Marie Cole­man

Re­views‘ Cen­te­nary: Ire­land Re­mem­bers1916’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Dr Marie Cole­man is a se­nior lec­turer in mod­ern Ir­ish his­tory at Queen’s Uni­ver­sity Belfast MARIE COLE­MAN

CEN­TE­NARY: IRE­LAND RE­MEM­BERS 1916 EDITED BY RO­NAN McGREEVY Govern­ment Pub­li­ca­tions/Royal Ir­ish Academy, ¤24.99

Cen­te­nary is the of­fi­cial ac­count of the State’s 1916 com­mem­o­ra­tions, edited by Ro­nan McGreevy and pro­duced hand­somely in bilin­gual for­mat by the Royal Ir­ish Academy on be­half of Govern­ment Pub­li­ca­tions. Cov­er­ing com­mem­o­ra­tive events from the cen­te­nary of the funeral of Jeremiah O’Dono­van Rossa in Au­gust 2015 to the na­tional con­fer­ence held in NUI Gal­way in Novem­ber 2016, the main themes of the State’s com­mem­o­ra­tive pro­gramme – his­tor­i­cal re­flec­tion, state cer­e­mo­nial, the liv­ing lan­guage, youth and imag­i­na­tion, cul­tural ex­pres­sion, com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion and the global and di­as­pora – each have a ded­i­cated sec­tion high­light­ing many of over 3,500 events held dur­ing the pe­riod.

Much of the vol­ume’s tone is set by a thought­ful in­tro­duc­tion by Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins, for whom the abid­ing me­mories of the com­mem­o­ra­tive year were the re­dis­cov­ery of women’s role in the Ris­ing and the en­gage­ment with chil­dren. The for­mer is cer­tainly one of the most strik­ing dif­fer­ences be­tween 2016 and any other his­toric com­mem­o­ra­tion, es­pe­cially pre­vi­ous ones of the Ris­ing such as 1966.

In ad­di­tion to chron­i­cling the ac­tiv­i­ties of women, through es­says and vis­ual images,

Cen­te­nary’s anal­y­sis of #Wak­ing the Fem­i­nists also pro­vides an in­sight into gen­der re­la­tions in mod­ern Ire­land. In do­ing so the book serves a two-fold pur­pose iden­ti­fied by the Pres­i­dent, of re­flect­ing “on who we are as a peo­ple” in the 21st cen­tury as well as ex­am­in­ing how 1916 was com­mem­o­rated.

Depic­tions of the na­tional flag and the Procla­ma­tion be­ing de­liv­ered to schools across the coun­try echoes the fo­cus on chil­dren dur­ing 1966. The cen­tral role of the Ir­ish De­fence Forces in such cer­e­monies high­lights the em­pha­sis placed by the State on them as the di­rect descen­dants of the Ir­ish Vol­un­teers, the le­git­i­mate Óglaigh na hÉire­ann.

Mak­ing chil­dren a fo­cus of com­mem­o­ra­tive events en­abled many of the “new” Ir­ish to ex­plore our his­tory, il­lus­trated well in an evoca­tive photo of the se­nior in­fants class in a Mus­lim pri­mary school in Blan­chard­stown mak­ing Ir­ish flags.

The pub­li­ca­tion also cov­ers a num­ber of events that took place in North­ern Ire­land, in­clud­ing erect­ing James Con­nolly’s statue on the Falls Road, ex­hi­bi­tions hosted by the Ul­ster Mu­seum, and the in­no­va­tive graphic nov­els de­pict­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures from union­ism and na­tion­al­ism pro­duced by Derry’s Nerve Cen­tre. The fo­cus on 1916 in the North was a more holis­tic one, tak­ing a broader ap­proach to the in­ter-re­la­tion­ship of the Ris­ing to the Somme in the wider con­text of the first World War, a theme of Éa­mon Phoenix’s es­say on 2016 in Ul­ster.

2016 di­verged sig­nif­i­cantly from 1966 in its in­clu­siv­ity, re­flect­ing the role of all com­bat­ants in­clud­ing the Bri­tish armed forces and the Ir­ish policemen who died in re­sist­ing the rebels and whose role was re­mem­bered at the un­veil­ing of the Re­mem­brance Wall at Glas­nevin and at Grange­gor­man Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery. This ap­proach en­abled some union­ists to en­gage with the sig­nif­i­cance of 1916 as an his­tor­i­cal event, seen here by the then UUP leader Mike Nes­bitt as an op­por­tu­nity “to reach out and en­gage with those whose opin­ions and as­pi­ra­tions dif­fer from our own”.

While much of the book’s fo­cus is de­voted to the lead­ers, the sec­tions on the new Mil­i­tary Archives Build­ing (a “Permanent Re­minder”) show how much more knowl­edge has been gained about a wider ar­ray of rebels from the in­valu­able Mil­i­tary Ser­vice Pen­sions Col­lec­tion. The sig­nif­i­cance of per­sonal pen­sion sto­ries is high­lighted in an­other short es­say by Pres­i­dent Hig­gins on his fam­ily’s pen­sion ex­pe­ri­ence.

In ad­di­tion to McGreevy’s com­men­tary on the main com­mem­o­ra­tive events, there are suc­cinct es­says by his­to­ri­ans, writ­ers, artists, voices of or­di­nary cit­i­zens and an ac­count of how 1916 was marked by Ir­ish com­mu­ni­ties glob­ally. Cen­te­nary is a one of the best sou­venirs of the cen­te­nary year and as valu­able a com­men­tary on 2016 as on 1916.

In the fi­nal chap­ter, the Min­is­ter for Cul­ture, Her­itage and the Gaeltacht, in­tro­duces

Cre­ative Ire­land, billed as the “legacy” pro­gramme to the 1916 com­mem­o­ra­tions. Many readers will be left won­der­ing what ex­actly is

Cre­ative Ire­land and what is its re­la­tion­ship to his­tor­i­cal com­mem­o­ra­tion and the Decade of Cen­te­nar­ies? The ra­tio­nale for tag­ging it on to the end of the 2016 com­mem­o­ra­tions is far from clear. Is it a way of side-step­ping the more awk­ward com­mem­o­ra­tions of par­ti­tion and the Civil War that are to fol­low and which can­not be com­mem­o­rated in the same man­ner as 1916? Mau­rice Man­ning, the chair of the Govern­ment’s ex­pert ad­vi­sory committee on com­mem­o­ra­tions, sees the Ir­ish as “a peo­ple at ease with its his­tory” in the af­ter­math of 2016. It re­mains to be seen if that will also be the case in 2023.


Clock­wise from above: print­ers check a spe­cial run of copies of the Procla­ma­tion at the Na­tional Print Mu­seum; Bri­tish Le­gion mem­bers com­mem­o­rate the Bat­tle of the Somme in Dublin; and Mary Han­non wears her great-grand­fa­ther’s Old IRA ser­vice medal.

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