ARA Together call on controversial centenaries: 7 October 2020

The next ARA Together call will focus on the subject of marking controversial centenaries and commemorations. The call will take place on ARA’s Together Online Community at 4pm on Wednesday 7th October 2020.
The period 1912-23 has come to be regarded in Ireland as ‘The Decade of Centenaries.’ Centenaries from this period have included the Home Rule crisis (1910-14), the Ulster Covenant of 1912, the First World War (1914-18), the Battle of the Somme (1916), the Easter Rising of 1916, and the Irish War of Independence (1919-21).

The next couple of years will mark the centenaries of a number of particularly contentious historical events, including the partition of Ireland in 1921 and the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Earlier this year there was a very public backlash following the Irish Government’s decision to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Following days of controversy, the Irish justice minister shelved plans for an Irish state commemoration to remember the pre-partition police forces. 

These events are what led to the creation of two states within Ireland and although the incidents happened a hundred years ago, for many people they still resonate today and remain controversial and emotive issues. There are also very different narratives for interpreting these historical events, depending upon a particular community’s identity. Although these centenaries are particularly pertinent for Ireland, there are also ‘universal’ lessons that can be applied.
The call will be hosted by Stephen Scarth, Head of Public Services at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Stephen is responsible for all onsite and online customer related activities, as well as public engagement.
Stephen will be joined by Catriona Crowe who has previously held the roles of Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland and Manager of the Irish Census online project. Catriona is a regular contributor to broadcast and print media.
Stephen and Catriona have both spoken at several conferences organised by Universities Ireland and others on the subject of marking controversial centenaries and commemorations.
During the call, Stephen and Catriona will explore a number of themes, including:

  • Recognising that there are different perceptions/narratives, particularly around the partition of Ireland – there is a need to ensure ‘inclusivity’ and that all traditions are reflected in our activities.  
  • The use of language, e.g. one person’s commemoration might be another person’s trauma. Southern ‘unionists’ and Northern ‘nationalists’ were both adversely affected by the creation of a border in Ireland. Amongst NI public bodies, we prefer using the term ‘marking’ rather than ‘celebrating’ when referring to contentious centenaries.
  • Finding opportunities in our cataloguing, acquisitions and events to ensure the voices of each tradition are heard. Can we reprioritise cataloguing to better reflect other narratives? How do we find those absent voters?
  • Managing the different ways communities view historical event. Some events have historically been airbrushed out of history, a good example being when Irish soldiers returned from the First World War. While unionist soldiers were welcomed back by their communities and war memorials were erected, Irish nationalists returning from the war were almost shunned by their communities, with no war memorials or commemorations for those who had died.

Click here to sign up to the community and take part in the call.

Picture: Rip up British flag & call for Irish independence, 1920. Source: Flickr

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