Government of Ireland’s Plans for 2016 Commemorations

easterproclamationThe School of History and Anthropology at Queen’s and the Community Relations Council, in conjunction with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Community relations, today hosted a briefing on the Government of Ireland’s plans for commemorations in 2016:  Ireland 2016: Centenary Programme, presented by John Concannon, Director of the 2016 Programme.

The programme, which was launched at the end of March, is impressively wide-ranging, encompassing seven strands: state ceremonial, historical reflection, the living language, youth and imagination, cultural expression, community participation, and global and diaspora.

Full details of the programme are available on a dedicated website.

Concannon emphasised that the programme had emerged through consultation with various stakeholders, and that it would ‘put the Proclamation at the centre of things.’ Further, it would aim to educate about the people involved (in particular, the seven signatories), the Irish national flag, and the role of women.

Concannon said the programme was ‘an open invitation’ for people to participate in events or to organise their own – throughout the island, not just in the Republic.

He described the Proclamation as ‘a visionary document,’ drawing attention to its emphasis on civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities, the pursuit of happiness and prosperity, and cherishing all the children of the nation equally.

It’s obvious that not everyone on the island of Ireland would take such a benign view of the Proclamation, so Concannon also emphasised that the programme aims to create space for debate, discussion, and dissenting views. The programme has been guided by an expert advisory group, whose quote on the official website emphasises the complexity of the period:

‘The commemoration will be measured and reflective, and will be informed by a full acknowledgement of the complexity of historical events and their legacy, of the multiple readings of history, and of the multiple identities and traditions which are part of the Irish historical experience.’

There are far too many events in the works to mention them all here, but Concannon highlighted a number that will be of particular interest:

State Ceremonial:

Ceremonies at the GPO on Easter Sunday 27 March, including a reading of the Proclamation, the laying of a wreath by the President, and a parade. Concannon said this would be ‘a reflective and sombre day.’

Historical Reflection:

Events include a major academic conference in April 2016; the University of Notre Dame projects (including a $3million documentary produced in conjunction with RTÉ); the online publication of a number of previously inaccessible archives by the National Archives of Ireland; and a one-day symposium on ‘Ulster Nationalists and the Irish Revolution,’ organised by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). The RIA will also publish a book, Ulster Political Lives 1886-1921. Concannon assured listeners that the symposium and book would include unionist perspectives.

The Living Language:

Includes lectures, debates, arts and theatre events, and digitisation projects.

Youth and Imagination:

Every school will receive lesson plans around the Proclamation and be invited to produce a ‘Proclamation for a New Generation’, reflecting their own values, hopes and aspirations in light of analysis of the principles and ideals of the 1916 Proclamation. There is also a 1916 Ancestry project planned, where students will be invited to trace their family histories back to 1916. Concannon remarked that he expected that many students would find their great-grandparents ‘fighting in the British Army during the Great War,’ which would add a further dimension of complexity to their study of the era.

Cultural Expression:

A range of events are planned across the island’s museums, universities, arts centres, theatres, etc. There will be a signature event on Easter Monday, which will ‘tell the story of Ireland 1916 to 2016 in music, dance, theatre, poetry, personal and historical reflection and grand spectacle.’

Community Participation:

Includes a number of events organised by Local Authorities and the GAA, as well as the already annual Reconciliation Networking Forum, which will be held in Northern Ireland in 2016. The forum will explore the impact of commemorations on reconciliation.

Global and Diaspora:

There are a number of events planned throughout the world, not just in the expected places like North America and Australia, but in South America, India, Great Britain, Europe, and more.

In addition to events, the programme will deliver these ‘permanent reminders’:

  • A new interpretative centre in the General Post Office in Dublin
  • The restoration of Richmond Barracks (where the 1916 leaders were court-martialled)
  • A Tenement Museum in Dublin focusing on life in the city 100 years ago
  • A Cultural Centre at Teach an Phiarsaigh focusing on Pádriag Pearse
  • The refurbishment of Kilmainham Gaol and Courthouse
  • The restoration of the Kevin Barry Rooms at the National Concert Hall (setting for the Treaty ratification debates)
  • The development of the Military Pensions Archive. While the archive is already available online, this will include premises in Cathal Brugha Barracks

During the question and answer period, most of the questions Concannon fielded focused on how unionist perspectives might be expressed, or whether commemorations would include a British dimension. For example, when Queen’s history lecturer Marie Coleman remarked that the idea that a member of the British royal family would be invited to the Easter Sunday event had been discarded, Concannon did not contradict her.

Rather, Concannon emphasised that there would be a dedicated series of activities in Britain, and observed that the Ancestry Project would bring further recognition to the Irish who served in the British Army. He  said that by the summer the Government will have developed a dedicated programme focusing on the Somme. He also pointed out that while his talk today had focused on the Easter Rising, this should be seen in the wider context of the Government’s ‘Decade of Centenaries’ commemorations.

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