government (RTE). Health warning: don’t be unduly influenced.

I have been fortunate not only to have spent my media career in both broadcast and print (newspapers and magazines) but also in different countries including Ireland, north and south, the US and mainland Europe, so have gained a broader perspective than if I had stayed in my native Belfast.

As such, while abroad, I was shocked to learn that the entire body of ‘established Irish media’ failed utterly to warn ordinary folk of the economic bubble that burst upon them, a bubble as we know, created by crooked bankers, crooked developers, inept regulators, all caricatured by Fianna Fail’s infamous ‘Galway tent.’

From my standpoint, removed for so many years from journalism in Ireland, the cozy relationship between big Irish media and big Irish business was, and is, so obvious, with some few exceptions, sometimes (such The Irish Times columnists, Fintan O’Toole and Diarmaid Ferriter).

RTE’s Leaders Debate – an exercise in maintaining Right power

leaders debate Ireland, national elections Ireland

Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left), capturing Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second left) in pretty much a straight lie was the highlight of the entire set of nationalized ‘Leader Debates’ – but ask the ‘Established Media’ and you’ll get a very different answer.

Take, for example, the ‘Leaders Debate’ on RTE earlier this week. My view: Miriam O’Callaghan’s performance was biased and amateurish, certainly compared to Claire Byrne in the previous debate. O’Callaghan read at times so automaton-like from her prepared script while attempting to stamp her ‘established media’ credentials on the final outcome.

Did you notice how, having mentioned the widespread cronyism that has gone on under the tutelages of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour (hard to avoid), she then turned to Gerry Adams – who, not having ever been Taoiseach or a Government Minister here, couldn’t be accused of cronyism. But that didn’t stop O’Callaghan, citing, unfairly, two particular persons, Bobby Storey and Danny Morrison. Her inaccurate accusation of Morrison being a felon was so reckless and willful an attack that it could well lead to a major lawsuit for which, rightly, RTE should pay generous compensation. Morrison was long ago cleared of all charges in the case the British state brought against him and RTE’s researchers should have been well aware of that.

Not only but in the televised debate, there was one dramatic and defining moment, one captured by Gerry Adams on camera before millions: that, for the first time after multiple denials and prevarications, Taoiseach Enda Kenny admitted – caught unawares – that HE had appointed Donegal’s John McNulty, a Fine Gael Seanad by-election candidate, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, even though McNulty had no prior interest whatsoever in art throughout his entire life (unless you include the art of deception).

Gerry Adams Sinn Fein, Enda Kenny Fine Gael

Moment of triumph for Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams (left). Caught in a lie, Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) fumbles to keep him at arm’s length.

Hypocrisy of RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan

I also find rather despicable the hypocrisy of Miriam O’Callaghan in bringing up the issue of cronyism. I met her in the Belfast studios of the BBC in recent years having been invited to attend an event celebrating the investigative program, ‘Panorama.’ I had learned that not only did Miriam use her role as a presenter to help get lucrative contracts with her employer, RTE, for some of her eight children, but also for her private production company, Mint Productions, one she established with her second husband, Steve Carson. Then helped him get a job at the Beeb in Belfast (my belief is that Carson left RTE, in great part, because the conflicts of interest he and his wife were involved in by gaining outside contracts with RTE for his children and Mint Productions was encroaching more into the public arena and the RTE elite were becoming uncomfortable that their lucrative jobs could be at stake for allowing it, but also because of some silly broadcasting mistakes Carson made).

Miriam O’Callaghan elections,

Expensive looking dress. Miriam O’Callaghan and husband, Steve Carson, have done pretty well financially as full-time RTE employers, while also obtaining RTE contracts for their own production company, as well as for their children. But there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

At the public debate that was part of the ‘Panorama’ event, hosted by Miriam, I asked her about these things as the first question from the floor. Her answer shocked me, “I don’t know anything about those things. My husband and I don’t discuss professional matters.”

This is the very same lady who tried to hammer Mr. Adams, Danny Morrison and Bobby Storey so unfairly on national television earlier this week – about cronyism.

Analysis or simply spin?

Immediately after RTE’s 90-minute ‘Leaders Debate,’ the station hosted ‘The Spin Room,’ with so-called experts analyzing the debate. Even though Gerry Adams catching Taoiseach Kenny out on the McNulty issue was by far the most dramatic new development in the whole debate – literally a ‘journalistic scoop’ – the station did not even re-broadcast that short exchange between Adams and Kenny – even though they did replay other videos from the debate, labeling several of them as moments of what they called ‘Adams’ substandard performance.’

RTE’s ‘Leaders Debate’ was peppered with examples of ‘Established Media’ bias. There were plenty more elsewhere:

Noel Whelan, in his column for The Irish Times, wrote that, “The only sustainable outcome (of the election) is a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail Government.”

Sarah McInerney, a political reporter for The Sunday Times, who lives high on the hog in a spacious home in one of the most elite areas of Dublin, said during ‘The Spin Room:’ “The next Government will be Fine Gael-Fianna Fail. If they can’t do business, no-one can.”

Pat Leahy, deputy editor and political editor of The Sunday Post, in his very first column  days before the election was even called, wrote: “For Sinn Fein, the big breakthrough – participation in government – won’t come this time. The party doesn’t really want it to – that’s what its strategy to rule out anything but a left-led coalition means.”

Sinn Fein and Independents: a viable alternative to the same old…

What such ‘Established media’ commentators are saying is that with Labour in free-fall, there is no other choice – but there is, though they don’t dare mention it: a winning combination of Sinn Fein and Independents.

Through sheer hard-work and diligent application, Sinn Fein has increased its popularity, both in votes and seats at both national level (in the election five years ago) and in the local elections (two years ago). Not only but Martin McGuinness – who has acknowledged that, like the 1916 heroes, Padraig Pearse and James Connolly before him, he is an Irish Republican, and was a member of the IRA – did well in the Presidential Election. In fact, his penetrating dramatic contribution on the final televised Presidential debate in 2011, in effect, won Áras an Uachtaráin (the Irish ‘White House’) for Michael D. Higgins.

As for the Independents, their rise up the political ladder over the last five years is just as impressive as Sinn Fein’s, but the ‘established media’ again do not want you or I to consider that duet option. So they’ve tried to pour cold water on it, saying Independents in government is unworkable, especially when they’re Lefty Liberals.

History, however, proves them wrong, repeatedly.

Steve Farnsworth, political journalism

US professor, journalist, author and political commentator, Stephen Farnsworth, says Liberal and Left-wing coalitions can and do govern well.

A long-time friend, Stephen Farnsworth, veteran American journalist with whom I was a colleague in the US, author or co-author of five books and now a tenured Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, told me over the last few days, “Not so.” Pointing to the Liberal minority governments of Lester Pearson of Canada in the 1960s, he informed me, “Pearson was Prime Minister during the 1960s and his amazing record, with the Liberals and the NDP, Canada’s left party, working together, included  universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the new Flag of Canada, a unified armed forces, a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, and he fought to keep Canada out of the Vietnam War. His government also abolished capital punishment de facto.”

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if a coalition of Sinn Fein and the Independents could achieve even half this? Why not? Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have already failed miserably.

Here in Donegal, there is no shortage of quality Sinn Fein and Independent candidates (and I’m not speaking about pseudo-Independents such as cash-for-favors local councilor, John O’Donnell, who, interestingly, is urging people to vote for Fianna Fail’s Pat the Cope). A TD combination in Donegal of Sinn Fein’s Gary Doherty, Padraig MacLochlann and Pearse Doherty, Independent Thomas Pringle and one of the other candidates, now local councilors, such as Niamh Kennedy, Dessie Shiels, Frank McBrearty or one of the other ‘real’ Independents, seems to me like a good choice.

After all, haven’t we given the Fine Gael-Labour coalition five years to put things right, and what have they done? The former used this precious time to ignore the needs of the vast majority of Irish people and instead strengthened elitism, with economic research showing the most affluent 20 per cent of people in Ireland own 73 per cent of the country’s wealth and the poorest 20 per cent own just 0.2 per cent. Alas, Labour simply sold out its long-held principles for a whiff of power. As for Fianna Fail. Wasn’t that the political party that slept with crooked bankers and developers, bankrupted Ireland, closed hospitals and schools, lost our Sovereignty and sent the country groveling to Brussels for handouts?

Don’t let Big Media misuse and abuse you. This is your time in that voting booth, alone, your time only, a time when no-one has the right to tell you what to do.

As the French might say if they were here – ‘Bon voting‘!

In addition to voting today, there is one other place to which perhaps you would kindly attach your name, for a cause that is both noble and just, virtues hard to find in today’s questionable political world.

Public apology and re-affirmation of support for a true Irish Republic

or

President of Ireland Michael Higgins, apologize & publicly support heroes, families & ideals of 1916 Irish Revolution