Commemorating the commemorations

Published in Editorial, Issue 4 (July/August 2016), Volume 24


Now that the centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising are receding in the rear-view mirror, what are we to make of the experience? In spite of the inauspicious launch of the official programme of commemoration last November (don’t mention the video!), and a palpable sense of anxiety at commemorating the events at all, official Ireland eventually tuned into the public mood and embraced the commemorations.

The task was made easier by the response of civil society, with an impressive range and variety of events organised at local level the length and breadth of the country. (Some wags observed that the fact that we didn’t have a government at the time might have helped!) Particularly impressive was RTÉ’s ‘Reflecting the Rising’ on Easter Monday, when Dublin was transformed into an ‘open university’ involving hundreds of thousands of citizens.

There may have been a bit of anxiety, too, amongst publishers, fearful that the tsunami of 1916-related books would flood the market. That has proved unfounded: the more that has been published, the greater the interest stimulated amongst the reading public and the demand for more. There is now a heightened public awareness of easily accessible digital sources like the Bureau of Military History, the Military Service Pensions Collection, etc. Detailed scholarly research is no longer the exclusive preserve of the academic. This augurs well for future commemorations of the War of Independence and the tricky issue of the Civil War. The latter’s most enduring legacy was the emergence of our two-and-a-half-party system. It is ironic that as its centenary approaches that alignment too might also have been consigned to history.

This positive scenario presents certain challenges, however. While one-off investments in certain ‘flagship’ projects like the visitor centre in Kilmainham Courthouse or the Tenement Museum in Henrietta Street are to be welcomed, the surest long-term commitment to our history and heritage is properly planned, long-term funding for our scandalously under-resourced National institutions—Museum, Library and Archives. It would be a shame if such a long-term commitment were to fall foul of the current Balkanisation of Irish politics into parish-pump issues.

Tommy Graham


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