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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 21 March, 2019
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Clare stonemasons were commissioned to design this massive 1916 memorial in New York

The Suffolk County Easter Rising Committee in Long Island in New York State are impressively proud of their Irish heritage.

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THIS WEEKEND WILL see the anniversary proper of the 1916 Easter Rising, with last month’s celebrations coinciding with Easter as opposed to the actual centenary itself.

A guide to what’s happening this weekend for the commemoration will be up on the TheJournal.ie shortly, but the story of the Rising is hardly confined to Ireland alone.

In Long Island, New York, for example, the Suffolk County Easter Rising Committee are very proud, to put it mildly, of their Irish heritage.

To commemorate the centenary, they’ve commissioned this enormous memorial from the stoneworkers of Irish Natural Stone in Co Clare.

IMG_4956 Carving the base of the main section

Taking in such 1916 staples as the Proclamation of Independence, the GPO and the Harp, it stands at four metres tall and was hand-carved from scratch.

It’s taken about five months to complete, but the giant project is finally finished and has been dispatched to the states in four pieces (capstone, two base sections, and a main section).

For Bernadette McCormack, engineer with Irish Natural Stone, it was a question of the company “showing what we can do in stone”.

Tapping into the culture

IMG_5009 One of the two enormous base stones

The company’s eight-man team are no strangers to creating stonework for the American market – they’ve created Famine memorials, one of which resides in Battery Park, New York, and an archway for a library in Phoenix, Arizona, and by the standards of their Famine work, the 1916 memorial is actually relatively small.

“We’ve done bigger projects,” says Bernadette.

The famine memorial was a case of bringing over something the size of a small Irish cottage and building it there.
But this is case of tapping into Irish culture, which is something that we like to do.

The project was commissioned before Christmas last year, officially begun in December and finished just this month.

“The monument has been flown to JFK and was collected and brought to Long Island. There it’ll be assembled by a local stonemason called Tom Fricke,” says Bernadette of the finished product, one of four 1916 monuments completed by the company, but the only one which will reside outside Ireland.

IMG_5053 Loaded and ready for a trip to the States

On the American side, the Suffolk County committee is led by a second-generation Irishman called Christopher Thompson, a lawyer in New York City.

The monument is to be built on a former court complex, which was predominantly staffed by Irish descendants of immigrants.

History

As Bernadette says, Fricke has the stone skills, and Thompson “has the history”.

“We’re very excited, and very proud to have this addition to our community,” Thompson says.

There are so many proud Irishmen here – and Thomas Clarke (the second executed 1916 leader after Padraig Pearse) actually lived here.

Thompson was born and raised in the US, but his ancestors hail from Annagassan, Co Louth. He says the commemoration is “very important to anyone of Irish descent”.

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It really matters to us. I visited Ireland dozens of times with my father, I’m the youngest of 10 kids raised Roman Catholic – we were taught to never forget that you’re Irish.

The memorial will be unveiled on 3 May in Suffolk County, the centenary of Thomas Clarke’s execution in Kilmainham Gaol.

“This area, the county complex, was involved in funding the Rising 100 years ago. It’s important that the monument is on county property,” Thompson says.

Thompson’s own feelings about the Rising are easy to summarise – he doesn’t hesitate when asked.

“At my father’s grave, the epitaph reads ‘Ireland divided can never be free’”, he says.

Hopefully another hundred years from now, maybe sooner, Ireland will be fully free. It’s about completing the process that we started.

Read: Death and destruction: Claims for compensation after the 1916 Rising

Read: Charity boss reckons he’s still owed €48k for Easter Rising damage

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