It is my great pleasure to be opening this discussion on the seminal event in the history of Ireland that was the Easter Rising of 1916. I am especially pleased to be sharing this exercise in collective reflection with such a distinguished panel of scholars – all of whom have contributed to enhancing our understanding of the founding moments of our State.
May I, then, take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of so many historians, in Ireland and abroad, who – with the benefit of newly available archival material – have enabled us to gain a deeper grasp of the cultural and intellectual ebullience that stirred the Ireland of 1916, the overlapping loyalties and passions held by the men and women of the time, the influences of the Enlightenment, romanticism, mysticism, suffragism, socialism, pacifism – all the complexities of the wider global context of which they were part and from which they drew.
It is especially fitting that we undertake this discussion here, in this Round Room of the Mansion House, where, in January 1919, the first meeting of the First Dáil was held. This was a key moment in our history, when the revolution of 1916 was to take on the form of a parliamentary democracy.
?The presence of eminent historians here today also reminds us of the complicated relationship between the act of commemoration and the discipline of history. History and commemoration operate, of course, on different registers. Commemoration inevitably involves a selection of events, actors, ideas and consequences and it requires a dialectic between remembering and forgetting that tends to be mediated through the prism of contemporary concerns.
There is always a risk, then, that commemoration might be exploited for partisan purposes, and some historians have rightly warned us against the perils posed to historical truth by any backward imputation of motives, any uncritical transfer of contemporary emotions onto the past.
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