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Heather Humphreys: 2016 will be a year of reflection, celebration and hope


Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Photocall Ireland

Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys. Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Our centenary year will kick off on January 1 with young people from across the island of Ireland coming together in music and song. The Peace Proms, to be held in Dublin's Convention Centre, will be a unique event; an uplifting and fitting start to a year of respectful and inclusive commemoration and celebration.

Thousands of individual events will be held at home and abroad next year as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme. A common thread to so many of these commemorations will be the prominence given to our national flag. Prior to the Peace Proms on New Year's Day, a solemn flag-raising ceremony will be held in Dublin Castle, attended by the President, An Taoiseach and other senior Government figures.

The Irish Tricolour was first raised in Waterford in 1848 by local man Thomas Francis Meagher and was brought to Dublin by Irish Volunteers from Waterford city.

In Meagher's words: "The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the 'Orange' and the 'Green' and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood."

This is the true meaning of the Tricolour. It is a meaning that I hope we can reconnect with during our centenary year. If you are the parent of a young child, you'll probably know that for the last number of months members of our Defence Forces have been hand-delivering a national flag to every primary school in the country.

I've attended a couple of the flag ceremonies and have seen how excited the children were to be visited by members of the Army and how they listened with rapt attention as a member of the Defence Forces explained the meaning behind our flag and its significance in modern, multicultural Ireland.

Those of us who are from border counties may be particularly sensitive to the use and misuse of flags and emblems. Our flag has been used and abused over the years by those pursuing particular agendas. But by teaching our children about the true peaceful meaning of the Tricolour, I hope we will encourage the next generation to treat our national flag with the respect it deserves.

Throughout 2016, communities will lead the way as we remember the pivotal events which led to the foundation of this State. The Government, working with our cultural institutions and numerous other partners, has put together a very ambitious commemorative programme for 2016, encompassing the arts and cultural sector, our schools and universities and our embassies overseas.

But I believe it will be the smaller events in towns and villages across the country, led by communities and facilitated through the local authority network, which will be the marker of these commemorations. For while the Rising was focused on Dublin, its impact, of course, was felt right across the country. The 2016 commemorations, the citizens' commemorations, will extend well beyond the capital.

More than 2,000 community events are planned, with the list ever growing. Exhibitions, concerts, films and artistic works will remember the iconic individuals and many of the lesser-known figures from the Rising period, as well as examining what life was like in Ireland 100 years ago.

While the 2016 commemorations will be anchored in historical reflection - and there will be much analysis and debate about the events of 1916 - they must also be forward-looking. We cannot become caught up in 'what ifs' about the past; rather, we must ask ourselves what we want from this country in the next 100 years.

I believe Ireland has a lot to be proud of when we look back on the last century. It is easy to be trite. It is easy to question whether we have upheld the ideals put forward by the visionaries who crafted the Proclamation. But when you consider the plight of ordinary families in 1916 and just how divided and fractious this island was at the time, I think it is fair to say we have come a long way.

2016 will also be a year of hope. After a number of very difficult years, things are looking up again for Ireland. 100 years on from the tumultuous events which ultimately led to Irish independence, we can stand proudly among other nations, comfortable with our values and confident for the future.

Heather Humphreys is Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Irish Independent