Ivy Day, 6 October 2013
COME gather round me Parnellites,
And praise our chosen man;
Stand upright on your legs awhile,
Stand upright while you can,
For soon we lie where he is laid,
And he is underground;
Come fill up all those glasses
And pass the bottle round.
Yeats’ stirring broadside ballad written in 1938 seems appropriate for this occasion, written as it was during the public campaign by the Parnell Memorial Committee to raise funds to place stone of Wicklow granite on the grave of the Uncrowned King. Unfortunately despite the invitation in the song: we have no bottles to pass around the but I will promise not to keep you too long ‘standing upright on your legs’.
I would like to begin by expressing my thanks to Dominic Dowling and the Parnell Commemoration Committee for the invitation to speak here today. In doing so, I congratulate the Committee on their sustained efforts in organising this very special event each year. This year marks the 122 anniversary of the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, and the 122nd occasion on which Ivy day has been celebrated , year in, year out without fail. Parnell’s so called faithful few have indeed proved faithful.
We live in an age of what seems increasingly like ‘permanent commemoration’. In this decade of commemoration, commemoration is ubiquitous. One might be forgiven for thinking that this is a recent phenomenon: but as Ivy day demonstrates, the commemorative impulse is well established.The very symbolic, dignified, and appropriate ivy Day commemoration offers some lessons for forthcoming ceremonies.
And here's a cogent reason,
And I have many more,
He fought the might of England
And saved the Irish poor,
Whatever good a farmer's got
He brought it all to pass;
And here's another reason,
That Parnell loved a lass.
Wearing the Ivy as a symbol of fidelity to the independent principles of Parnell arose either from the striking ivy wreath a poor Cork woman sent to Parnell’s funeral or from the spontaneous actions of the Dublin artisans at Parnell’s funeral who placed ivy leafs from the wall of this cemetery in their lapels as a mark of respect . Ivy day itself was somewhat less spontaneous: in a wonderful example of the invention of tradition, it was announced by the daily Irish Independent on the first anniversary of Parnell’s death and quickly caught the public imagination.
Initially, a sombre affair with an ersatz funeral procession through the streets of Dublin from St Stephens Green to Glasnevin, , Ivy Day became in turn part political demonstration and part social event – it became a national holiday rivalling St Patrick’s Day with excursions from all parts of the country and massed bands and banners. After the reunification of the Irish Parliamentary movement after 1900 and the unveiling of the Parnell Statue in 1911, Ivy Day went into decline but it did endure through the difficult days of the war of Independence and Civil War and the establishment of the Free State.
The unveiling of this splendid stone of Wicklow Granite by the PMC in the 1939 and the fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 1941 attended by De Valera gave Ivy Day a new lease of life: The commemoration has continued down to the Parnell centenary, into the new century and beyond.
No doubt Ivy Day and the continuing fascination with Parnelll owes as much to Joyce and Yeats, the poets and the ballad singers as to the historians.
And here's a final reason,
He was of such a kind
Every man that sings a song
Keeps Parnell in his mind.
For Parnell was a proud man,
No prouder trod the ground,
And a proud man's a lovely man,
So pass the bottle round.
The enduring magic of Parnell and Ivy also owes something to the fact that his legacy speaks to all traditions in Ireland then and now. Radical agrarian and old parliamentarian, separatist and constitutionalist, Sinn Feiners and Dublin working class who turned out in such numbers at his funeral , writers like Joyce or Yeats who shaped the Parnell myth for their own purposes and Patrick Pearse who summoned the pale and angry ghost of Parnell to join the main begetters of Irish separatism: all of these could find something to identify with in Parnell’s principles and programme.
As we commemorate the lockout, World War I, the Rising and War of Independence, we need to put these events in a wider historical context – tracing their roots back to the generations who went before notably Parnell’s. Yeats in his 1923 Nobel prize acceptance speech acknowledged as much when he linked much of the literary, social, cultural and political upheaval of the Irish Revolution back to Parnell.
If Parnell speaks to the generation that followed him he also speaks to our own time. Parnell argued strongly in a number of major speeches that the best form of government for a country was one which balanced all the interests in the country. For that reason I think he would have welcomed the outcome of yesterday’s referendum. He would have seen the potential for a reformed Seanad to represent minorities and particular the protestant minority on this island. Similarly, given his careful cultivation of the Irish abroad, he would not have been slow to see the potential for a reformed Seanad to provide a voice for our sons and daughters scattered to the four corners of the world. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention; meaningful representation for emigrants in the Dáil is likely to prove unworkable; allowing emigrants to elect a number of senators would provide an imaginative yet workable solution. The people have spoken – it is not over to the politicians of today to provide leadership worthy of Parnell.
In conclusion, to return to Yeats and his rousing ballad, Come Gather Round me Parnellites:
But stories that live longest
Are sung above the glass,
And Parnell loved his country
And Parnell loved his lass.
For further information, please contact:
Hon. Secretary, Parnell Society
5 Churchview Park, Killiney Co. Dublin
Tel: 01 2852113
E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org