He cited a string of party achievements and leading figures and claimed Labour could “look back with pride” on its first 100 years.
“All too often, the Labour movement has been written out of the official historical script by those who prefer to take a simple Celtic-Rangers view of Irish history,” he said, using a football analogy to refer to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
“This year, we have the opportunity to redress that balance. To honour the role played by Labour in shaping modern Ireland, from the time of our foundation to the present day.”
The speech referenced everyone from James Connolly to President Michael D Higgins, and ranged from Labour’s role in the 1913 Lockout to decriminalising homosexuality.
There was particularly loud applause when Mr Gilmore cited core Labour values and said the party had never been subject to adverse findings by a tribunal of inquiry.
“Our mission has always been to serve not kings nor kaisers, but the people of Ireland. We have done so with honour, and integrity, and no tribunal of inquiry has ever found otherwise.”
In his televised speech tonight, Mr Gilmore will deliver a much more generalised message addressing the country’s problems.
But last night’s address was all about buoying party members and seeking to convince them that Labour’s place was in government, despite the criticism it has received in coalition.
“In the course of our first century, we have had more than our fair share of difficult times. Looking back, we have been at our best when we have been unified.
“The great lesson from our history is that we should never stand back. Never be content to let others drive the agenda. Never walk away from problems, or confine ourselves to a narrow set of concerns… We are facing great challenges. But Labour is up for the challenge.”
Meanwhile, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said that fracking — a controversial form of mineral exploration — would not take place anywhere in Ireland until the Environmental Protection Agency reported on its safety or otherwise. This would take at least a year.
“The research will not be simple and it will not be produced overnight. The US has been examining this subject for the best part of three years,” he said.
“I can therefore promise you that we will have had at least one, if not two, more Labour Party conferences, and many more opportunities to debate this issue will have passed, before the question of the approval of any fracking operation arises.
“But unless and until I can be satisfied that there would be no unacceptable environmental or social impacts, there will be no hydraulic fracturing in this country.”
He was responding to motions on the issue tabled by Labour delegates at the conference, which continues in NUI Galway today.