Marking of 1916 in 1966 spurred much anxiety in North - bishop

Church of Ireland Archbishop warns against abuse of memory and commemoration

People in the Republic may still not be aware how 1966 commemorations of the Easter Rising alienated people of a different identity in Northern Ireland, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson has said.

"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, " he said.

In an address launching Dublin City University’s 2016 centenary programme, he recalled how “throughout the Troubles, Co Fermanagh and its people were subjected to an orchestrated programme of removal of its 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”.

Like the current Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, he grew up in Lisnaskea, close to the Border.


The Enniskillen Bombing of November 1987 involved “a group of people in a free country honouring war dead”, but to the perpetrators “they had become homogenised and swept into a zone of entitled hatred as: ‘The British’.”

The horror of that blast mattered little to those “who subsequently ordered and executed” the Omagh bomb on August 15th, 1998, where victims were not “Protestant paramilitaries ‘strutting their stuff’,” but local people and holidaymakers, he added.

‘Abuse of memory’

Everyone with a shared interest in a different future should be alert “to the repercussions of the abuse of memory and commemoration from within our fractured history”, he said. “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.”

He recalled a meeting at Stormont in December 2002. “I remember the words of one speaker who took all of 20 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, uncriticised, into the making of future policy and practice and politics,” he said.

He lauded broadcaster Joe Duffy's initiative in researching "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."

He wondered about “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.”

He recalled words of the First Minister to the media at a 1916 event in Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral last week.

She was deeply uneasy with celebration of the Rising per se, but very willing to try to understand “this seminal event in the history of both parts of ‘John Bull’s Other Island’,” he recalled.

“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,” he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times