The period 1914-1923 was a defining period in Irish history with a series of events which changed the course of our history and led to the foundation of the State. The First World War, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War were events marked by heroism and blood sacrifice. We are now well into what is referred to as the decade of commemoration and in this the centenary year of the 1916 Rising events will be held throughout the country to commemorate that rising.
Commemoration is a well established practice in Ireland ever since the centenary commemoration of the 1798 Rebellion. Such commemorations while focusing on the events of the past act as an encouragement to historical research and inevitably lead to reinterpretation of our shared history. This is particularly true insofar as the 1916 Rising is concerned given the high volume of material which is now being made available both digitally and otherwise to the general public. Added to the records of the Bureau of Military History made available some years ago are the huge volume of military pension applications which enormously increase our understanding of past armed struggles.
The National Commemoration Programme is understandably centred on Dublin, which programme will be inclusive and non partisan, inclusive in the sense of acknowledging the various traditions which are part of Ireland’s history. This requires not only the Irish national story to be told but also the key events affecting Northern Ireland such as the Ulster Volunteers, the Larne gun running and the Somme, all of which are part of the Irish historical experience.
Commemorative events give us an opportunity to reflect on the past and to broaden our understanding of those events which we commemorate and so better our understanding of their historical context. On this island of Ireland we have a shared history, even if our understanding and appreciation of that complex history as between Northern Ireland and the Republic at times reflects divergent traditions. However when we commemorate our historical past, whether at national or local level, we must take account of those divergent traditions, thereby ensuring that the commemoration itself does not create further tension and disagreement.
Here in Athy the 1916 Rebellion will be remembered in a number of events planned to take place next March and April. The town’s only links with the events in Dublin in 1916 is through Mark Wilson, a young man born in Russellstown just outside the town in 1891. At 25 years of age he was a member of the First Battalion Dublin Brigade which under the command of Ned Daly fought in the area of the Four Courts during the Easter Rebellion. Wilson and his comrades were subsequently captured and in a statement made by Maynooth volunteer Patrick Colgan, Wilson was described as ‘a source of great encouragement’ to other volunteers who like Wilson were imprisoned following the Easter Rising. Athy man Mark Wilson who died in Dublin in 1971 will be honoured during the 1916 commemorations.
The Athy commemorations will commence on Tuesday 22nd March with the first of four lectures, all of which will be delivered in the town’s Arts Centre at Woodstock Street. The opening lecture will be given by James Durney who was appointed last year as historian in residence to Kildare County Council. His talk ‘Foremost and Ready - Kildare in the 1916 Rising’ will examine in detail the part played by Kildare men and women in the Rebellion of 1916. On 21st March Dr. Des Marnane who has written extensively on the history of County Tipperary will give his lecture under the intriguing title ‘Saving the Honour of Tipperary!! Tipperary in 1916’.
The following Tuesday, April 5th, Dublin author and historian Padraig Yeates who has written a number of well received books on different aspects of Dublin history will give a talk under the title ‘Looters, deserters and crime in Dublin during 1916’. The final lecture in the series will be given on Tuesday 12th April by Francis Devine, Trade Unionist and author. The subject will be James Connolly. All lectures start at 8.00 p.m. in the Arts Centre and admission is free.
As part of the 1916 commemoration a series of events will start in Athy on Saturday 9th April and end on Sunday 17th April. These will include an ‘Athy in 1916’ exhibition in the Heritage Centre, as well as a drama presentation and a performance by Athy’s Music and Dramatic Society. Other events still in the planning stage will be announced later. The commemoration events will finish on Sunday 17th April with the reading of the Proclamation and the raising of the Tricolour symbolising the birth of the nation state.