'We need to build on that sense of pride in our nation'
After a year of remembering, reflecting and re-imagining, Minister Heather Humphreys introduces The Centenary Conversations Words
ARTS and Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys is very clear on what the 1916 commemorations have delivered.
A deep engagement in our culture and history, informed by a broad series of events driven by local authorities which didn't just recall the military events at home and abroad during those turbulent times, but also explored social history and delved into the lives of people.
"It was a broader commemoration, it allowed people to tell and explain what happened in their families and how these events had impacted on their lives," she says.
"This was about remembering, reflecting and re-imagining the future. There has been a huge engagement in our culture, and there's a great sense of national pride. The children were central to it, and the schools programme was hugely successful. We need to build on that sense of pride in our nation."
Discussion of that legacy will form a key pillar of the many Centenary Conversations that will take place at NUI Galway, and which runs for three days from November 10.
Ireland 1916-2016: The Promise and Challenge of National Sovereignty is the centrepiece of the Centenary Conversations and includes a range of speakers debating, among other issues, whether the promises of 1916 have been delivered.
Alongside that will run an extremely lively and varied Fringe programme with events designed to engage and inspire visitors.
And the minister is keen to emphasise that the conference is free and it's an open invitation.
She says. "We're encouraging as many people as possible to come to Galway. It's looking at a number of issues, including what it means to be a republic and the role of women in the last 100 years.
"There's a discussion around education which brings us into the space of young people, and a focus on culture and identity and the promise of 1916. There's historians and academics, and alongside that a fringe festival with lots of different events.
"Hector (Ó hEochagáin) will convene a parliament of 100 years hence in 2116, and there are different events and plays. There's a website, Ireland.ie, with all details and where events will be streamed."
The Ireland of 2016, she says, is one where citizens are treated fairly. While the issues of housing and homelessness must be tackled, she says we have come a "long way" in the last century.
"We're a fairly young nation by international standards. This nation has given many people many opportunities. If you look at my own background, where I come from, a border county, I'm a Presbyterian, and many of my community in 1916 and after the War of Independence would certainly not have expected for me to end up as a minister in the Irish Government heading up the 1916 commemorations.
"That is a tribute, in many ways, to the country we live in. There are certainly areas where things could be better, but we've come through very difficult times. I think it (the State) does treat citizens fairly.
"One thing which came out of the proclamation for a new generation from the children was the fact that we need to treat people with respect and respect diversity. I think we've been good on that. I think we have been able to encompass other cultures within our nation and that is something we have done well. I think we have really come a long way."
Ms Humphreys wanted the commemorations to be "inclusive and respectful", where the stories of both the 1916 rebels, but also the men who fought for the British in the first World War, were heard.
"I wanted it to be a people's commemoration, and not belonging to the parties," she says. "World War I had a huge impact on the lives of Irish people. It's a complex history, it's shared narratives. It belonged to the people. It was the citizens' commemoration and we enabled and facilitated it.
"I believe the 2016 commemorations have allowed an even greater engagement in culture. I think 2016 has allowed us to look back, to commemorate and reflect. I want to see us re-imagine. I would like to think a conference like Galway is about having a conversation about what are our values and where we see ourselves going as a nation. We need to learn from the past.
"I think our values should be on quality of life for the citizen. Reward doesn't always come through the accumulation of assets. We all want to aspire to a reasonable standard of living, but we have to decide what's important."
Two highlights from the year were the Peace Proms on January 1 last, and Proclamation Day where every school in the country shared its Proclamation for a New Generation.
"Young people are very well informed and in the primary schools you could see the same themes coming through - it was about respecting people and about equality," she says.
"It's my intention to have them all gathered together and given to the National Library. That's a moment in our history. It's a snapshot about what young people are saying about our country, and what their aspirations are for the future. I think that's a wonderful record to have."
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