CONTROVERSY seems set to dog the 100th anniversary of 1916 this year.
The Easter Rising remains a divisive issue in the Republic and with the New Year only a week old, the arguments are underway in Britain, where disapproving voices have already been raised.
Historian Andrew Roberts has condemned a forthcoming centenary festival planned for April at London’s Wigmore Hall to mark the Easter Rising.
In the weekend’s Sunday Times Mr Roberts, an academic known to be close to the leadership of the Conservative Party, wrote: “For some inexplicable reason the centenary of Britain being viciously stabbed in the back by revolutionary fanatics while it was trying to protect Ireland from proto-fascist German militarism is going to be celebrated in London by a week-long festival of traditional Irish songs and harp music at Wigmore Hall.”
Plans are in place for the momentous date in Irish history to be marked by commemorations and events throughout Ireland, with some also taking place in Britain.
All seem likely to cause offence to some strand of opinion – whether republican hardline, unionist, loyalist, or ‘Little Englander’ opinion in Britain.
The Irish Government are very aware of the sensitivity of the events, and are making every effort to avoid inflaming any arguments.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, herself a Protestant from Monaghan, told The Observer at the weekend: “As someone who grew up and still lives beside the border, I am very aware of the sensitivities that still exist.
“Through Ireland 2016 [the centenary programme] we are extending an invitation to all of the people on this island to join with us as we remember the events of 100 years ago.
“I have personally met with members of the unionist community to talk to them about the programme and to ensure that there is a full understanding of the Government’s approach to the commemorations.”
Mr Roberts is known for his right wing views, and his books have been criticised for their simplistic, and sometimes inflammatory, standpoints.
American historian Mike Davis severely criticised him for excusing concentration camps in the Boer War [the British, in fact, not the Germans, invented concentration camps] in his book A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.
The Economist described the same book as “less a history than giant political pamphlet larded with its author’s prejudices”.
Mr Roberts, whose wealth derives from a family interest in the British franchises of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is certainly an ardent Tory.
According to an article in The Guardian in 2009 an ex-girlfriend claims he has framed pictures of Margaret Thatcher not just in his study and drawing room but also next to his bed.
Nonetheless, the historian represents a strand of opinion within British society. It’s a position that the Irish Government will have to be ready to counteract.
That commemorations for the Easter Rising – which saw over 200,000 Irishmen, from both unionist and nationalist communities, join up to fight alongside the British – will also take place in a year that sees significant anniversaries from World War I also being marked, including the Battle of the Somme, will only add to the sensitivities of the commemorations.