'I guarantee people will be dancing on the streets'
Celine Naughton talks to Lorelei Harris, Head of Arts and Cultural Strategy at RTÉ
For a people renowned for making merry, we Irish have been remarkably subdued about celebrating the birth of our nation.
Not for us the razzmatazz of the fourth of July in the United States or the stirring renditions of 'La Marseillaise' on France's Bastille Day. Well into the first century of our independence, the best we could come up with was An Tóstal, an event introduced in the 1950s to lure tourists in the off-season. But even that initiative soon sputtered out, as we returned to business as usual, quietly sweeping our dark history under the mat for another 50 years.
Then last year, all that changed as the centenary commemorations ignited a new-found sense of national pride in our identity, a feeling as thrilling as it was unfamiliar.
At the heart of it all was the biggest public event in recent history, Reflecting the Rising, a joint venture by RTÉ and the government's Ireland 2016 programme. Dubbed "the greatest thing since Riverdance," this spectacle not only stirred something in the collective soul, it made us want more - and who better to give it to us than Lorelei Harris, Head of Arts and Cultural Strategy at RTÉ.
"There is across Ireland a huge desire for public gathering," she says. "Last year's centenary demonstrated a collective, communal desire for commemoration and celebration. Since then, a network has built up across the country, at community level, and it's led to an outpouring of desire to celebrate who we are."
An enduring legacy of last year's commemorations was the setting up of Creative Ireland, a five-year plan to encourage and support the arts and culture, whose first chief initiative is this year's Easter festival, Cruinniú na Cásca, or A Meeting at Easter.
"RTÉ was asked by Creative Ireland to create a prototype Easter Festival," Lorelei explains. "We thought about what it was that brought people together last year. The success of Reflecting the Rising was about inclusion, tolerance and diversity, and a sense of pride that we live in an open society. These are the themes that run throughout Cruinniú na Cásca.
"We're providing the canvas for people to reflect and consider how they relate to their histories. This is a platform for people to have pride in and take ownership of what Ireland has become and is in the process of becoming.
"We've included as many diverse countries as possible, with dancing from Mexico, Latvia, the Philippines and many other places worldwide. There are workshops for children with autism, and as much wheelchair access as possible across the board. We have activities celebrating the Polish, Indian, Chinese, African, Syrian, Traveller and other communities, the Lithuanian choir will be singing, and there will be talks about the challenges facing the LGBT community… We are creating a new space and promoting a new discourse."
While 31 local authorities throughout the country are organising events in their local communities, the biggest takes place in Dublin this Easter Monday, when the orchestra stage in St Stephen's Green is the venue for performances by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Lisa Lambe and the Hothouse Flowers.
"I am smitten and overwhelmed by the talent of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra," says Lorelei. "It's a big thing to put on a performance of this scale in a public venue, and I guarantee, people will be dancing on the streets.
"The band stage at Smithfield will be going all day long. Other highlights include the Céilí Mór at the Custom House Quay, 'How to be a DJ' workshop, writing workshops, and talks about history and social inclusion. There's a huge amount of music, talks on art and culture, Lego workshops, storytelling, theatre, art, comedy and poetry, things for every generation to enjoy.
"This is a positive, creative event on a massive scale, both at national and community level. Cruinniú na Cásca is the start of something wonderful, and it will build, I have no doubt of that."