Portals to an Imagined Past: Remembering the Rising 1916 - 2016
Published: June 14, 2016
Dr. Róisín Higgins, Senior Lecturer in History, Teeside University, England considers a variety of material objects, from buttons to buildings and everything inbetween, that provide a portal to an imagined past by documenting the ways in which the events of Easter Week 1916 have been memorialised and commemorated, both in the public sphere and in more private ways, over the last century.
The significance of the Easter Rising in Irish history owes as much to how it has been remembered as it does to the original event. The memory of 1916 has been transmitted through stories, objects, rituals and songs; through state commemorations and in more furtive, unofficial commemorative gestures. It has been used very effectively by a variety of groups to assert legitimacy or to challenge authority. In representing a moment of possibility, the idea of the Rising offers a powerful imaginative space into which can be projected the hopes and disappointments of Irish society. With each commemoration there are echoes of previous demonstrations and anniversaries so that the event operates as a palimpsest; revealing an ongoing, multi-layered negotiation with the present through the past.
In its planning and as it unfolded, the central participants of the Rising showed an awareness about how they might be remembered and provided mementos and souvenirs for the future. They offered what was to hand including buttons, rosary beads and watches. These were personal items which had become political; ordinary things imbued with new meanings. Michael O´Hanrahanś sisters framed and inscribed the buttons given to them by their brother in his cell during their last moments together. Relatives of those who were executed acted as curators and protectors of the memory of the Rising in the days and weeks ahead. Everyday items such as a key belonging to Joseph Plunkett; Con Colbertś cap; Patrick Pearseś sword stick and a pocket watch belonging to Seán MacDiarmada have become historical artefacts: symbols of what was won and lost. The blood-stained undershirt in which James Connolly was executed is an intimate object which now belongs to the public having been given to the National Museum by his daughter Nora. As a vivid reminder of his death it is now an object inscribed with the idea of Connolly’s sacrifice. These material things have become portals to an imagined past, replete with emotional and cultural understanding....
About the Author:
Dr. Róisín Higgins hold a PhD in history from the University of St Andrews, Scotland and has lectured on Irish history at universties in Ireland and Britain. She is currently Senior Lecturer in History, Teeside University, England. Her research focuses on the politics of historical memory with particular emphasis on commemoration of the Easter Rising; she also researches social networks in the nineteenth- century with particular attention to sport, print culture and transport. Her publications include Transforming 1916: meaning, memory and the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising (Cork: Cork University Press, 2012) and The Life and After-Life of P.H. Pearse/ Pádraic Mac Piarais: Saol agus Oidhreacht (eds.) with Regina Uí Chollatáin, (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2009)