It would normally be regarded as impolite to steal the show at somebody else’s birthday party, but I think Pat Hennessy, Irish ambassador to the UAE, has already forgiven Declan Hegarty.
Although his day job is as managing director of corporate banking for the Middle East at JP Morgan, Mr Hegarty displayed the full range of his accomplishments at the Irish embassy in the capital this week on the occasion of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, the Dublin rebellion that signalled the beginning of the end for British rule there.
Although the country went a few more decades before it declared itself a republic, the event is usually taken as the birth date of the modern Irish state.
Mr Hegarty was master of ceremonies and behind-the-scenes organiser of the party, and also took part directly himself with some poetry recital delivered in the soft tones of his native County Cork. It was by any standards a tour de force.
It was a splendid evening. The challenge on these sorts of occasions is to appropriately record the historical significance of the event, but always keep in mind the intense human suffering that accompanied it. Nearly 500 people died in Dublin that week a century ago – Irish nationalists, British soldiers, and innocent citizens – and the centre of the city was devastated.
Fortunately, the Irish themselves have had a long time to dwell on the matter now and to get the right tone. Previous commemorations in Dublin have been criticised as triumphal or provocative. The big affair in Dublin this year, by all accounts, was none of those, but instead reflected the inclusive, self-confident nation Ireland has become after a difficult century of identity-searching.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, set the tone perfectly in an address that stressed the close ties between the UAE and Ireland and the growing exchange of people between the two countries, sprinkled with some quotations from Irish poets that served to illustrate his erudition as well as the rich heritage of Irish literature on the Easter Rising.
Mr Hegarty went on to introduce a feast of Irish cultural offerings: recitals from the works of WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s two Nobel Prize-winning poets; moving readings from the last letters of the Rising’s leaders as they awaited execution; and, of course, Irish music and dancing. The British ambassador, Philip Parham, must surely have enjoyed it.
As a child growing up in London to Irish parents, I was introduced to the importance of the Rising at an early age. My father commemorated it with fervour, always wearing a lily, the Republican symbol, in his lapel for Easter Monday. But later in life I questioned some of the blind assumptions, and wondered if it was worth the suffering.
The event in Abu Dhabi confirmed I was right to have had that debate with myself, but also convinced me that my father's view was the correct one after all. He would have agreed with Seamus Heaney, in the poem The Cure at Troy, that events sometimes have their own unchallengeable logic:
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime,
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme
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