‘We are now navigating the most complex phase’ – Josepha Madigan

Decade of Centenaries programme adapted for Covid-19 restrictions

The Decade of Centenaries programme (2012-2023) has created unprecedented opportunities for us to explore the seminal moments in our journey towards independence as they unfolded and consider how each impacted on the next. We are now navigating the most complex phase, which includes the centenaries of the struggle for independence, the Civil War, the foundation of the State, and partition.

Over the past century, our understanding of these events has shifted from tangible, lived experience and memory, to historical exploration and reflection. For many years, the ownership of these chapters in our shared history was bitterly contested but with the gift of time and perspective, new insights have flourished.

The Government’s responsibility is to ensure that these events are remembered with an appropriate, meaningful, measured and sensitive programme, which recognises the legitimacy of all traditions and values mutual respect and historical authenticity. We must also acknowledge the great tragedy of the lives lost and the lives irrevocably altered during those divisive and traumatic years.

We have been challenged to think imaginatively – to create alternative, citizen-focused opportunities

As we consider the painful legacies of our past, we are challenged to avoid bringing history into the realm of the present and we must seek, at all times, to strengthen peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.


This year, we remember the events that took place in Cork city and county in 1920, including the deaths of two of the city's first citizens, Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney, and the burning of the city in December 1920.

Other events to be remembered with State-supported initiatives include the 1920 local elections; the mutiny of a battalion of the Connaught Rangers in India; the sacking of Balbriggan; Bloody Sunday; the execution of medical student and IRA volunteer Kevin Barry; and the passing of the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

The emergency measures required to protect public health, arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, have temporarily interrupted the usual Decade of Centenaries programme delivery mechanisms. It’s not currently possible for public commemorative events and associated outreach activities to take place and this is likely to remain the case for some time. I understand that this is a source of great disappointment and sadness to all of those who have worked so hard to develop plans to commemorate these centenaries.

We have been challenged to think imaginatively – to create alternative, citizen-focused opportunities that will encourage and support a different approach to public and community engagement. I would like to acknowledge the very important work of our historians, educators, national cultural institutions, local authorities, media organisations, custodians of records, librarians and cultural practitioners, particularly during these very difficult times. We will continue to consider the difficult legacies of our past with understanding, empathy and a generosity of spirit.

The programme will continue to embody the spirit of respectful and sincere partnership and collaboration, which underpins the Decade of Centenaries. This approach, which combines all of our respective efforts and expertise, has already brought unique perspectives and insights, as well as commemorative initiatives of great quality, ambition, integrity and imagination.

The Government's approach to the Decade of Centenaries is informed by the guidance of the expert advisory group on centenary commemorations. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to this group, under the excellent stewardship of Dr Maurice Manning, for its very important work. It is worthwhile reaffirming the expert advisory group's guiding principles here:

– The aim of commemoration should be to broaden sympathies without having to abandon loyalties and, in particular, to recognise the value of ideals and sacrifices, including their cost;

– Throughout the remainder of the decade, it is important not to forget the bloodshed and the deep antagonisms of these years. While few eyewitnesses survive, the memories remain vivid in some communities and families, and commemorations may revive painful memories of loss or dispossession;

– We should also be conscious that, on this island, we have a common history but not a common memory of these shaping events; and

- Commemoration should not ignore differences and divisions. The goal of inclusiveness is best achieved, not by trying for an enforced common interest or universal participation, but by encouraging multiple and plural commemorations which remember the past, while ensuring as far as possible that the commemoration does not reignite old tensions.

Josepha Madigan TD is Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht