On Easter Sunday just past, O’Connell Street served with dignity its now annual role as host to the Commemoration of the 1916 Rising – this year marking its 95th anniversary. The deep enclosure of the GPO plaza surrounded by distinguished lime trees affords dignity to the setting of the ceremony – a function envisaged by Dublin City Council as part of the initial planning of the space in the late 1990s.
Aerial views of the plaza during the event captured the eye-catching pattern of the square contemporary setts of the carriageway, beautifully evoking the historic setts that paved the roadway outside the GPO in 1916. It is a shame this effect is not appreciable from ground level.
In assessing an event of this nature on a forum of this kind, one must primarily focus on the nuts and bolts of its presentation. But it is also the civic character of the occasion, the ceremonial of State, the deployment of the urban environment as stage set to public pageantry, and of course the commemorative function of the event itself, that all help to shape the tone and nature of the proceedings. In this respect, it is probably fair to say that the host location, as now evidenced on a yearly basis, far exceeds the standards applied to the ceremony itself.
Troops from various divisions of the Defence Forces are aligned on the carriageway in front of the GPO, as well as on the pavement flanking the portico.
While the Army Band occupy a by now well established position encircling Jim Larkin.
Beyond them (in the background) the median of the plaza is occupied by senior government representatives including the Cabinet, probably senior members of the judiciary, and high ranking members of the Defence Forces.
In a carefully cheorographed sequence, the Minister for Defence is always the first to arrive, followed by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, followed by the Taoiseach, and finally the President. (When competing heads of state are involved in these sequences, quite the farce can often ensue, as occured between Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand before the European Council Summit in 1990, as both endlessly encircled Dublin Castle trying to out-do each other in the late arrivals stakes. I can’t remember who blinked first).
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Lord Mayor Councillor Gerry Breen.
And finally An Uachtarain Mary McAleese approaches with a Presidential Escort of Honour, comprised of thirty motorcycles that are usually drawn from the 2nd Cavalry Squadron of the Cavalry Corps.
The former famous bright blue motorcycles were replaced with these deep green Honda models three years ago. Personally I don’t think they have nearly the same effect, while the loss of connection to the vibrant blue of the Blue Hussars mounted escort is of considerable shame. Another element of civic continuity thrown by the wayside.
And the car itself. De Valera's 1947 Rolls Royce is largely only used for inaugurations. Curiously, the Taoiseach’s Mercedes always seems to have flashing blue lights, but the President’s doesn’t.
The Tricolour always mounted on the left and the Presidential Standard on the right.
As ever, the President got the loudest applause on arrival, in contrast to the weak reception of the other dignitaries. And not just loud, but thoroughly warm – applause reserved for somebody above politics. Which doesn’t say much for politics.