Thousands walk in footsteps of the rebels

By Esther Hayden

Published 29/03/2016 | 00:00

Wreth Laying
Wreth Laying

100 years of history were remembered in Enniscorthy on Monday as thousands of people lined the streets of the historic town.

Bright skies bought people out in their droves for the state ceremony. Communications officer with Wexford County Council, David Minogue, said the council has been setting money aside to fund the celebrations for the past 15 years.

'Really it's been 38 years in the making because there has been an Easter Monday parade here in Enniscorthy for the past 38 years. 15 years ago the council started to put together a fund in anticipation of the centenary celebrations so this whole day and year has been a long time in the planning.'

He said that yesterday's celebrations cost in the region of €70,000, a mix of both central funds and the council's own money, although the overall programme of events will cost in excess of that figure.

The day's proceedings began with a Mass in St Aidan's Cathedral which was celebrated by Bishop Denis Brennan. As the Mass got under way the crowds began to gather along the parade route from the Cathedral to Abbey Square. The bright sunny weather brought out young and old to mark the historic occasion.

As the walkers and cyclists who had taken part in the Backroads to the Rising project began to arrive in the town the excitement levels went up a level as it was clear that this was going to be a very special event in the town.

Large screens dotted strategically around the town ensured that anyone who couldn't get near Abbey Square didn't miss out on the action. Enniscorthy was just one of four towns outside of Dublin which had a State ceremony to mark the Rising, commemorating the very significant role the town had in the events of 1916.

Specially commissioned video pieces, Bandages and Bullets and 1916 Stories, were also shown on the screens before the parade began.

Before the parade began Jimmy Gahan, who was acting as MC, said the town's historical building, the Athenaeum, which had played a key role in the Rising, had been built for £2,270 five shillings and 2p which is the equivalent of €1,628,157 in today's currency.

The 1916 centenary parade made its way from St Aidan's Cathedral to Abbey Square stopping outside the Athenaeum for a minute's silence and lone piper Jim Cooper also played. Arriving in Abbey Square Minister Brendan Howlin was saluted by the honour guard while Minister Paul Kehoe inspected the guard.

The Enniscorthy Choral Society under the direction of Donald Wilde entertained the crowds while Niall Wall recited 'Connolly' by Liam MacGabhann and Julie Fox recited 'The Wayfarer' by Padraig Pearse. Reverend Nicola Halford recited 'In Remembrance' by Mary Elizabeth Frye in memory of all who died in the Easter Rising in 1916.

A special welcome was given to two Enniscorthy natives, Barbara Jones, the Consul General of Ireland in New York, and author Colm Toibin, both of whom joined the dignitaries on the podium.

Cllr Paddy Kavanagh, Cathaoirleach of Enniscorthy Municipal District, said that the Rising in Enniscorthy was the most significant event of the period outside of Dublin in terms of both longevity and the territorial control exercised.

'The town has a strong nationalist background and it runs deep in our psyche dating back to the 1798 and 1848 Risings. Enniscorthy and Wexford played a significant part in the direction of a new national direction. The stories of the 1916 Rising have been told many times telling of how the town of Enniscorthy was held for four days by the rebels.'

He said that not one person was killed during the Rising in Enniscorthy.

He spoke of the vital role that Cumann na mBan had played in the Rising. Cllr Kavanagh said that while the Rising may not have been 'a success in military terms it marked a crucial turning point in history and laid the foundations for a much greater surge of political agitation'.

Minister Brendan Howlin them made the keynote address. He began by addressing the relatives of those who had taken part in the Rising saying 'your fore-bearers take their place in the annals of Irish history and we honour them today. We remember their courage, their vision and their self sacrifice. We remember those who fought and died for Irish freedom.'

He ended his address with a quote from Sean Etchingham who wrote at the time 'We had at least one day of blissful freedom. We have had Enniscorthy under the laws of the Irish Republic for at least one day and it pleases me to learn that the citizens are appreciably surprised. A more orderly town could not be imagined, the people of the town are great.'

Lt Killian Doyle then read the Proclamation before the wreath laying ceremony. The wreath laying was one of four taking part outside of Dublin, in Ashbourne, Cork, Athenry and Enniscorthy, and all four as well as the seven which took place in Dublin, occurred simultaneously at 1.15pm. Two wreaths were laid in Enniscorthy, one on behalf of the Irish people which was laid by Ministers Howlin and Kehoe and one on behalf of the people of Wexford which was laid by Cllrs Paddy Kavanagh and Keith Doyle.

A minute's silence followed the wreath laying. The Lone Piper's Lament was then performed while a bugler from the Irish Defence Forces performed the Last Post. Lt Shane Flood then proceeded to raise the national flag on the recently erected 16 metre high stainless steel flagpole.

Reveille was then performed by the Defence Forces followed by the national anthem by the Military Band. During the national anthem the 12,00 strong crowd all joined in before giving a rousing round of applause. Immediately after all eyes turned to the skies for the flyover by the Irish Air Corps which marked the end of the state ceremonial events.

However there was still plenty of entertainment including musical performances by the County Wexford 1916 Songs Project during which Aileen Lambert and Paul O'Reilly both sang their own specially written songs. Aileen sang May Moran of Enniscorthy while Paul sang The Rise of the Wexford Volunteers.

The final song performed was the unofficial Wexford anthem Boolavogue which went down a treat with the crowd. Judy Heffernan then recited a specially commissioned 1916 poem entitled 'What's the News?, What's the News?'

The final event of the day was the 1916 Battle Re-enactment which took place in the car park at Abbey Square. The battle, the largest battle re-enactment taking place on Irish soil this year, saw hundreds of re-enactors equipped with vintage weapons , uniforms, equipment and vehicles recreate the historic significance of Enniscorthy role in the 1916 rising.

The re-enactment focused not only on the Rising itself in Enniscorthy but also the lead up to it with the re-enactors recreating key events from 1912 right up until Easter 1916. Re-eactments included the formation of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan in Enniscorthy, the Volunteer leaders in action in Enniscorthy in 1916 and the fate of the key volunteers.

Wexford People

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