How do you commemorate the sensitive Irish history of 1921?
A respectful, non-partisan approach is vital, writes Minister for Culture Catherine Martin
Catherine Martin: ‘It is vital too that we continue to document and illuminate the experiences and contribution of women during the Irish revolutionary period.’ Photograph: Maxwell Photography
This year we remember and reflect upon the significant events that occurred in 1921, leading to the truce of July 11th and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London on December 6th – seminal moments in our journey towards self-determination and sovereignty.
The history of this period belongs to all of us and I am very mindful of the complexities that lie ahead. My objective as Minister with responsibility for leading the Decade of Centenaries Programme is to promote a respectful, authentic, measured, and non-partisan approach to the sensitive period of commemorations ahead of us. One of the cornerstones of the programme is to continue to further peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain and to promote an ethos of inclusivity. The Government’s approach, in considering how best to mark these events in an appropriate way, has at all times been guided by the Expert Advisory Group (EAG), under the excellent stewardship of Dr Maurice Manning and Dr Martin Mansergh.
To support this, my priority is to create interesting and imaginative opportunities that encourage as many people as possible to explore our shared history, in all of its complexity, in a respectful and supportive environment.
It is vital too that we continue to document and illuminate the experiences and contribution of women during the Irish revolutionary period. The voices of some of these women have never before been heard or may have long since been forgotten. I am delighted that these women are now taking their rightful place in history. Mná 100 is a new online women’s strand curated by my department, which will shine a light on the lives of women during this period in a sensitive and impartial manner. We will work collaboratively with a range of partners to develop new research and content to highlight women’s participation in political, military, professional and domestic roles.
The commemorative programme for 2021 can be viewed online at gov.ie. Historical accuracy, academic integrity and archival discovery are key tenets of the programme, and I am committed to ensuring that our history is faithfully presented, even when the record is painful. Within the programme, you will find a diverse range of initiatives under four thematic strands: State ceremonial; historical; community; and creative imagination. I am extremely grateful to our many partners who have responded with such ambition and enthusiasm to the forthcoming centenaries, developing imaginative and meaningful citizen-focused initiatives to engage people of all ages and traditions.
One of the great legacies of the programme is the new 20th Century History of Ireland Galleries, launched by myself and Taoiseach Micheál Martin and based at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks. These permanent exhibition galleries will offer visitors of all ages an opportunity to reflect on significant events in all aspects of Irish history over the past 120 years. My department is contributing €2.2 million in capital funding to the project, which will open in 2023, coinciding with the centenary of the foundation of the Irish Free State.
Our local authority partners remain central to the programme, and I have provided significantly enhanced funding to enable them to respond to this centenary period with integrity and imagination, to develop truly impressive, authentic, community-led programmes, notwithstanding the ongoing pressures arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.
New artistic and creative initiatives for this year’s programme include a significantly enhanced Markievicz Award Bursary Scheme and a new artist-in-residence programme to bring the rich store of archival material to life for new audiences, highlighting the importance of these collections. Our national cultural institutions have embarked on exciting new exhibitions, commissioning programmes, symposiums, research and outreach programmes.
The Decade of Centenaries Programme seeks to make our history meaningful for everyone, in a way that supports and facilitates reflection and discussion about these transformative events. It also asks us to consider the values that we wish to preserve for the generations to come after us. We have a wealth of resources to consult, visit and explore.
Now is the time to engage with this forthcoming period of commemorations, in all of its complexity, with sensitivity, respect and openness.
Catherine Martin TD is Minister for Culture