As the centenary of the start of the First World War approaches, a couple of important developments happened today on either side of the border on Armistice Day. Representatives of victims of the troubles were at Stormont to call on politicians to agree new mechanisms to investigate past human rights violations and abuses.
A Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. became the first member of his party to take part in the official ceremony at City Hall. BBC Northern Ireland report here. As I commented elsewhere (on twitter), this was in my view the ‘right call to attend Armistice Day event: your presence at a Belfast ceremony was significant, not about wearing a poppy’. He was accompanied by some of the chaplains he had appointed at the start of his mayoral term, among them Fr Des Wilson from West Belfast, and a couple of party colleagues including Councillor Tom Hartley, a local historian.
Meanwhile in Dublin, an exhibition developed under the auspices of the Unionist Centenary Committee and containing the largest collection of UVF memorabilia ever seen in the Republic was opened in the visitor centre at Glasnevin cemetery. This is the burial ground for some of the best-known figures in Ireland’s history, such as Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins, and including many republicans. The Unionist Centenary Committee was formed in 2010 as a steering group made up from stakeholders from the Unionist community to oversee the decade of centenaries between 2012-2021.
The Ulster Volunteer Force was formed to resist plans to make Ireland self-governing, but many members went on to fight in the British Army in the First World War. The exhibition is called Home Rule Crisis… the unionist response. It covers the period from 1912-1914 and was officially opened by the Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, who had read a lesson at the Remembrance Sunday service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin yesterday.
Some unionist politicians also attended the Glasnevin event. A priest read prayers before people in UVF costumes laid wreaths at the war graves commission memorial to those from the Republic who died fighting for the allies in the two world wars.
The collection of artefacts from the Home Rule period includes personal items of James Craig, uniforms, and literature from that pivotal period. Tours of the exhibition will be provided free of charge. The exhibition focuses on the unionist reaction to events during 1912-1913, particularly the Ulster Covenant and the formation of the UVF.
The launch included a talk by Philip Orr and a drama depicting discussions between Carson, Craig and Crawford at the time, and music. On Saturday 16th November, Quincey Dougan and Jason Burke will provide lectures on Unionism 100 years ago. The exhibition is free and will run for two weeks until the end of November. It will be followed by an exhibition on the Irish Volunteers, the formation of which was planned at a committee meeting 100 years ago today in Dublin.
Unionist Centenary Committee Chair David Hagan said:
“We are excited to be bringing such a major collection of Unionist artefacts to Glasnevin Cemetery. Traditionally a site steeped in Republican and Nationalist history, it shows the progress we are making in embracing and learning more about our shared history. Over the course of the week we are also holding lectures which provide a deeper insight into Unionist thinking at the time and we will have historians on hand around the exhibition to provide further information on the collection. We have already exhibited some of the collection around Northern Ireland and have received really positive feedback, so we are looking forward to offering the people of Dublin the opportunity to learn more about Unionism in Ireland 100 years ago.”