President Michael D Higgins announces series of centenary lectures

President’s biggest initiative of 2020 will reflect on the events of 100 years ago

President Michael D Higgins is to host a series of seminars to examine the legacy of the War of Independence, Civil War and partition.

In the series, entitled Machnamh 100, President Higgins will draw together historians to discuss how events of 100 years ago have shaped modern Ireland. The word Machnamh means to reflect or meditate on something.

A spokesman for the president said Machnamh is the president’s most significant initiative this year and into early next year.

The first lecture will be on the challenges of public commemoration and how remembering events of the past impact on the present day. It will be given by the president.


It will be responded to by Prof Ciarán Benson, the chairman of Poetry Ireland and the Irish Museums Trust, Professor Anne Dolan of Trinity College Dublin, Prof Michael Laffan, emeritus Professor of History in UCD, and Prof Joep Leerssen, professor of European studies at the University of Amsterdam.

It will be followed in February by a seminar entitled Empire: Instincts, Interests and Power which will examine British responses to events in Ireland during the War of Independence and the Treaty.

Earlier this year President Higgins was critical of the reprisal-based violence practised by the British in Ireland 100 years ago.

Writing on the centenary of the sack of Balbriggan, President Higgins said reprisals by British forces were not unique to Ireland.

The British used similar tactics in India and in surpressing the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in 1952 and in 1956 in Cyprus. It was also a policy carried out by the United States during the Vietnam war, the president pointed out.

President Higgins said it was important the British recognised these facts about their previous relationship to Ireland.

“If we are to be serious about ethical remembrance and the creation of diverse, complex, shared memory at peace with the past in the interest of a present or future understanding, it is important to recognise these facts. It constitutes a prerequisite for any meaningful healing.

“We must all acknowledge that such acts of violence would be judged illegal by today’s international standards of war and conflict.”

A third seminar, in May 2021, will reflect on the labour movement and women’s participation in the independence struggle.

It will conclude by marking the centenary of the foundation of the Northern Ireland parliament (June 1921) and the truce a month later.

The public, at home and abroad, will be invited to view these events on the RTÉ website and RTÉ Player.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, there will be no live audience at the December event, but it is hoped audience participation will be a feature of future Machnamh 100 events.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times