A nation rising: Éire á múscailt

By Mary N. Harris

As Ireland looks forward to 2016, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD launched NUI Galway’s 1916 Programme of Events, ‘A Nation Rising: Commemorating 1916 and Beyond’ in October 2015, as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.

The West of Ireland had particular significance in the years prior to the 1916 Rising; for those involved in the Gaelic and Anglo- Irish revivals, it was the repository of authentic Irish culture. Among these was Patrick Pearse, whose cottage at Ros Muc became a landmark of the revival. During the Rising, Co. Galway witnessed the largest mobilisation outside Dublin, of over 600 men and women. Some dreamed of a republic, others hoped for land reform. In Galway city, however, there was little appetite for rebellion, leading one Volunteer to describe it as ‘the most shoneen town in Ireland.’

NUI Galway’s commemorative programme examines a variety of perspectives on the Rising and, indeed, the revolutionary decade, at local, regional and national levels. It also considers the international contexts. A dozen conferences and a plethora of seminars and talks will explore this complex period from historical, legal, linguistic, literary, dramatic and cinematic perspectives. These seek to shed new light on events and their legacies. An exhibition will provide insights into the universities’ responses to political and cultural developments in this dramatic period.

The concept of sovereignty and the approaches to achieving it have a prominent place in this programme. While many events focus on political and military men, other voices will also be heard. One conference will examine children and childhood in the revolutionary period and other events consider the experiences of women – those involved in public life and those hidden from view. All of these events will be open to the public. While most are on campus a number are not: the Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour and Class has organised a number of seminars for the Mechanics Institute, reflecting its interest in engaging the wider public. A film festival on the theme of revolution will be held in Connemara in May, following a film conference on campus.

In order to promote research on the West of Ireland in this period, a scholar in residence has been appointed to the Moore Institute. In the coming year, Dr Conor McNamara will identify and investigate resources in NUI Galway’s library and archives and elsewhere for research into the political, social and cultural contexts of revolutionaries in the West of Ireland. He will also engage with local community groups in Co. Galway. In July 2016, he will lead a conference discussing recent research in this field and exploring competing narratives of the revolution in the West. A catalogue of sources and resources will be produced to facilitate further research on this theme.

A number of projects reflect the concerns of Gaelic revivalists’ interest in preserving Ireland’s heritage for future generations. Early twentieth-century Irish language recordings by Professor Tomás Ó Máille will be digitised and a digital exhibition will be created of recordings by Raidio na Gaeltachta relating to 1916. A catalogue of NUI Galway’s holdings of manuscripts collected by Douglas Hyde will also be prepared.

In recognition of the great interest in culture and the performing arts in years prior to the Rising, the University’s Arts in Action programme includes a number of performance based events. These will present music, songs and literary works composed during the revolutionary period as well as those popular at the time.

The commemoration is of particular interest to scholars in the humanities; we are revisiting an era of great cultural ferment and scholarly interest in our disciplines.

The excitement of Gaelic revivalists such as Patrick Pearse and Eoin MacNeill was palpable in their writings as they sought to raise awareness of the richness of Irish literature and culture. Thomas MacDonagh playfully considered the possibilities of translation and Eamonn Ceannt sought to promote interest in Irish traditional music, particularly in piping. While the military struggle diverted energies to some extent, serious scholarly work on early Irish law took place in Mountjoy jail!

Such work was seen as part of a national project. The Irish Review, a prominent review of the time, cited its objective as ‘the application of Irish intelligence to the reconstruction of Irish life.’ Inevitably we will consider what became of the optimism and idealism of the period, asking where Ireland stands now. In November 2016, NUI Galway will host a major national academic conference addressing Ireland’s position.

Almost fifty scholars have come forward with plans for commemoration. The programme has now developed a dynamic of its own, one project inspiring another. Participants have discovered colleagues in other disciplines with cognate interests. We can look forward to a highly stimulating year of intense debate, with clear potential for intellectual synergies.

Dr Mary Harris, is Senior Lecturer in History at NUI Galway and Co-ordinator of the University’s 1916 Commemorative Programme. She is also a member of the Government’s Expert Advisory Group on the Decade of Centenaries.
For more information on NUI Galway’s events commemorating the 1916 Rising visit www.nuigalway.ie/anationrising.