Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Presented at The Politics of Memory: Victimization, Violence and Contested Narratives of the Past International Conference at Columbia University, New York. 3rd December 2015


Like many countries, Ireland has a chaotic and tumultuous past which results in challenges for the state in presenting history to satisfy the education and expectation of both national and international audiences. The years between 1912 and 1922 were arguably the most transformative in modern Irish history as it was a decade of war, revolution and rapid social change. The 1916 Easter Rising- a failed rebellion against British rule- is synonymous as a moment in the past which represents Irish history, characterizes Irish culture and amplifies national identity. My paper will explore how the centenary commemorations of this historic event are a valuable opportunity for Ireland to engage with its past openly and creatively on a substantial platform.

Ireland is not alone in marking a transformative event that happened a century ago. A divided Middle East, a reunited Germany along with Poland, Czech/Slovak Republics and Hungary, will also mark milestone anniversaries in formations of their respective modern states. These countries are facing challenges of creating meaningful and informed commemorative events which must fully acknowledge the complexity of historical events and their legacy, the multiple readings of history and of the multiple identities and traditions which are part of a country’s historical experience. My paper will explore the key role that the state plays in the 2016 commemorative programme and I will examine the challenges it faces to ensure that the marking a politically significant event is measured, reflective and informed by a full acknowledgement of the complexity of history and its legacy.

Commemoration is the product of negotiation and the process of commemoration is an opportunity for a nations to collectively remind themselves of significant moments in history through a series of ceremonies, parades, cultural events, lectures, concerts and extensive literature which are provided by national and local organisations. Historians such as Diarmuid Ferriter, Roy Foster and Joe Lee are all united in their expression on the need for the Irish state to broaden frameworks and reconceptualise historical narratives and commemorative practices to affectively deal with the pluralist history of political events in Ireland. Historically, the commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising have tended to flip flop. In 1966, the 50th commemorations were momentous and large in scale whilst in 1991 for the 75th anniversary, the commemorations were low key and with events being organised by independent committees instead of the state. There are many pressures of commemorating the Easter Rising including how to commemorate a moment of political violence during a peace process, the threat of reducing historical remembrance to a costume drama and ensuring the state does not transform the commemorations into a non-problematic heritage event. I will demonstrate in particular how the advent of the academic field of visual culture- with its new ways of seeing, knowing, understanding and participating- generates particular kinds of commemorative practices. This includes technological advances in museum display techniques, increasing mobility of images and new evidence of historical events which broadens historical narratives.