All dimensions and perspectives on the insurrection against British Rule in 1916 in Dublin must be reflected in the anniversary programme, chairman of the organising committee Tom Hartley said.
The former Sinn Féin mayor acknowledged some unionists may not want to commemorate an event that effectively paved the way for Irish independence, but he said others appreciated the Rising’s significance in what was such an important historical period for everyone on the island.
“What I find inside loyalist communities is there are many, many people who are already engaging in history and hopefully we can create a template where we can deal with what I call the combustible period of Irish history in a way that allows engagement and discourse,” he said.
“There will be some who will engage, others who won’t. But we do think it is important for us from early on in this process to say ‘Look, we want this to be a period of hospitality, of bringing people in and getting other people’s views and dealing with difficult views of 1916’. We have no difficulty with that.”
Next year will mark two major centenaries in Irish history. While the 1916 Rising in Dublin is a seminal moment in republican history, the sacrifice made by Irish soldiers, both Protestant and Catholic, at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War is extremely important in the unionist narrative.
Mr Hartley was the main speaker as the programme of events to mark the Rising in Belfast was unveiled in the City Hall. Parades, re-enactments, lectures, exhibitions, cycle tours and a commemorative walking trail are all planned for next year. There will be a weekend of events focusing on the contribution of Winifred Carney, the Co Down-born suffragette, socialist and trade unionist who acted as secretary to one of the Rising’s leaders, James Connolly.
One of Ms Carney’s relatives, Desmond Cassidy, attended the launch in City Hall. “It’s the greatest thing that has come to pass in the family that this is all happening for Winifred at the moment,” he said.
“The more people that get to know about her, the more pleased the family are going to be. I look around the City Hall and I think to myself if Winifred was still alive and seeing what was happening here she would be well pleased.”