Why half centenaries are deadlier than the decade of centenaries just about to begin…

FitzJamesHorse’s blog has great piece on history and human memory, not least on what living through a violent period of history reveals about ordinary life… You should really read the whole thing, but here’s his conclusion:

I believe that the present obsession with the Decade of Centenaries……..Ulster Covenant (1912), Easter (1916), Somme (1916), Partition (1922)………deflects from a Decade of Half-Centenaries…….the O’Neill Years (1963-70), the first murders of the modern Troubles (John Scullion and Peter Ward in 1966), the first Civil Rights march (Coalisland 1968), the Battle of the Bogside (1969), formation of SDLP (1970), Internment (1971),Bloody Sunday (1972) and Bloody Friday (1972). Too many to mention.

But realistically the decade of the half century commemorations are potentially more toxic than the decade of centenaries.

People will talk about dealing with……or handling the Past. I do not believe that we should try.


  • carl marks

    People will talk about dealing with……or handling the Past. I do not believe that we should try.
    alas if we ignore the past it bites us on the ass,
    and if we dont ignore it, guess what it bites us on the ass.

  • HeinzGuderian

    S’funny,I’ve never had my ass bitten by an ignored or engaged past ?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Good wee blog there from FJH, must add it to my regular reading. A while ago I tried to start a list of anniveraries, it did get bogged down in the early troubles, with a tit for tat listings, I think letting things pass this time is advisable. with the one exception of looking at the effect the anniversaries had at the time, was it real or exagerated?

  • Thanks to Mr Fealty for drawing attention to it.
    In a sense I did not write it fora Slugger readership….I mean that in the best possible way……..as it was intended for a regular group of readers….and a kinda shorthand used as most would have seen other similar writings in various places.
    I dont think it is actually think it is that good because I “bottled out” of saying things more directly.
    By way of recap….the conventional wisdom is that unionist and nationalist historians have airbrushed unionists and nationalist out of their respective histories…..for the “Common Good”, for nation building or as some anthropologists would have it “myth making”.

    To put this right, conflict resolutionists, hired historians will give us a letsgetalongerist version of History……a “shared history” which is a form of myth making the anthropologists will love. All for the “common good”.
    I dont believe that History should be used in that way (nor indeed to create any unionist or nationalist myth). In March last year I wrote a post for Slugger on a conference organised by the Irish-British Studies people (Ulster Museum) where members of the “Arts” community were invited to talk about writing, painting making music as a healing process. It was a massive own goal on the part of the Conflict Resolution “industry”. To a man and woman the “artists” all insisted on their right to pursue (as 10cc put it) “arts for arts sake”.
    They were not going to be manipulated.

    I wish all Historians felt the same.
    I enter this decade (almost) 60 and will maybe come out of it aged 70. Others including many (now) public figures wont see the other side of the decade. Events dear boy ….Events.
    There is no good trying to organise 2022 in 2012. We will inevitably be overtaken by events. Would the attendance of a politician from one tribe at the state funeral of a member of another tribe in Dublin or London not have a bigger impact than a visit to the green fields of France to “share” the Somme (the only one really on the agenda to be shared)……a bogus concept anyway.
    But if we look at (say) the Civil Rights marches…..in part a Derry protest at unionist governance of the city…how is it possible to commemorate the fact that a minority unionist administration controlled the West Bank of the Foyle….how is it possible to reach out to “liberal unionists” who might say “oh that was terrible it should not have happened……if only we had known”……yet how do we protest Alliance gerrymander which governs west of the River Bann.
    Maybe taking to the streets again is a reasonable option and a truer commemoration than the nonsensical QUB “celebration” of 40 years of QUBs role in the Civil Rights Movement.


  • oh can I just add, I dont think the half centenaries are likely to be deadly. Merely more toxic……..if done right. Unless of course we consider ignoring them……for the “common good”.

  • Greenflag

    Have to agree with Fitzer. Remembrance is like arsenic . A little now and again is a tonic – too much is toxic . While there are some past events which should never be forgotten the main focus should be looking forward . We can’t undo the past but we can make the future . The most important thing to remember is not a particular event from any tradition but the fact that human beings of every race and nationality are capable of inflicting death and destruction on other human beings and are also capable of doing great good. We must ensure that our ‘politics ‘ and ‘economics’ directs the latter outcome rather than the former .

    The island doesn’t need to become any more of a necropolis than it already is .

    Motto for the new century

    ‘I’ve a great memory for not remembering not too much nor to little but just enough to prevent the same mistakes from being made again ‘

  • Well frankly we cannot “re-write” the History of 100 years ago and choose to ignore the History of 50 years ago.
    We have to be consistent.
    If we do one…..we have to do both.

  • Drumlins Rock

    FJH, can I say from the unionist perspective what I have witnessed so far of the Covenant Commerations has been purely historical, certainly not a desire to use it as “inspiration” for the present. I think the centenaries will pass ok, and both sides will maybe make some space for the other viewpoint, without going “neutral”.

  • DR. Interesting how the Orange Order have a special march for Carson’s failed attempt to prevent Home Rule. The very existence of NI is proof of his failure. Carson had some choice vierws on the OO. ‘All old bones and rotten rags’ Go figure.

  • Although I agree with FJH’s conclusion, I pick up the following point that he made.

    “The year 1966 was a turning point. The Republic of Ireland had grown up. It is true to say that Ireland was never the same again after joining the Common Market in 1973. Arguably it is true to say that it will never be the same again after Mrs Windsor visited in 2011. But I tend to consider that 1966 exorcised the ghosts of 1916.”

    I do not agree with that at all. One of the problems brought about by 1916 was almost complete airbrushing from history of Irish soldiers that took part in the World Wars. Only very recently have Irish people taken broad ownership of that part of their history.

    It is also not accurate to say that, by 1966, the Republic of Ireland had grown up. It continued to suffer from impaired political thinking as a result of its past. You only need to look at the direction of its political consensus, particularly in relation to its European policy, to appreciate that. The desire of Irish politicians to give priority to distancing Ireland from UK influence over its own economic well-being has led to catastrophic consequences.