Historians said no to politics in 1916 commemorations

Advisers refused request to reference North’s peace process, Maurice Manning tells forum

Maurice Manning,  chairman of the advisory committee on the decade of centenaries: “We were into commemoration. We were into history. We were not into politics. We said no,” he told Parnell Summer School.   Photograph: Cathy Loughran

Maurice Manning, chairman of the advisory committee on the decade of centenaries: “We were into commemoration. We were into history. We were not into politics. We said no,” he told Parnell Summer School. Photograph: Cathy Loughran

 

Historians involved in advising on the decade of centenaries “point blank” refused a Government request to use the Northern Ireland peace process as a frame of reference.

The chairman of the Government’s advisory committee, Maurice Manning, said the historians involved wanted nothing do with contemporary political events in Northern Ireland.

“We were into commemoration. We were into history. We were not into politics. We said no,” he recalled.

He told the Parnell Summer School that politicians knew there had been no percentage for them in terms of votes by attaching themselves to the Rising commemorations and the public were only interested in historical commemoration.

Mr Manning said Taoiseach Enda Kenny realised from the beginning the decade of centenaries could pose “huge problems” for the Government.

There was no consensus as to how it should be handled. Mr Manning recalled “all kinds of bad faith” attributed to the Government’s motivations for the commemorations. Those included that the Government was embarrassed by Irish history and that it intended to sanitise what happened in 1916.

Mr Manning said it was clear Sinn Féin saw itself as “outside whatever consensus emerged” in relation to the centenary of the Easter Rising.

He had opened an Easter Rising memorial in his hometown of Bagnelstown, Co Carlow, in April, organised by Carlow County Council and its local committee. The memorial was to Fr Albert Bibby, one of the Capuchin priests who had ministered to the leaders of the Easter Rising before their execution, and nurse Margaret Kehoe.

The previous Sunday, Sinn Féin had done its own unveiling of the same memorial. “I’m told that this sort of thing has happened quite a lot around the country,” Mr Manning said.

“Sinn Féin were prepared in an election year to put a huge amount of money into claiming ownership of 1916.”