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How a fresh look at the past can shape a better future

By Alf McCreary

Published 14/05/2016

Paying tribute: for the most part, the Easter Rising commemorations took place in a spirit of quiet dignity
Paying tribute: for the most part, the Easter Rising commemorations took place in a spirit of quiet dignity

The Church of Ireland has been making news at the General Synod in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin this week, and the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, reflected on how we all look on historical commemorations, including the Easter Rising and the Somme.

"I would want to suggest that neither event should be commemorated or interpreted through the lens of a single narrative," he said.

"They were both highly complex affairs, both in the history of the events themselves and also in subsequent interpretations of those events.

"But also deeply symbolic and emblematic, and we have all been shaped in different ways and to differing degrees by them."

There is every expectation that the Somme commemorations will take place in a spirit of quiet dignity and a seeking for truth that characterised the Easter 1916 commemorations - apart from the ludicrous masked ghouls who marched in Northern Ireland and were totally out of step with history and progress.

One way to sow seeds for a better future is to encourage young people on all sides to take a more reflective view of Irish and European history, and not just to accept the old interpretations from both sides, that have been stuffed down our throats for so long.

It was therefore good to hear Archbishop Clarke announce a joint initiative with Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Roman Catholic Primate.

Next month, they will lead a group of young people from all over Ireland on a journey of discovery from the new Glasnevin memorial, which records all the victims of the Easter Rising, to the Somme and the battlefields of France, where men from all backgrounds in Ireland perished together.

Archbishop Clarke said: "This is a shared journey on so many different levels, reflecting on our past, but looking on how we can shape our future."

This is reminiscent of a similar initiative by the Churches in Londonderry that I mentioned last week and which, I am sure, had the full backing of the Anglican Dean of Derry, the Very Reverend Dr William Morton, who has played such a major role in the ecumenical, community and artistic life of that great city.

His many friends are delighted at his appointment as Dean of St Patrick's in Dublin, which is the Church of Ireland's national cathedral in the Republic.

William Morton, an accomplished organist and organiser, will be following in the footsteps of some very creative deans, including Dean Jonathan Swift himself. Dr Morton faces a huge change in moving from Derry to Dublin, but it is the right step for him at the right time.

This is good news, and I believe that, despite our sometimes gloomy view of ourselves, change for the better is taking place. Things are opening out.

This week I had a different view of the journey from Dublin to Belfast when I accepted an invitation to give a lecture on the Caribbean Princess, the first huge liner to dock here this year.

There was an agreeably large audience for my talk on 'Titanic Port', which must be a rare example of a lecturer talking about the Titanic on another cruise liner.

In Belfast, I joined thousands of visitors from all over the US, and elsewhere, as we disembarked on a sunny May morning and I felt very proud of my native province, despite all its challenges.

I might not use exactly the same words as Arlene Foster about our "great wee country", but I fully echo her sentiments.

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