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Clare historians frozen out of 1916 commemoration

WITH Easter 2016 just over six months away, the Banner County has not allocated enough funds to commemorate the event properly nor involved those with the best knowledge of the period, it has been claimed.

At This week’s meeting of Shannon Municipal District, Fianna Fáil’s Cathal Crowe criticised Clare County Council for the level of preparations to commemorate one of the seminal events in Irish history.

He said he will be calling on the council to increase the amount of funding allocated five-fold and to involve some prominent local historians in the preparations.

Regarding the sum he wants to see spent on commemorating the centenary, he told The Clare Champion, “I’d hope around €150,000. I just think €30,000 (the current figure) is insulting to those who fought for independence”.

In general terms, this country fails to honour those who fought for Irish freedom, he believes.

“I’m a realist; funding is limited for everything but this is the centenary. I lived in Belgium for a year and everywhere in that country, at every crossroads, there’s a World War I memorial and in Ireland we’re comparatively very poor to commemorate the events that gave rise to the birth of our nation.”

He was critical of the composition of the Steering Group that has been set up by the council to co-ordinate commemorations.

“We have a Steering Group and I have no input to it, even though I’ve a huge interest and I’ve a degree in history. Even more importantly there are people like Dr Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, who is an eminent historian and has written many books, there’s Dr Tomás Mac Conmara; there’s expertise they haven’t drawn on.”

Dr Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc was also scathing about the council’s preparations for the centenary.

“I’d ask why are there no historians on the steering committee? If you look at the Government’s Steering Committee, they tried to do it without historians and they ended up with that ridiculous video where they tried to mark 1916 without marking 1916. Diarmaid Ferriter brilliantly described it as ‘embarrassing, unhistorical shit’, that’s how he put it. I’d be worried that the steering committee seems to be made up of politicians and people within the council and I’d ask why they didn’t start by going to historians.”

The East Clare historian added, “I’ve had some tentative talks with the council but really it was at a late stage and I think the first people they should have called on were historians, who have the expertise in this. We’re not catching up trying to learn stuff before 1916. Other councils, like Kerry and Limerick, went to historians at an early stage and I hope Clare hasn’t made a mistake by not doing that.”

The coming years will also see commemorations of the War of Independence and the Civil War. He feels expertise will also be required for those.

“It’s not just the 1916 Rising, we’re coming up to the centenaries of the War of Independence and the Civil War and as things go on, you’ll be covering more controversial topics and I think that’s why historians need to be involved.”

Summing up, he said, “If I was planning a geographical survey of the county, the first thing I would do is find professional geographers. If I was doing engineering works I would go to an engineer, I would get people who are qualified in it. I would appreciate some councillors, like Pat Hayes, who is on the committee, would have done a huge amount over the years but what about the rest of the councillors, what knowledge have they?”

A statement from the council’s commemoration co-ordinator Helen Walsh on Wednesday said, “At the last 1916 Commemoration Steering Group meeting on September 2, Tomás Mac Conmara (historian) was asked to address the meeting and was subsequently invited by Councillor Pat Hayes (chair) to be the historical advisor for the commemorative period 1916. He has drafted the opening essay to the county programme for 1916, which is at Irish translation stage and will be launched by the 1916/2016 office in Dublin in late October. There has also been contact with Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc on aspects of 1916.”

Regarding funding, she added, “A community fund of €30,000 was made available as a seed fund for those participating in the commemoration and through the consultation process, over 100 people attended public consultation workshops in mid-June.

“A total of 31 applications for funding were received and 30 were notified of funding in the region of €500-€1,000. It is expected that a second tranche of funding will be announced in early 2016 and those who have already sought funding can reapply, along with any new applicants for funding in this second round. The county programme details 66 separate activities, with a proportion of these being led by the Library, Arts, Heritage services and County Museum and Archives services. Most of the council programming will be completed within the existing budgets for these departments. It is anticipated that this funding is adequate to complete the 1916 commemoration programme bearing in mind that the county will also be celebrating the County of Culture with some major events also drawing on the council’s resources.”

While Dr Mac Conmara did speak to the steering group recently, it is understood that he has not been asked to join it, while his interaction with the group to date has been limited.

Owen RyanóG

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