In the Duncairn Centre on the Antrim Road this week there is a quilt being displayed. It has 77 squares on it each dedicated to each woman who was imprisoned following the Easter Rising in Dublin’s Richmond Barracks.
I like quilts as a form of expression. They usually allow for the expression of hidden stories and a nuance that the written word does not allow. Just like Relatives for Justice Remembering Quilt the Richmond Quilt allows us to gain an insight into the experiences of those who normally do not have their experiences explored, recorded or interrogated.
When I stood in front of the squares which name and symbolise some women I have heard of and many women I have not heard of it was clear these women had been a part of something that was about changing their own lives and the lives of those they loved.
Big ideals like republicanism, socialism and feminism all feed into that – but at the heart of all of that big politics is a conviction that Ireland can be a better place for those who live in it.
For me Easter reaches into a place I find hard to articulate. A place where my own story, history and hopes all rhyme. When Dublin people secured the Moore Street area as a national monument last week it marked a moment of potential rebirth for Dublin’s history and working class communities.
This is an opportunity for one of the most deprived areas on our island to reimagine its future.
When new visions of a republic are proclaimed and reinvested by Irish people of all political persuasions, and walks of life, it continually gives me hope for the present and the future. When last year it was invoked to proclaim the rights of all those in love to marry in the same sex referendum, its value as a living document was just as surely as it was on Easter Monday 100 years ago when it proclaimed a republic for all Irish men and women.
When we acknowledged that the proclamation was disgraced as we learned what had happened our children who were sent to state homes and institutions, we also paid tribute to it in our pain. So many times the Proclamation was mentioned as revelation after repulsive revelation emerged – “cherish all of the children of the nation equally” had been made a mockery of and we were ashamed that we had let down the ideals of 1916, as well as our vulnerable women and children.
The proclamation of a republic that is united, generous, inclusive and rights based still speaks to us. It calls us all to build something better and more optimistic for everyone who lives on our island together – not parted.
This year the work of many in creating debate and discussion has to be welcomed.
The historian Mary McAuliffe, whose work on women in the Rising the Richmond Quilt is based, has said that this is the year women are written back into the Rising. Former mayor of Belfast Tom Hartley should be singled out for the depth of debate he has ensured occurs over these weeks.
It beholds us all to engage in creative inclusive and challenging discussion now the space has been created, far beyond the anniversary we mark over the coming weeks.