Commemorations and Reconciliation
“Our peace process has transformed the lives of people throughout the island of Ireland for the better. Marking significant centenaries, and in particular the seminal event of the 1916 Rising, in an inclusive and sensitive way can contribute to fostering reconciliation and greater understanding. This is in all our interests.” – Minister Charles Flanagan, TD
Commemorating the Decade of Centenaries in an inclusive and historically accurate way reflects Ireland’s approach to commemorations. Last year, the President of Ireland, Mr Michael D. Higgins, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Charles Flanagan, participated in events in Turkey on the occasion of the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign. This year, the Government has been marking the centenaries of 1916, a seminal year in the history of the island that saw both the Easter Rising, a key moment in Ireland’s path to independence, and the Battle of the Somme, an event which touched the lives of countless thousands across the island of Ireland, and for which the Government has prepared a dedicated Commemorative Programme.
You can read more about the seven strands of Ireland 2016, the Government’s programme to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, on this Department's webpage or on the official Ireland website. As part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, a formal State Ceremonial event entitled Rising to Reconciliation: a Journey in Words and Music was held in the Abbey Theatre on 10th April to mark the journey of reconciliation from Easter 1916 to Easter 2016, and highlighted the importance of the Good Friday Agreement in that regard. It comprised a series of cultural performances and reflections, by leading Irish artists drawn from across the island such as Paul Brady, Cathy Belton, Andrew Scott, and was attended by, amongst others, President Michael D. Higgins, John Hume, and Senator George Mitchell.
Services marking Remembrance Sunday in 2014 held a special significance, as they marked the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan TD, attended the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in Belfast on 9 November 2014, where he laid a laurel wreath. The Minister was joined by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, and the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson MLA, as well as Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nichola Mallon. Minister Flanagan observed:
I was pleased to accept the invitation to participate in [the] ceremony at the Belfast Cenotaph and to lay a wreath, on behalf of the Irish Government, to remember all those who died. I believe attendance at such commemorations shows respect for all traditions and helps further reconciliation on the island of Ireland and across these islands.
Elsewhere for the third year, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD, participated in a Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Enniskillen, the scene of a devastating IRA bombing of 1987. The Tánaiste, Joan Burton TD, attended the Remembrance Sunday service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. In London, Ireland’s Ambassador Dan Mulhall represented the Government in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph. This was the first time that Ireland was represented in the London ceremony since 1946. Minister Flanagan again attended the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at Belfast Cenotaph on 8 November 2015.
Easter Rising State Ceremonial for British Soldiers
On 25th May 2016, a State Ceremonial event was held at Grangegorman Military Cemetery to mark the deaths in 1916 of those British soldiers who died as a result of the Easter Rising. This event, hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan TD, and attended by the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott, remembered the lives of the approximately 125 British soldiers who died during the Easter Rising, many of whom were Irish. By remembering the events of 1916 in all their totality and recognising the different narratives and experiences that they involved, we broaden our understanding of the events of a hundred years ago and put reconciliation and respect for different traditions at the heart of our centenary commemorations.
Reconciliation is central to how Ireland approaches this Decade of Centenaries. During this period, through the Reconciliation Fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, grants are being provided for a number of commemorative projects as part of the regular funding of community and voluntary groups. Projects supported by the Fund may explore issues around identity and the understanding of other traditions, challenging the notion of separate histories, and exploring the ways in which drawing upon shared experiences can impact on contemporary societal relationships.
Projects supported by the Reconciliation Fund include a special production of Signatories at the West Belfast Festival, a play looking at Elizabeth O’Farrell and the seven men who signed the 1916 Proclamation; a Creative Centenaries exhibition looking anew at the events of 1916 by Derry’s Nerve Centre; a conference in Antrim looking at Roger Casement and both the local area and Casement family’s involvement in the nationalist movement and the First World War; a cross-border project by Partners in Catalyst that explores the lives of Winnifred Carney who took part in the Easter Rising and her loyalist and trade unionist husband, George MacBride; the Two Cities, One Book event that will take place across Belfast and Dublin, focused on advancing public understanding of similarities and differences between the two cities 100 years ago, with a particular focus on the 2016 centenaries; as well as a range of cross-community workshops to explore the shared and overlapping histories of 1916.
In 2015, the Reconciliation Fund supported a major three-day conference on the Gallipoli Campaign as part of the annual Hay Literary Festival in Kells, which took place on 24 April 2015 - the centenary of the landings of troops from Ireland, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. It is estimated that 15,000 soldiers from across the island of Ireland, mostly from the volunteer 10th (Irish) Division, fought at Gallipoli and that approximately a quarter of them died there.
In 2014, the Reconciliation Fund supported an event to explore the Christmas Truce of 1914 which saw the re-enactment of the famous Christmas Day Truce football match in a small field in County Down by 30 students from Glastry and St Columba's Colleges in North Down. This cross-community event was organised by the Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church.