Interpreting 1916

Different generations have commemorated 1916 in different ways. Academics and commentators have disagreed in their interpretation of its significance, their opinions sometimes influenced as much by their own political leanings as by knowledge of the subject. Regardless of how one interprets its impact, however, there can be no doubt that a knowledge of 1916 and the events that followed is crucial to our understanding of the history and political development of modern Ireland.

Leabhar na hAiséirghe, by Art O’Murnaghan

In 1923, a committee was formed to commemorate those who had died in 1916 and the War of Independence. Public subscriptions funded the project and it was decided to commission an illuminated vellum book, Leabhar na hAiséirghe (Book of the Resurrection). O'Murnaghan was born in Southampton in 1872. Of Irish descent, he moved to Dublin in 1898 and became an enthusiastic member of the Gaelic League. A self-taught artist, he excelled as an illuminator, calligrapher and stage designer. He worked on the project initially from 1924 to 1928, taking up to a year to complete each page. When he resumed work in 1937, the original committee had disbanded, and funding was provided by Joseph McGarrity, a wealthy Irish-born Philadelphia art patron. By 1952, O’Murnaghan had completed 26 exquisite pages, inspired by ancient Irish manuscripts, oriental art and the artist’s own mysticism.

Remembering 1916

The disillusionment caused by civil war, partition and economic hardship ensured that early commemorations of 1916 and the War of Independence were rather low-key. In 1936 Eamon de Valera was instrumental in having the Roll of Honour drawn up. This was a list of all the 1916 garrisons, signed by the survivors or, in the case of the deceased, by the senior surviving officers. The 25th anniversary in 1941 included an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland and the issuing of medals for both 1916 and War of Independence veterans. The most dramatic commemoration was for the 50th anniversary in 1966. Military parades, pageants, re-enactments, films and exhibitions commemorated the events of 1916. In the decades that followed, events in Northern Ireland overshadowed the annual commemoration and the Easter military parade was discontinued in the 1970s. The 75th anniversary in 1991 was a considerably more subdued occasion. The 90th anniversary in 2006, for which this exhibition was prepared, was marked in a less reserved fashion, and included numerous events, celebrations and a substantial military parade.

In this Exhibition
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