Last Word: The Way Forward

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, TD, who launched the 2016 Centenary Program in New York City at the Consulate of Ireland, is pictured with Ambassador Anne Anderson and John Concannon, who spearheaded the commemorations. (Photo: James Higgins)

By Sharon Ní Chonchúir, Contributor
February / March 2017

Following the success of the 1916 commemorations, the Irish government has launched a five-year program to celebrate the wealth of Ireland’s creativity. 

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2016­ was a momentous year for Ireland as the country marked a century since the Easter Rising. However, it was only the beginning of what will be five years of commemorations as Ireland reflects on its march towards independence and 100 years of nationhood.

One of the ways in which the Irish government plans to celebrate key moments in the foundation of the State is through its new Creative Ireland program, which was launched by Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys at the Irish Consulate in New York in January. It aims to build on the unprecedented levels of public involvement in last year’s 1916 centenary commemorations.

“Last year provided a great opportunity for Ireland not just to reflect on the last 100 years and to celebrate our diverse culture but also to look ambitiously to the future,” said Minister Humphreys. “This is where Creative Ireland comes in. It would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t seize on the huge level of public engagement in the centenary year. We are aiming to capture that enthusiasm to drive a creative agenda in every county nationwide; the benefits of which we hope will be felt for generations to come.”

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Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys speaks at the launch of Creative Ireland earlier this year in New York (Photo: James Higgins).

 

The Creative Ireland program will be overseen by a government committee chaired by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. However, its director, John Concannon, will be responsible for its day-to-day running. John was previously involved with the Gathering and with last year’s centenary and learned a lot from both experiences.

“The Gathering came at a time when we were emerging from the recession and people had spent years despairing over the direction the country was taking,” he said. “The Gathering was a call to action for them, a chance for them to play their part in Ireland’s recovery.”

They were invited to participate just as much in the centenary celebrations. With the aim of involving as many people as possible, a series of meetings were organized throughout Ireland.

“We had intended to hold 26 meetings, one in each county,” said John. “But we had to hold 84 meetings to cater for the demand. More than 3,500 events took place as a result of those meetings. That response was off the charts compared to what we had expected.”

Looking back, certain events stand out for John. He is proud that the tricolor was presented to every national school in the country. “Two soldiers visited each school explaining the meaning of the flag,” he said. “They explained how its colors show that Ireland has always been an island of peace and plurality.”

Lt. Shannon  presents a copy of the 1916 Proclamation and an Irish flag to Conor and Kyla McDonagh in  Cornanool National School, Co. Mayo as part of the 2016 Flags for Schools program. Also pictured is school principal Ann O’Hara.

Lt. Shannon presents a copy of the 1916 Proclamation and an Irish flag to Conor and Kyla McDonagh in Cornanool National School, Co. Mayo as part of the 2016 Flags for Schools program. Also pictured is school principal Ann O’Hara.

Easter weekend was another highlight. “There was such a sense of pride to it all,” said John. “Not the fist-pumping, chest-thumping kind, but the intrinsic kind that comes from a sovereign nation that has a lot to be proud of.”

Minister Humphreys shares John’s positive memories of 2016. “If you look back on the weekend, our capital city was brought to life with arts and culture,” she said. “What is most important now is that we don’t lose focus on culture and creativity. We saw what was possible in 2016 and there is an onus now to build on that for the future.”

Just as meetings were held throughout Ireland to plan for 2016, meetings with local communities are currently taking place in every Irish county to plan for the commemorations to come.

So far, the program consists of five key pillars. The first is enabling creativity in the community and it involves an awards scheme to promote Irish artists at home and abroad; a scheme providing income support to low-earning artists; and an annual county of culture award which will allow individual Irish counties to showcase their cultural creativity over a 12-month period.

“And then we have Cruinniú na Cásca,” said John. “This will be an annual celebration that will take place every Easter Monday, starting this year. It will involve free cultural events throughout Ireland and it’s already generating a huge response from communities wanting to take part.”

The second pillar of the program will focus on elevating creative industries such as media, architecture, digital technology, fashion and crafts. Its initial project will be to develop Ireland’s potential as a global leader in film production, TV drama, documentary, and animation for the screen.

Just as the Proclamation of the Republic promised to cherish every child equally, the third pillar of the Creative Ireland program aims to foster the artistic potential of every child. It promises that every child in Ireland will receive tuition in art, music, drama, and computer coding.

Dancers perform during Dublin’s Reflecting the Rising events Easter weekend last year.

Dancers perform during Dublin’s Reflecting the Rising events Easter weekend last year.

Investing in infrastructure is the fourth pillar. This will include investment in the National Gallery, the National Library, the National Archives, and the National Concert Hall, as well as local arts and cultural centers.

The final pillar is unifying Ireland’s global reputation, which translates as articulating how we wish to be seen by the outside world. “The messages being conveyed about us are uncertain at the moment when you consider things like Brexit and Apple tax,” said John Concannon. “This is our chance to control our narrative internationally. We want to let people know that Ireland is a great place to live, which means it’s also a great place to visit, to invest and to study. The www.ireland.ie website will tell this story and signpost to various agencies that will help anyone who wants to live, visit, invest or study here.”

The Irish abroad are to be included in every aspect of Creative Ireland, just as they were in the centenary celebrations. “We partnered with our embassies and consulates to deliver the Ireland 2016 Centenary program overseas and they did a tremendous job with more than 1,000 events in 100 cities worldwide,” said Minister Humphreys. “It is important to us that the diaspora feels connected and involved. Their story is part of the

journey Ireland has come on over the last century.”

To date, events planned outside Ireland include performances in the U.S. by music groups The Gloaming and Téada; funding for music acts to attend the South by Southwest festival; and a variety of events to be held in the Irish Arts Center in New York.

“We’ll be announcing more through our website www.creative.ireland.ie in the near future,” said John Concannon. “We’re planning a lot of publicity around the Saint Patrick’s Day parades.”

John is looking forward to seeing just how Irish communities throughout the world choose to shape the Creative Ireland program. “The past few years have been ones of looking back at the heroic decisions and actions of the past, at the rocky road that culminated in the creation of our republic,” he said. “What I hope Creative Ireland does is look to the future, asking where we are and where we’d like to go.”

Whether or not it does this depends the involvement of as many different Irish communities as possible. “In 1966, we had a singular narrative to commemorate 50 years since the Rising,” said John. “It was seacht fear, seacht lá (‘seven men, seven days’). Last year’s commemorations were much more nuanced with multiple narratives. That’s the sign of a true and mature democracy. Considering the space we’re in now, I’m expecting Creative Ireland to reflect the hope, optimism, confidence and sense of possibility that Ireland and Irish people feel for the future. We have a lot of stories still to tell.” ♦

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For more information, see www.creative.ireland.ie

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