16/01/20

Speech by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, at the Decade of Centenaries programme announcement for 2020

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Lord Mayor of Cork (Councillor John Sheehan (FF)), Tánaiste, Mayor of the County of Cork (Councillor Christopher O’Sullivan (FF)), Oireachtas colleagues, councillors, dhaoine Uaisle agus a Chairde,

Is cúis áthais dom a beith anseo um thráthnóna agus táim buíoch libh as ucht an fáilte a chuireadh romham.

As the Cabinet Minister responsible for State commemorations and the Decade of Centenaries, I have to say that what better location for today’s announcement than Cork City Hall! A building steeped in history.

And what better time to look forward to this year’s plans for commemorations than the second day of the new year.

A special word of thanks to the team in Cork City Council. We really appreciate the work you’ve put in to organise and host today’s event.

I note that 1920 was a year of two elections, in January and June – let’s wait and see if, a century on, this has any bearing on our own big day later this year!

1920 was a hugely significant year for many reasons. It was a defining year in the War of Independence. It was a year that saw a heart-breaking amount of violence, trauma and despair. But it was also one which saw Ireland take important steps towards nationhood:

  • In January Tomas MacCurtain was elected Lord Mayor of Cork, later to be brutally assassinated;
  • In March the Black and Tans arrived in Ireland, to be followed in July by the Auxiliary Police Force;
  • In October Cork Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney died while on hunger strike in Brixton Jail;
  • In November the infamous and murderous events of Bloody Sunday took place in Dublin.
  • And in December British forces took revenge following an IRA ambush by setting Cork City Centre alight. Indeed Cork City Hall itself was destroyed in the Burning of Cork.

Sinn Fein activist Liam de Roiste provides a graphic picture of the horrific aftermath: “Last night in Cork was such a night of destruction and terror as we have not yet had. An orgy of destruction and ruin: the calm sky frosty red – red as blood with the burning city, and the pale cold stars looking down on the scene of desolation and frightfulness. The finest premises in the city are destroyed, the City Hall and the Free Library.”

These are only some of the many shocking and painful events that took place across Ireland in 1920 that we will be remembering over the next twelve months.

Clearly, we are entering the most challenging period as we remember the defining events in our nationhood. 1920 and the years that followed see stories of hurt, pain, loss of life and cruelty that is a world away from life a century on.

While this may be so, I want to appeal to all the people of Ireland to take this opportunity to engage with the events of 1920. It was a seminal year in our history. I encourage everyone to learn more about it and to take the time to reflect on what happened.

While one hundred years have passed, through our family connections and the stories of our parents, grandparents and great great-aunts and uncles, we can understand our very personal and familial links to our shared history.

Indeed, we are blessed to be joined this morning by Cathal MacSwiney Brugha, grandson of former Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney. I know we all share a deep respect for Cathal’s grandfather who was willing to sacrifice his own life for his ideals.

This period in our history should be remembered with an appropriate and sensitive programme. We will recognise the legitimacy of all traditions and value mutual respect and historical authenticity. Our aims is to better understand the events, remember those who suffered and died, and accept that the shared historical experience of those years gave rise to very different narratives and memories.

Through a greater understanding of the events that took place one hundred years ago, there will be a better chance of the peoples on our island and also in Britain having a greater compassion and respect for one another.

For many years, our shared history was bitterly contested.  By better understanding the past we share, while accepting that our views will often differ, we achieve a much richer appreciation of the complexities of our history.

As the Government Minister responsible for Commemorations and only the nineteenth female Cabinet Minister, I am particularly keen to see increased recognition of the role that women played in our country’s history a century ago.

Strong and inspiring women like Constance de Markievicz and Eilis Ni Fhearghail, the brave nurse of 1916 who accompanied Padraig Pearse to his surrender but doesn’t feature in the iconic photograph. All of these women deserve equal recognition for the leadership they provided in our country’s struggle for independence.

2020 will see the second year of the Markievicz Bursaries, €20,000 supports for five artists to produce new creative work to celebrate the role of women in the period covered by the Decade of Centenaries. We will also be supporting the Herstory project, which celebrates the life stories of many of Ireland’s truly pioneering and trailblazing women who have been forgotten about in much of our official history.

Cork was a key location for a huge number of the most significant events of 1920. That is why, as the Taoiseach previously indicated, it is only right that a major commemorative programme will take place throughout the year, hosted by Cork City Council, in collaboration with Cork County Council, with significant State support.

The programme for Cork this year includes a major commemoration with all of the requisite State ceremonial elements, a community event and a series of civic events, including exhibitions and support for communities and schools. Transformative events will be remembered including the deaths of two of the city’s first citizens, Tomás MacCurtáin and Terence MacSwiney; the Kilmichael Ambush and the burning of Cork City.

The leadership of Cork City Council and Cork County Council will encourage respectful engagement from people of all traditions, which is sensitive to the local context and underpinned by a generosity of spirit. I want to thank both bodies for their strong support for this year’s programme.  I also want to acknowledge the participation of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork Public Museum, Cork City and County Library Services, and University College Cork who will create unique opportunities for people of all ages to explore our past.

I want to thank the Expert Advisory Group on Centenary Commemorations, under the excellent stewardship of Dr Maurice Manning and Dr Martin Mansergh.  During this Decade of Centenaries, we have seen that exploring our history can be an empowering, enriching and healing process. It encourages us to look to the values that we want to preserve for the generations to come.

We should also recognise the valuable contribution of the All-Party Consultation Group on Commemorations.

I want to thank everyone in Cork City Council and Cork County Council who have responded to the Decade of Centenaries with such enthusiasm, commitment, imagination and integrity.  This year, communities across Cork City and County will continue to illuminate our heritage and honour the men and women who have played such an important role in our shared history and culture.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the members of the Commemorations Section of my Department, in particular Kevin Lonergan, Ronan Whelan and Orlaith Lochrin. You have shown huge enthusiasm and commitment to the Decade of Centenaries.

I will finish with a quote from The Expert Advisory Group “the goal of inclusiveness is best achieved, not by trying for an enforced common interest or universal participation but be encouraging multiple and plural commemorations, which remember the past while ensuring, as far as possible that the commemoration does not re-ignite old tensions.”

Gach rath oraibh sa bhliain amach romhainn. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

An Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, 23 Sráid Chill Dara,Baile Átha Cliath - D02 TD30 (01) 631 3800 / Íosghlao: 1890 383 000

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