In the early part of 2015 a number of individuals, community activists, groups from the world of culture, arts and tourism, historians and communities held a series of conversations as to how Belfast could remember, reflect, celebrate and commemorate our city and its intricate connection to the Easter Rebellion of 2016 and indeed the wider events of that period. These conversations culminated in the formation of a broad inclusive committee that would take forward a programme of work that would showcase The Belfast Story of 2016.
The 1916 Rebellion in terms of commemorating was very much viewed as ‘Dublin centric’, the reality however is much different with Belfast at the turn of the last century being a hotbed of political activity. Indeed, many of the leaders of the rising of ’16 were not only politically active in the city but lived and worked in the city.
At the time of writing and in hindsight, the development of a set of robust guiding principles agreed upon by the committee members was critical to the success of the programme of events. The guiding principles were:
The Anniversary of the Easter rebellion offers the possibility of marking/commemorating events while providing the opportunity to engage with a broad spectrum of Belfast public opinion.
Engage with all political perspectives in the complexity of our Republican history.
Create a dialogue around the events of the rebellion which is an invitation to a broad and progressive discourse.
We will be dignified in our approach to others by creating a narrative of hospitality.
Construct a process that invites its participants into an engagement that generates a deep curiosity and a willingness to look at the history of the Easter rebellion through many prisms.
Have an appeal for diverse age/gender/political grouping. Representative invite lists will reflect this imperative.
Locate events of 1916 within their wider historical context.
What worked well and what, if anything, didn't?
Events ranged from parades with tens of thousands of spectators with participation from Britain, the USA and relatives of those involved in 1916 through to intimate debates and discussions and community based theatre all the time empowering local citizens to proudly engage with, celebrate and commemorate their heritage and identity.
Many of the folk that attended and engaged recalled how Belfast has changed from when they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966. This case study, recognising the changed political climate will hopefully provide a useful template and understanding going forward of how respect, planning and remaining principled can deliver a programme that no one should fear.
Their remains physical built legacy across the city in the form of walking trails, plaques, stained glass art, murals and stories. Our programme featured in the Irish Government Centenary book. But perhaps the real legacy that should be remembered from our centenary programme is the engaging spirit that prevailed and guided our delivery.
Harry Connolly, email@example.com