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James Connolly Heron: Centenary events must honour - not ignore - the golden generation of 1916

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Aircraft from the Irish Defence Forces fly past the Spire on O'Connell Street, Dublin, during the 97th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland

Aircraft from the Irish Defence Forces fly past the Spire on O'Connell Street, Dublin, during the 97th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland

Aircraft from the Irish Defence Forces fly past the Spire on O'Connell Street, Dublin, during the 97th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland

Ireland Inspires, a programme of activity to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising, was recently unveiled by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys in the GPO – amid some controversy.

It has five themes. The first will recall the ‘shared history’ of those who live on the island of Ireland. The second will aim to honour all who have built peace.

The third, ‘Imagine’, will focus on how young people envisage the next 100 years. The fourth will show the world our achievements. The final theme, ‘Celebrate’, has  an emphasis on family and community.

What on earth, one might well ask, has all of this got to do with a celebration of the pivotal moment in Irish history that led to our freedom and Independence?

On what basis was this plan drawn up? In what way does honour the men and women of 1916? They are not mentioned – not a line, not a name, not a reference.  

‘Ireland Inspires’ is not a commemoration programme. It has all the appearance of a window-dressing exercise – a spin on commemoration.

A team devising the programme will tap into the diaspora, it was reported. There is a deeply troubling commercial ring to all of this .

Meanwhile, others appear to view the 1916 commemoration as an exercise in diplomacy of some sort or other. It should, of course, be neither.

This is the direct result of a failure to engage in meaningful consultation with those that matter most: the citizens. This must  now be rectified. Time is not on our side.

We need a two-phase approach to the 1916 Centenary – a programme of both conservation and celebration. A conservation project would, of course, include the development of a 1916 historic and cultural quarter in Moore Street, the last extant 1916 battlefield.

A stroke of a ministerial pen is all that is required to see a new strategy put in place that would be the game changer that many wish to see.

A centenary shopping centre is not the answer. Is this what is meant by re-imagining the future? Is that our legacy to a new generation tasked with rebuilding our shattered economy?  

Against all odds and under threat of demolition, Moore Street, the birthplace of the Republic, survives. Out of this modest terrace of houses in 1916, in the midst of apparent defeat, arose the cry of freedom.

Our freedom did not fall from the sky. It was fought for, and in some cases died for, in ultimate sacrifice by members of a golden generation of our people. They deserve to be remembered – they deserve to be honoured.

Yet they did not feature in the video published at the GPO launch last month of ‘Ireland Inspires’. On a shameful night they were airbrushed out of history.

The 1916 Relatives Centenary Programme was launched last November for a citizens’ celebration.

Through it young people today, understandably suspicious of politics and politicians, will be introduced to a generation who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country, rather than their country for their lifestyles.

Among their number were poets, writers, playwrights, teachers, musicians, journalists and ordinary working men and women – citizens striving to create a society of equality rich in cultural activity and identity.

They contributed to the cultural revival of the nation and they left us a rich legacy that needs to be embraced and cherished.

The Relatives Centenary Programme attempts to highlight that immense contribution and pay tribute to it through a presentation of the 1916 generation, and their followers, as much more than mere military figures. 

We relatives invite all citizens to lend their support to our 1916 Centenary Programme of Events. The relatives wish to open debate and discussion with interested parties as to how best to honour that golden generation. 

After all the purpose of commemoration is to remember and pay tribute.

Regrettably ‘Ireland Inspires’ does neither.

James Connolly Heron is a member of the 1916 Relatives Centenary Initiative


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