Trinity’s Arts and Humanities bring Context and Analysis to Centenary Commemorations
The Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity’s Arts and Humanities Research Institute in partnership with Trinity's nine Arts and Humanities schools delivered a formidable programme of events in 2015 and 2016 to reflect on the significance of the 1916 Rising and its aftermath, exploring the contradictions and conflicts of memory which prevail in commemorating this pivotal event.
Summary of Events
- Annual Edmund Burke lecture
- Europe’s Violent Memories
- Proclamation Day Symposium
- ‘Reflecting the Rising’
- Women in 1916 and 2016 Panel Discussion
- Media coverage of the Commemoration
- Further events
Commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising began in earnest at the Trinity Long Room Hub in October with the 2015 Annual Edmund Burke Lecture delivered by renowned Irish historian Professor Roy Foster. To a packed lecture theatre, Professor Foster highlighted ‘the psychological uses of memory in Irish history’ and spoke of the challenges posed by the year of commemorations ahead in addressing the contested memories of the rising which have prevailed in public life from the 1970s.
The Trinity Long Room Hub’s annual signature event celebrates Trinity’s longstanding connection with 18th century philosopher, historian and politician Edmund Burke. Professor Foster’s talk An Inheritance from Our Forefathers? Historians and the Memory of the Irish Revolution recalled Edmund Burke’s concern with the idea of ‘inheritances’ in history. “Edmund Burke was preoccupied by the idea of 'inheritances’ in history, and Irish history is full of them – often contested. I’m interested in the way that we now pay as much attention to ‘memory’ and its operations as to the search for historical facts, and what this means for the decade of commemorations in which we’re immersed. This requires looking at the role history and historians play in Irish life. I also think that one way to approach the memory of our revolutionary past is to look again at what the revolutionaries – or many of them –actually wanted, in relation to the achievements and actuality of the Irish state today.”
Professor Foster argued that while Burke’s great strength was his ability to read history ‘philosophically’, Ireland’s problem may be its tendency to read history ‘emotionally.’ ‘This is bound up with how we remember things. Memory is the theme of many historians nowadays. It sometimes seems even in academe that we invoke memory more than we invoke history.’ Memory and life stories may be more palatable than the hard facts of history, the Professor said.
While there are undeniable sensitivities involved in remembering what might have happened a decade ago, Professor Foster argued that the pre-revolutionary period in Ireland was characterised by a ‘surge of dissatisfaction with what was being offered by established parties.’ Similar developments can be witnessed at that time in the UK with a ‘breaking down’ of outgrown forms of political organisation and a desire for change, particularly among the young. ‘In Ireland a century ago these feelings helped lead to a revolution’, Professor Foster commented, reflecting however on the importance of addressing some the unanswered questions about the revolution, such as why the revolution turned out to be overwhelmingly conservative in nature.
Professor Roy Foster is Carroll Chair of Irish History, University of Oxford, and is the author of the recent and widely-acclaimed Vivid Faces: the Irish revolutionary generation 1890-1923.
Ireland’s Rising commemorations featured as part of the Trinity Long Room Hub's 2016 Europe’s Violent Memories public lecture series. The three-year series of public lectures examined how war and the trauma and memory of war have proved pivotal to the formation of European identities in the 20th century.
The 2016 programme gave the legacies of the Easter rising renewed attention, placing a young modern Ireland in the context of Europe and the non-European world over the past 100 hundred years and looking at post 1945 decolonization up to Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles.’
In January, Professor David Fitzpatrick, School of Histories and Humanities, TCD, delivered a lecture looking at the intermediate course between the study of events and that of their commemoration, including Easter week 1916. In his lecture ‘Instant History: 1912, 1916, 1918’ he looked at the ways in which ‘actors and observers experience contemporary events as if they were living out history and living in history.’ He described commemorations, anniversaries and jubilees as having shifted into ‘political constructions of the past’, which produce ‘soft, easily digestible history’ and which neatly avoid ‘the hard questions of history’.
In the second lecture in the 2016 series, Dr Kate O’Malley examined the impact the violence of the Irish revolutionary period had on Indian nationalists 15 to 30 years after the Rising. ‘The Indian movement was not exclusively a non-violent one. Many physical force nationalists used the Irish violent model as their blueprint. Ghandi did not.’ In her talk, Dr O’Malley, Assistant Editor of the Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP), proposed that violent nationalist events such the Chittagong Armoury Raid of 1930 are perhaps less well-known outside of India as they go against the ‘accepted historical narrative’ of non-violent Ghandian struggle against the Raj.
Commenting on the concluding lecture, Professor John Horne, Former Director of Trinity Centre for War Studies said ‘we’ve tried to trace the legacies of Europe’s most violent century ever’, which, with the centenary this year has included looking specifically at Ireland.
Professor Horne outlined the key questions which were the focus of this three yearlong series: ‘How have Europeans lived with the memories?’, ‘How have these memories changed them?’
Looking at the post-war periods forced Europeans to confront the violence that had torn them apart. The fate of the continent was decided during these post-war periods, Prof Horne argued – and not during the war itself. ‘Wars were less the turning points in modern European history than the ways in which those wars were resolved and peace was made.’
The three year lecture series was organized by the Trinity Centre for War Studies (School of Histories and Humanities) and the Trinity Centre for European Studies (School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies) in association with the Trinity Long Room Hub and supported Trinity’s Identities in Transformation research theme.
To mark National Proclamation Day on the 15th of March 2016, an academic symposium entitled The 1916 Proclamation in its National and International Context was organised by the Department of History in association with the Trinity Long Room Hub and brought together over 12 of Trinity’s scholars to show the influence of revolutionary proclamations in France and in the US on the 1916 Rising.
Professor of Modern History Patrick Geoghegan said that the 1916 Proclamation is often misquoted and misunderstood, and its sentiment is far removed from the founding principles of the Irish state which later emerged: “So many politicians quote the line about cherishing the children of the nation equally, but in the context of the document it is clearly a reference to all the people on the island, Unionists as well as Nationalists, Protestants as well as Catholics, and not to little children. 1916 left behind an ideal and a reality. The ideal was the iconic Proclamation, the reality was the state which emerged out of the war of independence a few years later. The reality has not always matched the ideal, and for many the 1916 Proclamation remains both an inspiration and an indictment, a Declaration of Independence, as well as a vision for a better future.”
Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History and Director of the Trinity Centre for Contemporary Irish History warned that the Proclamation must be carefully read: ‘It is not a draft constitution for the Irish people, it is a speech.’ Rather than considering the Proclamation as some sort of democratic document, Professor O’Halpin argued that the Proclamation was intended to be purely a ‘powerful piece of rhetoric’.
From the School of English, Professor Christopher Morash, Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing said that four of the signatories of the Proclamation – McDonagh, Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett - were playwrights who had their plays performed before the rising. He looked at the themes of the plays and spoke of the theatre of 1916. ‘One of the things that strikes us when we look at the Proclamation is just how theatrical it sounds – 'Irish men and Irish women in the name of god and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland through us summons her children to the flag and fights for her freedom.’ Professor Morash said that there is a sense of inevitability about the Proclamation as there is about a play.‘We know for example that a play has been prepared for us in a certain way, and we know it is going to have a certain outcome.’
The six previous rebellions in the past 300 years referred to in the Proclamation were discussed at the symposium by Trinity experts who assessed the influence of each of these rebellions – 1641, 1690, 1798, 1803, 1848, and 1867 – on the events of 1916.
On Easter Monday, Trinity College Dublin served as one of the key locations for commemoration events in the capital city as part of RTÉ's Reflecting the Rising event. In partnership with RTÉ, Trinity hosted a full day of public talks and debates, exhibitions and music to mark the Rising. Events ranged from outdoor activities and sport to music with the Trinitones and the Trinity Céilí Band with numerous Trinity scholars delivering talks throughout the day.
The Trinity Long Room Hub hosted a panel discussion reflecting on women in 1916 Ireland and in contemporary Ireland in the last week of its commemoration activities on the 1916 Rising. Gender equality, status, armed struggle and organisations such as Cumann na mBan were discussed during this discussion which drew together colleagues from diverse disciplines around the college including – Computer Science, History, Ageing and Psychology. Susan McKay, Journalist and Writer and former CEO of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, addressed the audience on the continuing challenges women in 2016 Ireland face.
While the Proclamation was a radicalizing force for women, their hopes were soon dampened by the male volunteers who would not easily accept new found changes to women’s status away from the home, said Dr Maryann Valiulis. The former Director of the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies at Trinity College Dublin and author of forthcoming book The Making of Inequality: Women, Power and Gender in the Irish Free State delivered a talk entitled 1916: The Promise of Equality; the Endurance of Patriarchy at Monday’s event in the Trinity Long Room Hub.
Dr Valiulis spoke of the central role of Cumann na mBan – the Irish republican women's paramilitary organisation – which Dr Valiulis argued played more than a supporting part in Irish history, becoming a ‘very independent and confident organisation.’ She told the audience that as women were not seen as a threat by the British soldiers, their ability to carry out many activities around the Rising was of central value to the volunteers. ‘When the Irish volunteers wanted to get different messages across the city or to parts of the country during the Anglo Irish war, they enlisted the services of young Cumann na mBan members who chatted up the soldiers and hence were allowed pass through enemy lines unimpeded and unsearched.’
Dr Valiulis argued that many of the volunteers both men and women were radicalized through the activities of the Rising – but many of those who went on to form the Irish free state were not. ‘Was the Proclamation of the Republic one of empty promises or did it hold out hope that there would be gender equality?’
Susan McKay called on ‘our feminist historians, writers like MacCool, Margaret McCurtin, Margaret Ward, Mary McAuliffe and many others to put the ‘womanly’ facts back into our history' and said 'we need our poets and novelists to write about experience that is specifically female in this country.’
McKay, addressed the audience on The Persistence of Courage – the Pervasiveness of Sexism - Women in Ireland in 2016. ‘The equality for women which was promised in the Proclamation of 1916 did not materialise - in fact women’s inequality became institutionalised in the 1937 constitution and successive Irish governments have ignored the issues.’
McKay highlighted the struggle which ensued for Irish women to obtain fundamental rights in the face of the indifference of successive Irish governments.
‘We have had to rely on the EU to get rid of outrageous anomalies like the marriage bar - young women today find it scarcely credible that until 1974 getting married meant the end of a woman’s career. However, those young women still don’t have the right to make decisions about their own reproductive health.’
The panel discussion included Professor Eileen Drew from the School of Computer Science and Statistics and Director of the Centre for Women in Science and Engineering Research (WISER); Professor Linda Doyle of the School of Engineering and Director of CONNECT; Professor of Gerontology Rose Anne Kenny and Principal Investigator and founder of The Irish Longitudinal study on Ageing (TILDA); and Professor Emeritus of Psychology Sheila Greene, former Director of the Children’s Research Centre.
Scholars from the Arts and Humanities were particularly active in bringing new perspectives on the commemorations of the 1916 Rising to a wide media audience both nationally and internationally:
International coverage of Trinity’s Arts and Humanities experts on 1916:
- NBC: Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, and Eunan O'Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin reflected on the international significance of Ireland's rebellion as it marks its centenary in 'Dublin's Easter 1916 Uprising', here
- BBC: Professor Eunan O'Halpin commented on 100 years of Anlgo-Irish relations here; Professor Jane Ohlmeyer provided the BBC Commentary of the rising Parade here; and Professor John Gibney described Trinity's role in a walking tour of Dublin with BBC UK.
- Sydney Morning Herald Online: Professor Eunan O'Halpin contributed to 'Anzacs and the Easter Rising 1916: Australia's role in Ireland's past' here. This was also covered in The Canberra Times and Melbourne's The Age.
- ARD: Professor Eunan O'Halpin discussed the beginning of the end of British rule for German ARD's coverage of the Easter Rising here
National media coverage:
- The Sunday Business Post also released a special centenary supplement ‘Remembering the Rising’ which included an article by Professor Jane Ohlmeyer reflecting on the events of the Rising.
- Professor Eunan O‘Halpin considered, in an Irish Times article, how the Easter Rising document did not reflect the range of views of its seven signatories. Read more here
- Professor Eunan O'Halpin joined The Right Hook and Marian Finucane Show (beginning at the 01:14:22 minute mark) to discuss the Easter Rising and its impact on Ireland today. The Right Hook: Newstalk, 25 March 2016 & The Marian Finucane Show, 27 March 2016
- Patrick Geoghegan, Professor of History at Trinity College Dublin, reflected on how the commemoration of 1916 was problematic almost from the beginning in the Irish Independent article available here.
- To mark the year of commemorations, Trinity College Library has been delving into their 1916 special collections, highlighting diverse written materials and related accounts of the Rising in a public weekly blog called Changed Utterly: Ireland and the Easter Rising
- The Proclamation Translation event on the 15th of March was hosted by the Provost Patrick Prendergast with the Trinity Centre for Literary Translation. To view full details of the Proclamation translations please click here
- Trinity College Dublin was also the first Irish university to host a major 1916 event outside of Ireland, when it joined with The Institute of Irish Studies, at the University of Liverpool, to host a debate on 1916 in London.
- The Department of History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College Dublin held a special art history symposium entitled ‘RuinNation: The ruin in Irish art and visual culture 1916-2016.’
- Other centenary initiatives from Trinity’s Arts and Humanities included the School of English Evening Lecture Series: Literature and Revolution and the Department of History’s Free Online History Course – Irish Lives in War and Revolution.
- To find out more on Trinity’s ‘Decade of Commemoration’, please click here
Dr Tomás Irish, Associate Director of the Centre for War Studies, TCD, published a book entitled Trinity in War and Revolution, 1912-23 looking at how Trinity students, staff and alumni experienced this pivotal period in both Irish and global history.
Professor Gerald Dawe of the School of English presented his new book Of War and War's Alarms: Reflections on Modern Irish Writing at the Reflecting the Rising event held at Trinity College Dublin in partnership with RTÉ. The book looks at the impact of war and revolution on the Irish poets and novelists from World War 1 through the 1916 Rising and up until the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer | Trinity Long Room Hub | firstname.lastname@example.org | 01 896 3895