1966 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and in this week’s post we take a look back at some of the golden jubilee commemorations. In addition to official events in the Republic sponsored by the government’s commemoration committee, local ceremonies and celebrations took place in all 32 counties in Ireland. The Taoiseach Seán Lemass hoped that in addition to honouring the past, the State’s commemorations would look to the future and present the successes of modern Ireland to the wider world.
The souvenir publication Cuimhneachán, 1916-1966: a record of Ireland’s commemoration of the 1916 rising (Dublin: Department of External Affairs, 1966) was compiled as a pictorial record of the State commemorations which took place throughout April 1966. Our copy, inscribed by President Éamon de Valera, was presented to the Library on 23 May 1967 on behalf of the Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken.
The volume provides a day-by-day account of events. The official ceremonies began on Easter Sunday 10 April with a military parade down Dublin’s O’Connell Street attended by some 600 veterans of the Rising. Approximately 200,000 spectators gathered in the city centre for the celebration. Later that afternoon the President laid a wreath in Kilmainham Gaol and formally opened the historical museum. The Gael-Linn film, An Tine Bheo (The Living Flame), premiered in the Savoy Cinema in Dublin on Easter Sunday night. The following day churches of all denominations held religious ceremonies to mark the anniversary. At noon the President formally opened the Garden of Remembrance and later that evening Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ) presented a commemorative concert from the Gaiety Theatre featuring a cantata composed by Brian Boydell, ‘A terrible beauty is born’. A programme for the concert is held in our collections.
RTÉ, which had begun its television broadcasting on New Year’s Eve 1961, brought the official ceremonies into homes across Ireland where an estimated 55% of households owned or rented a television set. In devising its commemoration schedule the station considered its dual audience: on the one hand a generation born since the Rising and on the other men and women who had lived through the struggle for Irish independence. On Easter Sunday night the station aired the first half-hour part of Insurrection, a dramatic re-enactment of the story of Easter week 1916, broadcast over eight days. The series was written by Hugh Leonard and produced by Louis Lentin (Lentin’s archive was donated to the Library of TCD by his family in 2015).
Two pageants, primarily aimed at Ireland’s youth, were also televised: Bryan MacMahon’s Seachtar Fear, Seacht Lá (Seven Men, Seven Days), which was commissioned by the GAA and staged in Belfast’s Casement Park (having been originally performed in Croke Park on 17-19 March), and Tomás MacAnna’s Aiséirí: Glóir-réim na Cása (Resurrection: The Easter Pageant), which was staged at Croke Park with five performances during Easter week. On Sunday 17 April some 20,000 students from 200 Dublin schools attended a special performance of the latter. On Friday 22 April schoolchildren all over Ireland honoured those who had died in the Rising at special church services. A framed copy of the Proclamation of the Republic in English and Irish was unveiled in every school and schoolchildren also received a copy of the commemorative booklet Oidhreacht 1916-1966.
Organisations throughout Ireland marked the jubilee in their own way. Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), for example, renamed major railway stations around the country after 1916 revolutionary leaders and Dublin buses bore the commemoration emblem, the ‘Sword of light’ or ‘Claíomh Solais’. This was the symbol for the commemoration year adopted by the government’s commemoration committee. The emblem is shown here on the leather binding of our copy of Cuimhneachán, 1916-1966.
Here in Trinity College Dublin, the Professor of Modern History, Dr T.W. Moody, delivered a public lecture at the College on 20 April 1966 about the Young Irelander Thomas Davis (1814-45), a TCD graduate. A statue to Davis had been unveiled by the President earlier in the week at College Green.
For further reading about the 1966 commemorations see Roisín Higgins, Carole Holohan and Catherine O’Donnell’s article ‘1966 and all that: the 50th anniversary commemorations’ (History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 2) and the compilation of essays edited by Mary E. Daly and Margaret O’Callaghan, 1916 in 1966: commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007). For a detailed account of RTÉ’s schedule on both television and radio see Cathal Brennan’s article A TV pageant: the golden jubilee commemorations of the 1916 Rising and also the RTÉ Archives for original footage of some events.
Stephanie Breen, Assistant Librarian
Acknowledgements: Images from Cuimhneachán, 1916-1966 (Dublin: Department of External Affairs, 1966) are reproduced by kind permission of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We would also like to thank Government Publications, Office of Public Works, for allowing us to reproduce the cover of Oidhreacht: 1916-1966 (Baile Átha Cliath: Oifig an tSoláthair, ).
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