Sunday 8 December 2019

'2016 was a measure of how opposing sides come together'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny says this year set a tone for commemorations, writes Fionnán Sheahan

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at a ceremony in his old school St Patrick's National School, Cornanool, Castlebar, Co Mayo where members of Óglaigh na hÉireann presented pupils with a national flag and a copy of the 1916 Proclamation. Photo: Keith Henegh
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at a ceremony in his old school St Patrick's National School, Cornanool, Castlebar, Co Mayo where members of Óglaigh na hÉireann presented pupils with a national flag and a copy of the 1916 Proclamation. Photo: Keith Henegh
Fionnán Sheahan

Fionnán Sheahan

'For the first 50 years after independence the wounds were not fully healed. Our role in their making proving perhaps too sciatic a spot for probing.

"Time and distance give perspective. Also the peace that broke out on our island in the last 20 years or so, made our vista wider, more accommodated and accommodating. We have been able to move from default positions of revisionism and post-revisionism of the past, to consider what we have in common: our desire for a better, richer life for the coming generations."

- Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking at '1916 - 2016: The Promise and Challenge of National Sovereignty' in NUI Galway last month.

Those wounds have healed that bit more over the past year; 2016 will go down as a year when the country came to a greater understanding of its past, but did so in a respectful manner.

The Taoiseach believes the tone has now been set for the remainder of the commemorations around the foundation of the State, which will run up to 1922.

"I think it is a measure of how opposing sides of the community can come together, discuss their differences and move on," he says.

Easter Sunday 1916 Parade O'Connell Street. Military personel march past the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins at the GPO. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Easter Sunday 1916 Parade O'Connell Street. Military personel march past the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins at the GPO. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Mr Kenny cites attending the memorial for Thomas Kent and seeing members of the Kent family and relatives of the RIC officer killed during the raid on Kent's home in 1916, Head Constable William Rowe, talking together as an example of that spirit of reconciliation.

Mr Kenny told the Irish Independent the commemorations of the War of Independence and Civil War will be a test of whether we are "mature enough as a nation".

He is adamant the apolitical nature of the 2016 commemorations will continue.

"We went out of our way to ensure there was nothing party political about any of this," he says.

The Taoiseach is clear in his abiding memories of the year.

"Standing in front of the GPO on Easter Sunday, where Pearse came out and read the Proclamation, when the Defence Forces and the No 1 Army Band played the anthem: those are haunting memories and it was a privilege to be there for such a seminal moment," he says.

Pictured at the Tallaght Hospital School at the delivery of the last flag in the Flags for Schools Initiative as part of Irelandís 1916 were (in front l to r) Izzie Swail, (5) Wicklow and Enda Kenny, An Taoiseach ( back l to r) Brigadier - General, Nick Berry, General Officer Commanding 2nd Battalion and Chief of Staff, Vice - Admiral, Mark Mellett.
Pictured at the Tallaght Hospital School at the delivery of the last flag in the Flags for Schools Initiative as part of Irelandís 1916 were (in front l to r) Izzie Swail, (5) Wicklow and Enda Kenny, An Taoiseach ( back l to r) Brigadier - General, Nick Berry, General Officer Commanding 2nd Battalion and Chief of Staff, Vice - Admiral, Mark Mellett.

Among the duties of the Defence Forces this year was visiting every school in the country to deliver a Tricolour and speak about the origin and meaning of the flag.

He recalls attending the first flag presentation ceremony at his old school, St Patrick's National School in Cornanool outside Castlebar, Co Mayo. And he was at the last at the Tallaght Hospital School.

Mr Kenny believes there will be a lasting legacy from the Defence Forces exercise: "There is much more respect for the flag now."

However, the Taoiseach is clear the stars of the show were the groups across the country, which stepped up to take ownership of the year by ensuring their local areas fully participated.

"The year was a stream of different community events and it was highlighed by those of the community groups across the country. I hadn't realised there was such an appetite. There was that latent information and knowledge out there waiting and wanting to be expressed," he says.

"The direct consequence of that is the Creative Ireland strategy, so you won't have communities fractured as you have seen happening in other countries.

"There is a disproportionate benefit to people giving of themselves, to their communities," he adds.

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Now, Mr Kenny wants all of this to be built upon with the Creative Ireland strategy as a legacy for future generations.

As well as beginning work on the rest of the decade of centenaries, up to the Civil War and War of Independence, he wants to create a legacy for future generations.

"This gives us the opportunity - and creates the obligation - to articulate and define what this generation must do to create a legacy worthy of that bequeathed to us. I want it to be combination of Dúthracht and Oidhreacht. Dúthracht is how we love and mind each other. Appropriately for our purposes, it was also, they say, the piece of land a father would leave his daughter. Oidhreacht as heritage is what we have a right to at birth.

"And we want to make sure that future generations born in Ireland are assured of love and minding and a heritage, a culture that are literally, beyond price and description," he says.

When 2016 is reflected upon, Mr Kenny believes it will be viewed as the start of a cultural revival.

"Our arts were central to the revolutionary generation. The poets and playwrights, the revivalists and the writers, had a vision that was as much about cultural freedom as political independence," he says.

Irish Independent

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