Higgins calls for ‘respectful’ commemorations on North visit

President says Irish people must ‘remember generously’ during the decade of centenaries

People have a responsibility during the current decade of centenaries to "remember generously rather than narrowly", President Michael D Higgins said on Thursday, during a visit to Northern Ireland.

During a visit to the Linen Hall Library in central Belfast, the President said that in two years' time people in Ireland will be marking the centenary of the end of the first World War, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement.

President Higgins said the Belfast Agreement, delivered on Good Friday 1998, “enabled a fresh start on our journey towards reconciliation and fraternity.

“We must never allow any tendentious or simplified version of the past to limit the future of the children of 1998,” he said.


“We have both a responsibility and an opportunity, during this decade of centenaries, to remember generously, rather than narrowly, and to commemorate in a way that is respectful of historical complexities and contingency.

“We have an opportunity to recall a decade of divisions and struggles, but also a decade of deep thought, of passionate discussion, of idealism, a decade during which many futures were possible.”


President Higgins said the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement “will require us to pause and reflect on all that we have achieved as a society over the last two decades.

“We will celebrate the triumph of democracy, so clearly endorsed in Easter 1998, in what was the first democratic expression of all the people on this island, acting together, since 1918,” he said.

“Irish people expressed, through their vote, their rejection of the ways and methods of violence, and their shared desire to build a reconciled society, a place secure in the right to be Irish, British, or both.

"The complex feelings of belonging, the multiple identities that are possible on this island and in Europe are a great asset.

“It is an intellectual and cultural patrimony that we cherish in our hearts and minds - and one that is also curated for us in institutions such as the Linen Hall Library, which record the complex web of competing, but also converging, aspirations and influences that bind together the people of this island.”

President Higgins also travelled to Donegore in Co Antrim to speak at the graveside of the 19th-century Irish poet and barrister Sir Samuel Ferguson, who influenced William Butler Yeats and other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times