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CofI Primate warns against abuse of memory

By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 February, 2016

With 4,000 events scheduled for 2016 to commemorate the Rising, the “danger is that a future focus will be lost in the minutiae of ‘Risingology’."

Archbishop Michael Jackson

The Church of Ireland Primate has warned Irish society of the repercussions of abusing memory in this year of commemorations from a fractured understanding of Irish history.

In an address on ‘Reconciliation and Revolution – A Harmony Revisited’, Archbishop Michael Jackson warned that “History, as well as being an analysis and a narrative, is a commodity for those who wish to use it and to abuse it as such.”

Addressing students at Dublin City University, he said inherited or wilful divisiveness and division are greatly to be watched and monitored, challenged and corrected in a year of centenary commemoration, “if we are to avoid anointing the past and allowing it to seep its way uncriticised into the making of future policy and practice and politics.”

In 2016, the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough said the Republic and Northern Ireland have opportunities for an engagement that will allow people to focus on remembering and forgetting, forgiving and ‘futurifying’.

Speaking of where he grew up in Co Fermanagh, the Archbishop talked of the Troubles and the bombings which took place in Fermanagh and Tyrone and highlighted the development of “a working understanding of gracious accommodation of difference and of the Other” in Enniskillen.

The Archbishop was launching DCU’s 2016 Centenary programme which aims to mark the centenary of the Rising around five core principles: remember, reflect, reconcile, re–imagine and celebrate.

“My suggestion is that the commemorations of 1916 in 2016 can be a place and a space of critical and creative dissent,” he stated.

The recognition, however tentative on the part of some at the start, of the valid place in Irish history of World War I in the centenary of its outbreak in 2014 began to move all of us away from a “manufactured majoritarianism” about national identity in the Republic, he suggested.

Those who had been sidelined and silenced as disloyalists and the descendants of such disloyalists were given a belated voice again within history and “released from the shame of the suppression of memory”.

He added that a further fact emerged and, despite its blinding obviousness – some people go to war because of idealism. Some people go to war because there is no food, no room, no work at home.

Dr Jackson also noted that for every person who was fighting in the vicinity of the GPO in 1916, up to sixteen times as many Irishmen were fighting at the Western Front at the same time.

“Let us add also that the children and the women and the aged killed during the Rising remain largely forgotten except for the sterling efforts of Joe Duffy in raising to our consciousness The Children of 1916; and some of them ‘were Protestants.’” He highlighted.

He said the other side of this coin is the Battle of the Somme.

“The pivotal role that it has played in the construction of a national psychology and identity of what is today Northern Ireland is incalculable. The Somme has come to relate primarily to one section of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland but has, and continues to have, repercussions on all sections of the community.”

But he acknowledged that something that is over–identified by and with one section of the community inevitably alienates and disenfranchises other sections of the same community.

He underlined that many in the Republic may still not be aware of the extent to which the Commemoration of 1966 alienated those in Northern Ireland at the time who were of a “different political affiliation and blood–line of identity”.

Addressing the Troubles and the bombing of Enniskillen on Remembrance Day on 8 November 1987, as well as the Omagh bomb on 15 August 1998, he highlighted how the two atrocities had affected a mixture of local people and holidaymakers from outside Ireland, people who were shopping, window–shopping, buying school uniforms and “perhaps most innocent of all: pencils for school”.

“It remains fascinating to me that those for whom this concentrated and iconic act of violence and murder meant so much have never publicly or sufficiently come forward to name it as their own act,” he said.

In 2016, Archbishop Jackson said, in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, we are faced with opportunities for remembering and forgetting; forgiving and ‘futurifying’.

“Forgiveness requires a combination of remembering and letting go in order to liberate the same self from the need to hate the other and therefore from actually hating the other; ‘futurifying’ is the best outcome of dissent as it provides scope for a future with difference as well as a different type of future. In this way, a restored harmony is possible. But all of this is hard work. And all of this requires intentionality, understanding, compassion and altruism.”

With well nigh four thousand events scheduled for 2016 to commemorate the Rising, the Archbishop warned that the “danger is that a future focus will be lost in the minutiae of ‘Risingology’. This would be a pity and an opportunity squandered.”

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