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Easter Rising monument effort rises on LI

Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning and Suffolk County 1916

Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning and Suffolk County 1916 Easter Rising Memorial Inc. board president Christopher Thompson stand by the Easter Rising memorial in Mineola on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. They have both been instrumental in the effort to get a permanent Easter Rising memorial built in Suffolk County. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The fundraiser raffle items sitting on tables inside Buckley's Irish Pub in Center Moriches were typical: cellophane-wrapped baskets filled with bottles of wine, boxes of candy, beauty products and sporting event tickets.

But just behind the baskets, propped up against the wall were placards that typically aren't found with a raffle. The biographies and photographs told a lesser-known story, a century-old story of freedom, independence, courage and sacrifice.

It's a story that a nonprofit in Suffolk County hopes to remind residents of with a permanent memorial dedicated to an event that took place more than 3,000 miles away.

Suffolk County 1916 Easter Rising Memorial Inc. aims to build a monument to honor the 16 men who were executed for their role in the Easter Rising rebellion in Ireland in 1916. The group hopes to erect the monument in time for the event's 100th anniversary in April.

The Easter Rising rebellion came after centuries of brutal British rule in Ireland. On April 24, 1916, a group of men stood in front of the General Post Office on O'Connell Street in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic, leading to a series of confrontations as the Irish attempted to seize various locations from the British. Less than a week later, British troops overwhelmed the Irish freedom fighters, who were forced to surrender. The conflict resulted in nearly 200 deaths on both sides, with hundreds more civilians killed and thousands wounded. More than a dozen Easter Rising leaders were captured and executed by firing squad in Dublin's Kilmainham jail.

"This wasn't started by military men, it was started by regular guys," said Christopher Thompson, board president of the nonprofit. "These were guys who were writers and poets and bakers and shoemakers."

Word of the executions -- including that of James Connolly, who, because of a shattered ankle, was carried by stretcher to the jail's courtyard, where he was tied to a chair and propped up to be executed -- outraged the Irish, inspiring a new independence movement in the years that followed. In 1922, the Irish Free State was declared and Ireland officially became a republic in 1949.

Return from Long Island

One of the executed men, Thomas James Clarke, was a onetime Long Islander, said Mike McCormack, a board member and national historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization. Clarke was the backbone of the Easter Rising movement, McCormack said, comparing his role to that of Samuel Adams in the American Revolution. Clarke had been imprisoned in Ireland for 15 years due to his political activity, but was released after accusations of torture in the prison were verified. He came to New York and by 1907 had acquired 60 acres of farmland in Manorville, McCormack said. An obelisk monument dedicated to Clarke sits on the land.

But Clarke soon heeded a call to return to Ireland and revive a fledgling independence movement, and as a result he became the first to sign the proclamation declaring independence in 1916.

"These guys had more courage than people recognize," McCormack said. "They knew they were going to their deaths, but they went anyway to inspire the next generation."

The idea to create a monument to the Easter Rising rebellion was sparked by Legis. Kate Browning's visits to Nassau County's Easter Rising memorial, located behind the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola. Two years ago, Browning (WFP-Shirley) got a cross-section of Irish-Americans together to brainstorm setting up a memorial in Suffolk County, and soon a nonprofit was formed. The group's board -- which does not include Browning -- consists of members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Suffolk County Police Officers and Firefighters' Emerald societies and the Gerry Tobin Irish Language School in Babylon Village, among others.

The committee then picked a location for the monument, the Cohalan Court complex in Central Islip. The site was chosen, Thompson said, because it "stands for liberty and justice."

Both the county and state gave approval for use of the land, a spot behind the buildings, southeast of the 9/11 memorial. Plans are for a 10-foot-by-10-foot monument made of stone from an Irish quarry, engraved with a replica of the General Post Office, the proclamation and the names of the 16 men. The nonprofit is also working to obtain a stone from Kilmainham jail to place at the site.

"To fight for your freedom to preserve your history, your religion, your culture is so important and that's what they fought for," Browning said.

Browning is from Belfast and grew up witnessing the Troubles, the bloody conflict between British loyalists and Irish republicans in Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom.

'People who believed'

The nonprofit is hoping to raise $80,000 to pay for the monument and its upkeep. It has received about half that amount so far, Thompson said. To unveil the monument in time for the Easter Rising centennial in April, the remainder must be raised by October, he said.

According to 2010 census information, 23 percent of Suffolk's population has Irish ancestry. But organizers stress that the memorial will stand for more than Irish history.

"This is not just an Irish thing, it goes beyond that," said Thompson. "It's the dedication of people who believed so strongly in the inalienable right to be free, knowing the costs."

Committee members said they fear that residents don't know the inspiring story of the Easter Rising and the men who fought for freedom.

"People are starting to forget the names of these individuals and the sacrifices they made for Irish independence," McCormack said. "And we should never let that happen."

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