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Easter Rising centenary events must not ‘anoint the past’

04 March 2016


Child soldier: The animated film 'A Terrible Hullabaloo' tells the story of Vinny Byrne, one of the youngest rebels in the Easter Rising

Child soldier: The animated film 'A Terrible Hullabaloo' tells the story of Vinny Byrne, one of the youngest rebels in the Easter Rising

A WARNING against “the abuse of memory and commemoration” on the centenary of the Easter Rising in Ireland has come from the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson.

In an address at the launch of Dublin City University’s programme marking the centenary of the Easter Rising, Dr Jackson, who recently welcomed the DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster to Christ Church Cathedral, in the city, for a similar event, said that many in the Republic remained unaware of the negative impact on North-South relations of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Rising, in 1966. He said that people north of the border, with a different perspective on history and a separate identity, had been alienated.

“The swift following-on of the Troubles, and the political ambiguities around gun-running, and the parallel deployment of the Irish army along the border simply underpinned an emerging anxiety and erosion of trust by neighbour of neighbour in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Dr Jackson, a native of Lisnaskea, in the border county of Fermanagh, and a neighbour of Ms Foster, who is also an Anglican, recalled the brutality that residents along the border in Northern Ireland had had to bear for 30 years.

“Throughout the Troubles, County Fermanagh and its people were subjected to an orchestrated programme of removal of its citizens who were Protestants right along its own border with the Republic of Ireland, in what would be called ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the world.”

Everyone with an interest in sharing a brighter future, he said, needed to be alert to “repercussions of the abuse of memory and commemoration from within our fractured history”.

Dr Jackson continued: “History, as well as being an analysis and a narrative, is a commodity for those who wish to use it and abuse it as such. Inherited or wilful divisiveness and division are greatly to be watched and monitored, challenged and corrected, in a year of centenary and commemoration, if we are to avoid anointing the past and allowing it to seep its way, uncriticised, into the making of future policy and practice and politics.”

Ms Foster travelled to Dublin to take part in the centenary event at the cathedral, “‘A State of Chassis’ — Ordinary People in Extraordinary Circumstances in Dublin in 1916”, organised by the Church of Ireland. It included talks by Irish historians.

Ms Foster said that she was open to listening to the different perspectives, but people in the South had to take on board the difficulties that Northern Unionists had with the rebellion.

“I was very clear when I was asked about the commemoration of the Easter Rising, the Easter Rebellion, call it what you will, that I wouldn’t be coming to commemorations, but I was very happy to come to a historical lecture or reflective evening,” she said. She hoped her presence at the event reflected respect and tolerance.

Ms Foster had, in the past, described the 1916 rising as an attack on the state and democracy which, more recently, encouraged violent Republicans in Northern Ireland.

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