Ladies and gentlemen – Irishmen and Irishwomen – friends, relatives, and guests. We are gathered here today on one of the key sites-of-battle of the 1916 Rising, as we pay tribute to the courage, idealism, and sacrifice of the men and women who one hundred years ago had a vision for a better Ireland, and were prepared to risk everything to try and achieve it.
It is interesting that the Royal College of Surgeons has three statues on top of its royal coat of arms – Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, as well as the god of medicine, and the goddess of health – and I think they also serve to represent the themes of Easter Week 1916.
This is the place where some of the most dramatic fighting took place, with a battalion of Irish Citizen Army rebels under the command of Michael Mallin, ably supported by Constance Markievicz.
Trenches were dug in the Green, and nearby buildings were commandeered such as the Harcourt Street Station, and J&T Davy’s pub in Portobello. Unfortunately the Shelbourne Hotel provided a perfect vantage spot for British snipers, and the rebels retreated to this building, the Royal College of Surgeons. Machine gun fire ripped into these walls, and the men and women inside faced unbelievable pressures. But they never wavered. Shooting only stopped twice a day, when both sides allowed Jack Kearney, the duck-keeper, to feed the ducks in St Stephen’s Green.
Some of the greatest stories of heroism of the 1916 Rising took place right here. One of the best snipers on the rebel side was a 23 year old schoolteacher called Margaret Skinnider. Stationed on the roof of this building, she admitted, ‘it was dark there, full of smoke, a din of firing, but it was good to be in the action’. She was wounded three times while on a mission to Harcourt Street on the Wednesday, and was carried back to this building by Bill Partridge. Her courage and determination inspired those around her. Today we celebrate her, but we shouldn't forget how she was treated in the years after.
When she applied for a military pension in the new Irish state she was denied one, because it defined military service as explicitly a 'masculine' activity. It took many years of campaigning until she received the recognition she deserved. Margaret Skinnider's courage - not just in 1916 but in standing up for equal rights before the law, and what she believed in - should be an inspiration to us all.
It reminds us that the 1916 Rising did not mark an end but a beginning, it marked the first step in creating a new Republic. And we must continue that work.
We should not be afraid of the challenges of the future, nor should we run away from the lessons of the past.
One thing that particularly inspired me during this centenary year is the schoolchildren who wrote their own proclamations, for a new Ireland and a new Republic. All across the country a new generation set out their visions for Ireland, and their idealism offers both a challenge and a silent rebuke to those of us recently elected.
Will we inspire a new generation? These schoolchildren will be voters in a few years, and I wonder how many of us recently elected – me included - will impress them if we fail to make progress on their dreams of a fairer, better Ireland? Will we do anything worthy of commemoration in a hundred years’ time?
This generation of schoolchildren - future Irishmen and Irishwomen - has a tryst with destiny. They have been inspired by the selfless sacrifice and idealism of the 1916 men and women, and we should be inspired by them.
I wonder what we will do in this generation that will resonate with them? Will we recognise that we are one nation and try to meet head on the challenges of our day - economic stability, housing, health, urban poverty and rural development, crime, while also playing a leading role on the international stage? Assuring our economic progress while all the time working to create a better Ireland for all.
By remembering the spirit of 1916, we should be challenged to bring a new spirit of idealism to addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
In that spirit, let us honour the dead of Easter 1916 and also remember those who died at Messines and the Somme. This Decade of Centenaries is inclusive, and we seek to ensure to ensure that the experiences of all Irish men and women over that momentous decade are remembered appropriately. It is right that we call to mind the competing strands of Irish and European history which set the context for the Rising.
As we stand here today, we bow our heads in respect to honour the men and women who fought here at this location in 1916. We acknowledge their courage and their ideals and we promise to try and complete their mission.
The members of the revolutionary generation of 1916 to 1923 have left us a democratic legacy that transcends politics and traditions. It is part of who we are - it is their legacy, and it is ours. We should be proud of the Ireland that was created, and not be afraid to try and do more.
Today we especially remember those who fought and died for Irish freedom in this place:
Volunteer John Francis Adams, wounded at St. Stephen's Green – died at Mercer’s Hospital, 25 April 1916
Volunteer Philip Clarke, killed in action, St Stephens Green, 25 April 1916
Volunteer James Corcoran killed in action, St Stephens Green, 25 April 1916
Volunteer James Fox killed in action, St Stephens Green, 25 April 1916
Volunteer Daniel Joseph Murray, wounded at the Royal College of Surgeons, died at St Vincent’s Hospital 13 May 1916
Volunteer John O’Grady, wounded at York Street area near St Stephens Green, died at the Adelaide Hospital 29 April 1916
Volunteer Frederick Ryan, killed in action at Harcourt Street, 26 April 1916
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.
Before I introduce Declan Magee, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, and invite him to say a few words, I would just like to finish with a final thought. In respecting and honouring the legacy of those who fought here one hundred years ago we also remember the principles of equality of opportunity, and freedom, enshrined in the Proclamation. It offers a vision of a better Ireland, and it is our job to work together to make it a reality. It was their dream in 1916, and it should still be ours. Thank you.