The Irish Times view on a decade of centenaries: Remembering the Civil War

It will be hard to find a way to remember the violence of the second half of 1922 in a non-partisan way

The year ahead is the most challenging one yet in the Decade of Centenaries as it deals with events which were contested in violence during the Civil War and were bitterly divisive in party politics for decades afterwards. The passions that fuelled the Civil War have long since abated and the fact that the two political parties that emerged from it are now in government together for the first time should lead to a calm and reflective commemoration of what happened a century ago.

The first significant commemorative event of the year will be the handover of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins on January 16th, 1922. The castle had been the symbol of British power in Ireland for close on 700 years and its handover to the forces of the Free State was a hugely important event. As The Irish Times noted at the time, "the old regime ceased to exist" and a new one came into being. Its significance has often been underestimated because of the Civil War that followed but it was a truly landmark event in the country's history.

The report of the expert advisory group on commemorations, chaired the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland Maurice Manning, noted that the events of that day represented the start of an unbroken political continuity with the Irish State that exists today.

Two-day conference

The symbolic transfer of power to the newly emerging state will be marked by a two-day conference at Dublin Castle organised by Trinity College. Taoiseach Micheál Martin heads a list of speakers which includes a number of historians who specialise in the period. The first general election which followed, in June 1922, is another often overlooked event in the life of the State which should be remembered.

Finding a way to mark the violent events of the Civil War will be potentially more difficult. From the shelling of the Four Courts in June to the assassination of Michael Collins in August, the execution of Erskine Childers, the killing of pro-Treaty TD Sean Hales, and the execution of four republican leaders that followed, the second half of 1922 saw a succession of violent acts and it will be a challenge to find a way of remembering them in a non-partisan fashion.

The expert committee advised that the consequences of the actions on all sides, and the depth, sincerity, or sometimes anger and sense of retribution, underpinning those actions needs to be confronted as part of any meaningful commemoration. How that will be done will largely be a matter for local initiatives but the State needs to set out the parameters for such events.

The advisory group recommended that a ceremony of remembrance and reconciliation be held on a neutral date in memory of all of those who lost their lives during the Civil War. That should certainly be done.

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