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A Decade of Centenaries: Commemorating Shared History

John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies, UCD
Thursday, 20 May 2010

Professor Jennifer Todd (IBIS), An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, TD and Dr Hugh Brady (UCD President)

Professor Jennifer Todd (IBIS), An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, TD and Dr Hugh Brady (UCD President)

'We are beginning a decade of centenaries, when the main features of political life on this island were set, and it has taken a century to overcome many of the conflicts generated at that time. It is necessary to understand and explain how these conflicts were generated, and to do so in a way that allows all of us, in both parts of the island and indeed in Britain, to move beyond the causes of conflict and to use the experience to help those caught in conflict in other parts of the globe. This is a task that signals the engagement of scholars in the university with issues of public political importance.'

With these words, UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady, opened the 2010 IBIS Annual Conference, 'A Decade of Centenaries: Commemorating Shared History'. He then added: 

'The Institute for British Irish Studies (IBIS) was founded ten years ago by Professors Coakley and Laffan precisely to further this project. Here research, teaching, and the needs of public life converge. Here at UCD we are proud that it is the only centre on the island with such a strong cross-border focus, that its importance has been recognised by the Department of the Taoiseach and that it has moved ahead to focus also on the wider comparative and global lessons that can be drawn from conflict and settlement in Northern Ireland – the mission of the Department of Foreign Affairs Conflict Resolution Unit. The annual conference is the most public of the wide range of activities coordinated around IBIS – research, publications, an evening lecture series, an active research cluster of staff, doctoral and post-doctoral fellows who engage both in individual and in larger scale collective research.'

For Dr Brady's welcome address please click here.

IBIS Chair, Sir George Quigley followed the welcome address by offering some reflections on the general theme of commemoration, noting that this decade comes 50 years after the 1960s, which was densely populated with commemorative occasions. Sir George cited the French philosopher Ernest Renan who believed that national solidarity required 'the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories' but who also recognised that, in the interests of preserving that solidarity, the art of forgetting as well as remembering might be necessary.

For Sir George's full speech click here.

The conference took place on Thursday, 20th May at the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies.  Special guest speaker was An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, TD, who stressed the need for all to recognise our shared history in the coming decade. 

'For most of the last century when we looked across the border, we saw and were wary of the 'other',” he said.  “We forced each other into making choices, into defining ourselves in exclusive terms.  We failed to recognise that, even though we have different traditions and perspectives, what we share is much more important than what separates us.'

'We collectively failed to capture the complexity of identities on the island.'

'For too long, we concentrated on our differences.'

'For too long, those differences were magnified.'

'And for too long, the similarities and commonality of our interests were forgotten or ignored.'

'We created separate histories - British and Irish, orange and green, republican, nationalist, unionist, loyalist - deep wells from which we thought we could draw succour,' said An Taoiseach.

'In homes and in schools across this island, we grew up knowing and hearing only one set of stories, singing only one set of songs.'

'Gradually, in recent years, a recognition has emerged that regardless of whether we consider ourselves to be Irish, or British, or both, our history is - inescapably - a shared one.'

'Our island story cannot be accurately viewed or properly understood through a single prism.'

'The events of that formative decade a century ago do not belong exclusively to one tradition or another.'

'They are threads in the tapestry of all our histories.'

For the full speech by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen please go to the (opens in a new window)Dept of the Taoiseach website.

To view An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen's keynote address, 
introduced by Dr Hugh Brady, click on link below

(opens in a new window)

Mr Nelson McCausland, MLA, Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure addressed the audience on the topic of a 'shared future'.

'A "shared future" should be a priority for every government department but DCAL, which deals with culture, has a particularly important role in shaping that "shared future"'.

Mr McCausland added, 'In the very near future we will enter a decade of 100th  anniversaries  in Northern Ireland and those anniversaries cover the period from the Ulster Covenant in 1912 through to the formation of Northern Ireland and the Free State in 1921.' 

'Other events in that period include the start of the First World War, the Battle of the Somme, the 1916 Easter Rising, and the end of the First World War.' 

'These are important dates and important anniversaries and ignoring them is not an option but how are we to approach them?'  

'These anniversaries are to be welcomed as opportunities for celebration, commemoration and inspiration but they are also opportunities to examine, re-evaluate and interrogate the past.'

For Mr McCausland's full speech, click here.

Academic and media speakers included: David Adams (Irish Times), Ian Adamson (The Somme Association), Brian Feeney (Irish News), David Hoey (Apprentice Boys' Maiden City Festival), John Horne (Trinity College Dublin), Tony Kennedy (Community Relations Council), Brigid Laffan (University College Dublin), Evanthia Lyons (Queen's University Belfast), Marc Mulholland (University of Oxford), Margaret O'Callaghan (Queen's University Belfast), Daltun O Ceallaigh (Setanta Initiative), John O'Dowd (University College Dublin), Ronnie Pedlow (Parades Commission), Sir George Quigley, Bill Rolston (University of Ulster).

To view the conference programme click here