The Decade of Renewal: How the past allows us take stock of the present

‘The Decade of Renewal’ is the title of a series of talks at Cork City Library, talks that organiser Johnny Hanrahan, of creative projects company, ‘Chameleon,’ describes as a communal taking stock. City librarian, Liam Ronayne, has a long-term library project entitled ‘History is to Blame,’ also examining the relevance of Ireland’s period of rebellion.

The Decade of Renewal: How the past allows us take stock of the present

“It’s almost identical in ethos to what Liam has conceived,” says Hanrahan. “Our mutual concern is the ‘Decade of Commemoration’, from 1913 to 1923. But the word ‘commemoration’ suggests being at a distance from events. Many people that I’ve spoken to feel that now is a golden opportunity for us, as a nation, to reflect on the revolution, the counter-revolution that followed it, and the many contortions we’ve been through over the last 100 years. It’s a good time to take stock, particularly after the last five years.”

Hanrahan describes the energy of the Celtic Tiger years as “naive and almost the equivalent of a teenage break-out. Now, a more mature thought process should be applied to who we are and where we’re going.”

Hanrahan has taken famous quotations from the likes of Pádraig Pearse, WB Yeats and Oscar Wilde to kick off each of the four events he is curating. In the first, on April 10, cultural theorist and retired professor of psychology at UCD, Ciarán Benson, will interview Ireland’s figurative painter, Robert Ballagh.

“Ciarán is very interested in how the individual relates to society. As a former chairman of the Arts Council, he has ideas about what the arts can do as a means of liberating society. I thought it would be a good idea for Ciarán to have almost a psychological consultation with Robert, on our behalf. Robert has consistently championed the republican reality. He has critiqued the State as a non-republic. Both of these men would be associated with critical thinking and artistic expression.”

On May 1, there will be an event “that is very much the voices of the people. Twenty people have been invited to speak for three minutes each on the theme of Yeats’s line from ‘Easter, 1916’: ‘a terrible beauty has been born.’ The speakers can talk about their own lives, abstract philosophy, or what happened to them on their holidays. It can be about anything. The idea is to create a mosaic of impressions and responses to Yeats’s famous quote.”

Among the speakers are journalist, Rachel Andrews, Jim O’Donovan from Cork City Council and teacher, Daithí Ó hAodha. The third event, on May 14, will be a political discussion. “Four people are being invited to comment on the statement that ‘you have disgraced yourselves again.’ That was Yeats’s incredibly arrogant and patronising dismissal of everyone but himself. I’ve chosen it, because most of us try to disclaim responsibility for the disgrace that is our history over recent years. Fianna Fáil has been identified pretty much exclusively for what has happened. But the fact that most of the nation voted for them has been conveniently forgotten.”

Speakers include UCC historian, Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil, and chairperson of the Cork Chamber of Commerce, Gillian Keating. At the final event, on May 28, four speakers will reflecting on Oscar Wilde’s line from Lady Windermere’s Fan: ‘we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ There will be contributions from businessman, Ernest Cantillon, and innovation culture specialist, Marilien Romme.

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