April 24th is Republic Day, the date on which the 1916 Rising began and when Patrick Pearse read out the 1916 Proclamation. Back in 2014, Tom Stokes began a campaign to have this date acknowledged as the Irish national day. This year, it was celebrated in his absence.
“Easter Monday is a moving date, different each year,” Tom Stokes had said. “St. Patrick’s Day is based on a religious feast day. The nation needs a fixed day and one to celebrate the Irish Republic.” Tom Stokes would have agree with those who might say that “the Irish Republic” was yet to be achieved, or that it was more aspirational than reality. As he spoke at each annual commemoration of the date, he railed against many of the faults of the Irish state and in particular on its treatment of women. He was a champion of Republican women of the past, for example Margaret Skinnider, Dr. Kathleen Lynne, Winnie Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell and celebrated that some of the women had been lesbians, supported the right to choose abortion (though some Irish Republicans would have disagreed on the latter).
Tom Stokes died December last year but some people were determined that the celebration of Republic Day should carry on. On the 24th April 2019, some of them gathered in Arbour Hill, by the monument to the executed in the 1916 Rising, the words of the Proclamation etched in large letters, in Irish and in English, on to the stone wall overlooking the site.
The event was chaired by Pearse Brugha (incidentally a descendant of Cathal Brugha, the 1916 Rising veteran and subsequently part-organiser of the IRA, killed by a Free State soldier in the early days of the Irish Civil Wa)r.
Brugha welcomed the attendance and in particular members of the Stokes family, then went through the background to Tom Stokes’ campaign for the commemoration of Republic Day, saying that Tom had wished it to be a national holiday. Brugha then asked on the attendance for a minute’s silence in memoriam and called on Tom’s widow Anne Stokes and their son to lay floral wreaths on behalf of the family at the 1916 Rising Monument.
Next, Brugha presented Cormac Bowel and his young son Fionn, who approached playing Fáinne Geal an Lae (“The Dawning of the Day”) on their bagpipes, Cormac in Volunteer officer uniform and Fionn in traditional piping kilt. It was only Fionn’s second public playing, the attendance were told.
A number of other parts of the ceremony followed.
Fergus Russell sang “The Foggy Dew” and Frank Allen, who had been involved with Frank Stokes in organising Republic Day commemorations, gave an oration praising Tom Stokes as a “true Republican” who believed passionately in equality and also as “a true internationalist, who would be just as likely to be found on a Palestine solidarity demonstration”. Allen also criticised heavily the Irish regime, as Stokes had done in his speeches.
Pat Waters played his own composition, “Where Is Our Republic?”, which he had composed at the request of Tom Stokes.
Cormac Bowell recited from memory the 1916 Proclamation and Fionn played a solo lament on the pipes.
Shane Stokes, speaking, also paid tribute to his father Tom Stokes and to the campaign to have a Republic Day on 24th April.
Pearse Brugha, who had been chairing the event throughout, also recited all three verses of the Soldiers’ Song and then sang the chorus, then thanked all for their attendance.
Among those in attendance were members of the 1916 Performing Arts club, activists of the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group and Niall Ring, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Also present were Dave Swift, historian and enacter; Las and Dónal Fallon, historians and authors; Brian O’Neill; Deirdre O’Shea; Jim Connolly Heron.