Debate on 1916 Rising shows Ireland’s ‘maturity’, says Cork bishop

Bishop Paul Colton said during 1966 commemorations it was a single narrative about the men

The willingness to accept diverse views and interpretations about the 1916 Easter Rising is hopefully a sign of Ireland's growing maturity as a nation, a Church of Ireland bishop has said.

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross Paul Colton said one of the aspects of the centenary year of the Easter Rising that has surprised him was the diversity of views and rigorous debate which has taken place in books, speeches, in letters to newspapers, on social media and on radio and television.

“I know I was only six in 1966, but insofar as I recall it, and certainly, as I’ve seen it being re-run in recent days in some of the archive material from that time, the tone was monochrome and deferential,” Bishop Colton told the congregation attending Easter Sunday service at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork.

“There was a single narrative about the men, and it was the men. Few seemed to risk telling the story from a different perspective. This time around it feels different.”


Bishop Colton said he believed the watchword in relation to the Easter Rising was "complicated" and he noted that it was used by RTÉ Prime Time presenter Barry Cummins when introducing a programme on the Rising last week that include some vigorous debate on whether it was justified.

Historian, Prof Diarmaid Ferriter has warned about interpreting the Easter Rising in terms of modern political values while fellow historian Dr Ferghal McGarry has argued the Easter Rising has been re-interpreted over time with new meanings ascribed to it in response to subsequent historical events.

“That there is a debate, that there is introspection, that people are seeking understanding, are to my mind healthy things. Hopefully, it is a sign of our growing maturity as a nation. Hopefully, it’s a product of our diversity and that we are truly becoming a ‘rainbow nation’,” Bishop Colton said.

"It's an affirmation of our acceptance that we are a pluralist society with shared yet different memories, with shared history experienced and recalled differently. Our President, Michael D Higgins, has referred to 'a hospitality of narratives'.

"He has been consistent in this, and in doing so, cites the work of the French Protestant philosopher Paul Ricoeur who said that it's about: 'taking responsibility in imagination and in sympathy for the story of the other through the narratives that concern the other'."

However Bishop Colton, who attended the State ceremonial event in Cork on Easter Monday to commemorate the Easter Rising, did express the view that he believed the ceremony should have been held on the calendar date of the Easter Rising on April 24th, 1916.

“As an aside, I would say that for years now I have publicly stated that it would have been preferable to have had the national centenary celebrations on the actual date itself, in a month’s time, with a new public holiday to mark it, but that advocacy never gained traction,” he said.


Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times