Belfast Telegraph

Let's make this a decade of shared remembrance

We can all learn valuable lessons from our past through the medium of the arts, says Caral Ni Chuilin

All of us have different life experiences which shape who we are and where we find ourselves today. We are all on a journey, but our different backgrounds sometimes colour our views on the experiences and journeys of others.

This is what makes remembrance of history so complex and, at times, both difficult and painful.

However, taken collectively, our journeys are intertwined and connected in so many different ways.

At times, our own personal beliefs are challenged and we change, or modify, our opinion. The history of this island can provide such challenges.

I recently attended an event marking the centenary of a speech delivered in Belfast in 1912.

It was surprising to learn that Winston Churchill, whose father coined the phrase "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right" and who became the iconic British Bulldog prime minister, had spoken at the grounds of Belfast Celtic to advocate Home Rule for Ireland and was, at one stage, locked out of the Ulster Hall by unionists.

The story behind this speech was explored through a lecture by the historian Dr Eamonn Phoenix and by an insightful and entertaining piece of theatre, which brought Churchill's speech to life and included heckling from suffragettes.

It was an engaging way in which to examine political change and the connections in our history.

Significant centenaries during the decade ahead provide all of us with the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of our shared past and how that shared past shapes Irish and British identities and relationships today.

The centenaries will include: the Home Rule Bills; the Ulster Covenant; the First World War and Battle of the Somme; the Easter Rising; the rise of the Labour movement; the extension of limited voting rights to women; the War of Independence; and the Civil War and partition.

The 1912-22 period in Ireland is not just a catalogue of localised events. They should not be viewed in isolation.

The period was also a 'decade of ideas' about global movements on nationalism, unionism, empire and liberty.

I am supportive of an inclusive, non-triumphalist and strategic approach to commemorations and the creative ways in which the arts and cultural sectors can help to tell the stories behind such events.

The knowledge and skills within the arts, museums, libraries, public records and our creative industries can help us explore historical facts, review different interpretations and gain a better understanding of who we are and how our past shapes our relationships today.

This was also reflected in business at the Assembly this week as it was noted that, in spite of the house being made up of very different traditions, we were all agreed that we would take forward this issue in an inclusive manner.

The Community Relations Council (CRC) and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) have developed a set of principles to remember the past.

The key issue is not whether these events are remembered, but how they are remembered.

I endorse these principles. They can help us remember historical events and provide a framework to examine our more recent past.

We should not wait another 100 years before we do that.

The CRC and HLF will be holding a series of lectures entitled '2012-2023 Remembering the Future'. It will launch at the Ulster Museum and, at that event, the Ulster Covenant and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic will be exhibited side-by-side.

This will symbolise our connected history and the importance of understanding different narratives and locating events within their wider historical context through our archives and artistic endeavours.

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