Historian welcomes ‘come-all-ye’ approach to Rising events

Roy Foster criticises previous commemorations on this week’s Off Topic podcast

Prof Roy Foster has welcomed the ‘come-all-ye’ approach to centenary events for the Easter Rising. Photograph: Oxford University

Prof Roy Foster has welcomed the ‘come-all-ye’ approach to centenary events for the Easter Rising. Photograph: Oxford University


The 1,800 events planned for next year’s Easter Rising commemorations have won approval from an unlikely source.

Historian Roy Foster, whose work has emphasised the ambiguity of the republican tradition, has welcomed what he describes as a “come-all-ye” approach to the events.

Speaking on this week’s Off Topic podcast, Prof Foster said that the commemorations seem “to devolve into a kind of anodyne groupspeak. But I think that’s better than single-minded triumphalism.

“I think it’s better than Éamon de Valera using 1966 and 1971 to announce that we must take over the North again.

“It may be a dilution of the passion with which 1916 was commemorated at its 50th anniversary . . . but I think that dilution is a necessary part of growing up.”

Off Topic podcast

Prof Foster also criticised previous official commemorative events, including 1996’s Famine commemoration and the bicentenary of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in 1998.

“Politicians got in on the act and decided 1798 was going to be a way they would present what they were trying to do in 1998, and the result was a lot of bad history.

“But I think the amount of necessary nuance and equivocation and recognition that there were other traditions, identities, agendas and even other revolutions that never came to fruition in 1912-1922, I think this is being realised more acutely than it was during previous commemorative jamborees,” he said.

1916 generation

Prof Foster’s book Vivid Faces depicts the revolutionary generation of 1916 as a group with complex motivations and diverse goals, only some of which were realised by the state that arose after the carnage of the Civil War.

“There’s a very real sense that we’re looking at the foundation of the State, which involves necessarily also looking at what the State has become and how far that reflects or diverges from what at least some of the revolutionaries wanted, which in my view is something very different than the repressive theocracy that emerged in the 1920s, that was stable and admirable in many ways but denied the futures that many of those who took part would have wanted.”

On October 20th, Prof Foster delivered the annual Edmund Burke Lecture at the Trinity Long Room Hub, which was titled An Inheritance From Our Forefathers? Historians and the Memory of the Irish Revolution.

Prof Foster said: “Inheritance is what we put up with in history. And inheritance is full of contested relations, arguments about property, dislike of your siblings, not knowing what the intentions of the departed were.

“Inheritance goes with a lot of bad baggage. It’s not just simple-mindedly taking what has been handed down by your forefathers.”