1916 speech: Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson

Centenary: Reconciliation and revolution, a harmony revisited - DCU, February 2016

The following is the full text of a speech delivered by Michael Jackson, archbishop of Dublin, launching Dublin City University's 1916 centenary programme.


The geography and the tradition from which I come is one of dissent. There really is no need for this to sound shocking. I suggest that in a real sense it holds for each one of us, however slow we may be to admit to it or own up to it. If you wanted to be religious and denominational about it, in my own case, you might indeed call it Protestant but it extends far beyond religion and denomination. Dissent runs in our veins as Irish people and we tend to bow the knee very sparingly, if at all, to anyone. But dissent is energy and we need to work out what to do with it. It has passion; it has vigour; it has generosity as well as having the capacity for backlash and for raw violence. It is creative and it is enterprising and yet, time and again, it has needed to get out of Ireland to find fulfilment. Dissent and emigration go together. What is equally interesting, perhaps, is the dissent of those who remain along with the fresh dissent of those who leave and return. Dissent takes many forms in Irish people.

The hand that the meta-narrative of ‘Irish History’ has dealt us right across the island of Ireland, South and North alike, means that a wide range of influences comes to bear in on us at any particular time - and indeed all the time. These influences come not only all at once but also sporadically and even quixotically, emotionally as well as factually. Some are contemporary, some are inherited, some are instinctive. Some are brand new and come from right outside our regular sphere of operation or impact - such as the IT Revolution and all of its attendant and infinite possibilities. All are exciting, some are terrifying, many become irrelevant and obsolescent, some are toxic; and again, all are working their way through the society as it is formulating itself afresh at any given time. They give us new and real opportunities in 2016 because of the diversity and complexity of the influences themselves in a globalized world and because of the ethnic range and vitality of an amazing country made up of two countries on the one landmass, once described to me as an island off an island off a continent. And that was the description of a true friend of Ireland, not an enemy.

Dissent itself

When I speak of dissent, I speak of it in a more questing and curious way. It is a word that needs to be redeemed and restored to a primary meaning. It seems to me, having lived in Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland and in England in various proportions and with considerable fascination and enjoyment throughout my life that, as Irish people generally, we are dissentient. By dissent in this context I take first and foremost the simple meaning of the word: the holding or expressing of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held. It derives from a very visible Latin root: to differ in sentiment/dissentire. Expressed in this way, it begins to sound more like a regular experience of university life, for example, or holding an opinion of one's own.


Let me take one recent example. Was the Equality Yes Campaign a worked example of dissent or a worked example of assent? I note the fact that the numbers of people who voted YES, in the region of 62%, had among their membership a vast array of people who were not of the LGBT community in Ireland. If it was dissent, then some unexpected people were dissenting: grannies, for example, dissenting FOR their children and/or grandchildren; neighbours dissenting FOR their neighbours from whom they are in ways different and will remain different and yet with whom they are similar and share civic and friendly life. My question is, therefore, when does dissent FOR a new way of thinking become assent TO an inclusion for a group of law-abiding people and with the support of others who are different in one fundamental sense? And the further question is: Were there not dissent FROM, would there ever have been assent TO? My argument in no way refers to the range of attitudes of acceptance, compassion, difficulty and rejection given multiple voice, indeed a range of voices, by religious bodies before, during and after the campaign and its outcome.

This example, unique to The Republic of Ireland, pushes further a statement of John Paul Lederach in relation to Northern Ireland in particular: Diversity is our friend. The example above asks: Is dissent our friend? Dissent, generously understood and applied, may yet offer us more scope and opportunity in surviving the constricting side effects of prescriptive history. My hope would be that a recognition of the advantages as well as the irritations of dissent may release us from manufactured majoritarianism into the twin-track of perspective and proclamation of our history into the future: perspective on its context and complex origins; proclamation of its best ideals in lived civic life. Universities are intrinsic to this quest; but universities cannot do it on their own; the rest of us, often cowed and diminished in the face of the university sector, have a vital contribution to make. The traffic has to be in both directions. It is not sufficient for the universities to tell us how to package our experiences without the universities also hearing from us how we assess their analyses. Dissent enables us to break free from being told what to think. It gives us something to do with the energy of frustration that any telling us what to think stokes up and foments. It does so by offering us the channels of distance and proximity as critical voices of dissent rather than letting lazy elisions of uniformity settle over us as a prescriptive norm.

Critical and creative dissent

My suggestion is that the Commemorations of 1916 in 2016 can be a place and a space of critical and creative dissent. The recognition, however tentative on the part of some at the start, of the valid place in Irish History of World War i in the centenary of its outbreak in 2014 began to sharpen the antennae of dissent and move all of us away from a manufactured majoritarianism about National Identity in the Republic of Ireland. Not only were people who had been sidelined and silenced as disloyalists and the descendants of such disloyalists given a belated voice again within history and released from the shame of the suppression of memory. A further fact emerged and, despite its blinding obviousness, it was this. Some people go to war because of idealism. Some people go to war because there is no food, no room, no work at home. Some people, as happened throughout the period 1914-1918, left Ireland and returned from World War i to an Ireland that had changed emotionally and changed utterly. This was because of decisions made and actions taken by British and Irish alike that were inhumane and with consequences that have left us with a whole new suite of antipathies to deal with. That very same Ireland, for want of a better phrase, 'rounded on them' and simply denied them their existence as anything other than a shadow existence of shamefulness. And they were by no means, to explode another popular and convenient misconception, 'all Protestants.' Let us add to this the statistic that for every person who was fighting in the vicinity of the GPO in 1916, up to sixteen times as many Irishmen were fighting at the Western Front at the same time. Let us add also that the children and the women and the aged killed during the Rising remain largely forgotten except for the sterling efforts of Joe Duffy in raising to our consciousness The Children of 1916; and some of them 'were Protestants.' I was privileged to attend last year an act of worship held in their honour here in Dublin in Ringsend Church. It was dignified and involved contemporary children of inner city Dublin in a most evocative and compelling way telling that story in their own voices.

The other side of this coin, as we move from April to July 1916, is the Battle of The Somme. The impact of this international human horror in Ireland is hard indeed to quantify. It involved men, and the women and children who also suffered with worry and loss and poverty and are forgotten, from the whole of Ireland. The pivotal role that it has played in the construction of a national psychology and identity of what is today Northern Ireland is incalculable. The Somme has come to relate primarily to one section of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland but has, and continues to have, repercussions on all sections of the community. Something that is over-identified by and with one section of the community inevitably alienates and disenfranchises other sections of the same community without even perhaps seeking to do so but at the same time succeeding in so doing. The combination and the conflation of religion, martyrdom, theology and human sadness has given us what Johnston McMaster and Cathy Higgins in Ethics and The Easter Rising (2016) and elsewhere have explored with critical mastery around blood sacrifice in both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant traditions of self-expression and identity in 1916. McMaster in particular has taken us deep into the raw places of genetic politics and has illuminated much darkness in our history. It explains a lot of the Irish sense of entitlement to be sectarian without admitting to it or owning up to it. Culture and cult become interchangeable and we quickly end up with what can only be called religion-free religious identity.

‘The North’

Not all of us own up to all of our prejudices all of the time but this particular phrase: 'The North' was and remains one of my pet hates. The phrase: 'The North' was used throughout my youth in Northern Ireland and is used to this day on the national airwaves of the Republic of Ireland to refer to Northern Ireland. It speaks not of geographical precision but of political assumptiveness; with it comes a whole range of unwarranted entitlements of emotional territorialism. And nobody, frankly, seems to want to correct it. It hangs there like nothing short of 'a flag of ownership' by others of those who will one day come to their senses. Charles J Haughey, who saw himself in Shakespearian tones as having done the state some service, famously referred to Northern Ireland as a failed political entity. Perhaps he might, in parallel, have looked closer to home in his exploration this gnomic phrase rather than distributing his sweeping political largess of dismissal and diminishment with such generosity only 'Up The North.' In saying this, I in no way let off the hook those who in Northern Ireland have sold on a political caricature of the Republic of Ireland as a sense of cultural entitlement, jumbled all the time with misunderstandings of the Roman Catholic Church locally, nationally and internationally.

1966 and all that

Many people in the Republic of Ireland may still not be aware of the extent to which The Commemoration of 1966 succeeded in alienating those in Northern Ireland at the time who were of a different political affiliation and blood-line of identity. The swift following-on of The Troubles and the political ambiguities around gun-running and the parallel deployment of members of The Irish Army along The Border simply underpinned an emerging anxiety and erosion of trust by neighbour of neighbour in Northern Ireland. In no way is this to transfer blame for The Troubles in Northern Ireland to citizens of The Republic of Ireland. It is, rather, an attempt to apportion some responsibility in equal measure to both media and politics in order to enable us to use honourably words like: reconciliation; a shared future; parity of esteem; even the word Agreement itself. Reconciliation is not signed, sealed and delivered by politicians who complete written Agreements in the face always of a landside of popular hostility as well as of popular appreciation. Their work is difficult and largely thankless. The working out of such Agreements requires of people that they/we start to live these Agreements openly and transparently.

Fermanagh and Enniskillen

County Fermanagh, the part of Ireland from which I come, is a case in point. If you travel west from Enniskillen, the landscape soon begins to look like Country Sligo. Well, of course it does because geography is dictated by geology but also something psychological begins to happen. Throughout The Troubles, County Fermanagh and its people were subjected to an orchestrated programme of removal of it citizens who were Protestants right along its own border with the Republic of Ireland in what would be called ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the world (as documented in the Church of Ireland’s Hard Gospel Study). This was a focus of study by the Church of Ireland’s Hard Gospel Project. The Fermanagh Border is perhaps the most comprehensive and most complex between counties in Ireland although not perhaps as concentrated as the South Armagh Border. Like the current First Minister, I grew up in Lisnaskea close to The Border. The Enniskillen Bomb leads us back to World War i and World War ii. Remembrance Day on November 8th 1987, was not an occasion when Protestant Paramilitaries were, as they say, ‘strutting their stuff.’ It was a group of people in a free country honouring war dead. There were indeed some elderly War Veterans; there were also many civilians and a number of them was simply schoolchildren. But to the perpetrators of The Enniskillen Bomb, they had become homogenized and swept into a zone of entitled hatred as: ‘The British’. It remains fascinating to me that those for whom this concentrated and iconic act of violence and murder meant so much have never publicly or sufficiently come forward to name it as their own act. Perhaps it was an operational mistake; perhaps it was even an example of collateral damage; or perhaps it was so horrific that whatever humanity remained to those who ordered it and to those who executed it could not actually, face owning it. But I have to say the full horror of it mattered very little to those, whoever they were, who subsequently ordered and executed The Omagh Bomb on 15th August 1998. Once again, this was not a case of Protestant Paramilitaries ‘strutting their stuff.’ It was a mixture of local people and holidaymakers from outside Ireland, shopping, window-shopping, buying school uniforms and perhaps most innocent of all: pencils for school.

I wish to be clear that I am not imputing responsibility for either of these events or for any of the other similar catastrophes in Northern Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland (The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, for example) to people generally in the Republic of Ireland. I am simply alerting all of us together, with a shared interest in a different future, to the repercussions of the abuse of memory and commemoration from within our fractured history. History, as well as being an analysis and a narrative, is a commodity for those who wish to use it and to abuse it as such. I share also an insight from a meeting in Stormont, Belfast in December 2002. Speakers were given five minutes each. I remember the words of one speaker who took all of twenty seconds: 'I am a French Algerian atheist and a woman. I do not fit into either of your two communities nor do I want to.' And she sat down. Inherited or wilful divisiveness and division are greatly to be watched and monitored, challenged and corrected in a Year of Centenary Commemoration, if we are to avoid anointing the past and allowing it to seep its way uncriticized into the making of future policy and practice and politics.

Queen Elizabeth II and Ireland

I happen to know Enniskillen well, partly because I grew up down the road and partly because in later life I was in and out of it on a daily basis when bishop of Clogher. In my view, this town has developed a working understanding of gracious accommodation of difference and of The Other. Some of the components of this are predictable and others are surprizing; all of it together is frankly miraculous. During my youth, the Protestants of Fermanagh resisted being ghettoized into Paramilitary and Vigilante Groups. Repeated attempts were made to enable them to protect their borders. They worked through The Security Forces rather than through the Paramilitaries. The motive force of women, particularly mothers, in the Church of Ireland population is one of which I can speak and I can speak specifically of what is called The Mothers' Union. Throughout the parishes in Fermanagh and Tyrone the MU Branches were strong and the mothers were not for having their teenage sons getting sucked into anything that smelt of paramilitarism or retaliation against neighbour. And that is the second thing: the people of Fermanagh did not retaliate by and large on any side of 'the two communities' so disliked by the French Algerian atheist woman.

The role of church leaders was pivotal in the breaking through of The Peace in Enniskillen in particular. Within a very short distance of one another in Enniskillen are the Roman Catholic, the Methodist and the Church of Ireland churches. The clergy in all three of these churches during the formative period of the transformation and the embedding of The Peace all arrived to take up their jobs in the same week. That made a significant difference. On one of her major visits to Enniskillen, Queen Elizabeth ii went into St Michael's Roman Catholic Church. She was the first reigning British Monarch to do so in Ireland for a significant period. The cycle of history in this case was benign rather than vicious. On June 26th 2012 she walked from St Michael's to St Macartin's (the Church of Ireland Cathedral) - the latter was where those who were at the Cenotaph in 1987 were heading when The Enniskillen Bomb went off. Gordon Wilson had done something akin to this in 1987, on the Sunday following the death of his daughter Marie at the Cenotaph in Enniskillen. He had walked from the Methodist Church to assure the Roman Catholic people of Enniskillen that he and his family bore them no ill nor did they hold them responsible for The Bomb. But I also admire the Parish Priest who gave him the microphone on that day. The irony is that the people of Enniskillen did not reach this point of respectful difference and the sharing of space once contested by being analysed to exhaustion by outside, theoretical experts. They somehow did it and got on with it, perhaps reflecting the innate decency that, in my experience, characterizes Fermanagh.


The sort of transformation that is now part of daily life in Enniskillen comes about through intentional letting go and through the setting to one side the need to continue to nurse a grievance. I am left with perhaps a difficult question: How do you think the people of Dublin, or indeed of the wider Republic of Ireland, would have coped, had the relentlessly orchestrated IRA campaign of murder, destruction, intimidation been brought by any or all Paramilitaries with more clinical and sustained precision ‘down South’ as Northerners speak of the Republic of Ireland? This phrase is another of my pet hates, I can assure you.

In 2016, therefore, in both the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland, we are faced with opportunities for an engagement that will take us into the realm of an imaginative sharpening of our antennae around the unthinkable: remembering and forgetting; forgiving and ‘futurifying’. I use these words - the last of which I have created to the purpose of my argument - as part of the tonality of critical dissent and, in consequence, components of a new harmony between revolution and reconciliation. Not everything can be remembered with the same intensity and to the same purpose; selective and externally enforced forgetting of experiences and events intrinsic to the identity of individuals and groups is, however, not honest nor is it honourable; forgiveness requires a combination of remembering and letting go in order to liberate the same self from the need to hate the other and therefore from actually hating the other; ‘futurifying’ is the best outcome of dissent as it provides scope for a future with difference as well as a different type of future. In this way, a restored harmony is possible. But all of this is hard work. And all of this requires intentionality, understanding, compassion and altruism.

With well nigh four thousand events scheduled for 2016 to commemorate The Rising, the danger is that a future focus will be lost in the minutiae of ‘Risingology’. This would be a pity and an opportunity squandered. I applaud particularly the initiative of Joe Duffy. He researched the lives and the deaths of Dublin children killed in The Rising as collateral damage of conflicting ideologies hammered out in the crowded streets of inner city Dublin by people who had, surely, been recruited to ‘The Cause’ with the same cynical premeditation as has often obtained in such situations. Children feature among the dead in Dublin 1916, Enniskillen 1987 and Omagh 1998. I think of the tens of thousands of The New Irish who may be confused as to what we are doing in marking on Easter Day a Rising that did not happen on any Easter Day in lived history. I also think of their confusion at the uncertainty expressed by a range of people around the function and purpose of a Commemoration of violence, chaos, reprisal and subsequent brutality and punishment meted out in such a way as to foment further fear and bitterness as those of John Bull’s Island retaliated, so to speak, on those of John Bull’s Other Island.

DCU initiative

I applaud DCU in painting with a broad brush around five core principles: remember, reflect, reconcile, re-imagine and celebrate. I should not wish to upend an ice bucket on the last of these but I recommend it be filtered and transposed many times through the first four, if reconciliation and revolution are to sing and dance with a fresh harmony for 2016 towards 2116. I have every hope and confidence that this university will follow the example of Gordon Wilson and lead the way towards generous reconciliation with all of the forces of objectivity and altruism it can muster from within its broad range of human and other resources, not least its critical mass of progressive intellectualism as one of the top Young Universities in the world. It is a very good place from which to start and to which to return in this year 2016. I attended a fascinating set of lectures in Christ Church Cathedral last week in the company of the First Minister, An Taoiseach and the British Ambassador. The First Minister pointed out to the assembled media that she was deeply uneasy with celebration of the Rising per se but was more than willing to engage in analysis and conversation the better to understand this seminal event in the history of both parts of 'John Bull's Other Island'. Her note of cautious realism is important to us all if we are to have a blend of voices by the time we reach even 2017.

I conclude by quoting a very short excerpt from Glenn Patterson’s Here’s Me Here - Further Reflections of a Lapsed Protestant (2015):

'After decades of conflict, and a few years carrying on like new lovers coy about the names of the bits that give them pleasure, after negotiations lasting, as negotiations are bound to last, long, long into the night, politicians of all parties have agreed that the name of this place shall henceforward be …'Here'. Citizens shall be 'people here', the remainder of the island 'down there' and the island to the east of us 'over there'. The United States becomes 'way over there'.

Please note though, people down there, over there, and especially way over there may entertain some very strange notions about people here.’

The conundrum continues!