The Diaspora Commemorates 1916: United States
By Irish America Staff
February / March 2017
How the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising was commemorated throughout the U.S.
NEW YORK CITY
Of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, five traveled to New York to seek assistance from the long-established republican Irish American community there, including Tom Clarke, who became an American citizen in Brooklyn in 1883, and John Connolly. Key figures in New York like Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and John Devoy, Irish American organizations like Clan na Gael, and numerous Irish American newspapers in the city, including the Gaelic American, owned by Devoy and edited for a time by Clarke, remained fiercely determined to a free Ireland, sending money and arms in advance of the Rising and making the city a home away from home for Irish rebels.
New York City paid homage to that history throughout 2016, hosting a total of 70 events to commemorate the Rising. The centenary year was officially launched in New York in January by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland Charlie Flanagan and Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson, and included such notables as New York Senator Chuck Schumer, author Colum McCann, Irish Tenor singer Anthony Kearns, chair of Culture Ireland Mary McCarthy, singer Maxine Linehan, and actor Liam Neeson at a community gathering at Pier A Harbor House in lower Manhattan, where an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation was displayed.
In February, Lehman College’s Institute for Irish American Studies, CUNY held a symposium on Irish language literature and the history of Ireland, which combined bilingual readings, guest speakers, writing workshops, and social gatherings. Downtown, author Colum McCann hosted a night of poems by Irish and Irish American poets read by blockbuster Irish writers like Alice McDermott, Anne Enright, and Paul Muldoon, who debuted a new poem commissioned by NYU for the occasion.
In April, NYU also hosted a major international conference, “Independent Spirit: America & the 1916 Easter Rising,” focusing on the trans-Atlantic context of the Rising with speakers like noted academics J.J. Lee, Terry Golway, Lucy McDiarmid, Miriam Nyhan, and Robert Schmuhl. Uptown, a commemorative centenary concert curated by Grammy-award winning composer Bill Whelan and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon featuring Liam Neeson, Colm Tóibín, Zadie Smith, Panti Bliss, Cassandra Wilson, and more, with an orchestral backing, was held at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre.
The centerpiece of the year was the official Irish government centenary commemoration on April 24, the day the Rising began, at Battery Park. The event included a reading of the proclamation, the laying of a wreath, a minute’s silence, the raising of the Irish flag, and performances of the U.S. and Irish national anthems and a day-long celebration of Irish heritage with music, song and dance.
The New York Public Library also played host to a commemorative event, “Poetry 100,” where poets, singers, and authors including Sinead Morrissey, Nick Laird, Iarla O Lionáird, Alvy Carragher, Ciaran Berry, and Fanny Howe explored one hundred years of Irish poetry since the Rising. On Staten Island too, this year’s Staten Island Irish Fair was dedicated to the lives lost in the 1916 Rising. Each year, the fair features traditional bagpipe bands, local Irish dance schools, special entertainment for young children, and local food and craft vendors.
From April to August, the American Irish Historical Society hosted a landmark exhibition called “Her Exiled Children: 1916 Archive Exhibition,” which used it own archives to contextualize the American dimension of the Rising and tell the story from planning to aftermath of Easter Week 1916.
In December, Irish historian and NYU professor Miriam Nyhan Grey launched Ireland’s Allies: America and the 1916 Easter Rising, a collection of essays from 24 scholars framing different aspects of the U.S. role in the Rising, at the Irish Consulate General in New York, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Consul General Barbara Jones, and historian J.J. Lee, who authored the forward and made one of the most enduring statements about U.S.-Ireland relations: “No America, no New York, no Easter Rising. Simple as that.”
– Adam Farley
In 2016, Massachusetts rose up to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising centennial, similar to how the state’s Irish community responded when Ireland’s most transformative episode unfolded a century ago. As in 1916, these commemorative activities took place in Boston, but also in the mill cities of Lawrence, Chicopee, Springfield and New Bedford, where Irish American communities were robust a century ago and remain relevant today.
In February, Boston College hosted a standing-room-only forum at Gasson Hall with U.S. Congressman Richard Neal and Boston mayor Marty Walsh. Walsh recounted the influence the Easter Rising had on his immigrant parents from Connemara, who came to Boston in the 1950s.
“Ireland’s long struggle for self-determination was not something we left behind, but a value we brought with us,” Walsh said. “The Easter Rising was an historical touchstone for that pride.”
He mentioned union leader James Connolly, who temporarily lived in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood, and Patrick Pearse, an Irish speaker who spent time in Rosmuc the village of Walsh’s mother, writing poetry and studying Irish.
Congressman Neal also made local connections to Springfield, mentioning that Pearse had come to Springfield to raise money because of the strong presence of Clan na Gael in that city.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians played a central role in 1916 when they advocated for Ireland and raised funds for relief of the Dublin families affected in the aftermath of the Rising. In Lawrence, Division 8 presented A Pictorial Exhibit of the 1916 Easter Rising, at Lawrence Heritage State Park, while Division 1 in Chicopee presented an exhibit, Of Terrible and Splendid Things, at Elms College.
In April, the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton featured music and dance from Boston’s Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, and the Irish Proclamation was read. Also in April, Senator Michael Rush invited Ireland’s Consul General Quinlan to the Massachusetts State House to reflect upon the Easter Rising. Her talk was followed by a reading of the Proclamation by Senate President Stan Rosenberg and other state senators.
In May, Congressman Neal, Consul General Quinlan and local officials unveiled a Garden of Remembrance in Springfield to commemorate the Rising. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang the national anthems.
“The rising in 1916 helped to create not only the modern Irish state but it was heavily influenced by the men and women who had settled in the city of Springfield and the surrounding communities,” Neal said. “Much of the financing that took place for the Rising occurred right here in Western Massachusetts.”
In September the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston hosted a forum, “Ireland: Then & Now,” featuring former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahearn, along with Rev. Dr. Gary Mason, former MA Senate President Therese Murray, Boston College Professor Rob Savage, and Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen.
Finally, in October, the New Bedford Whaling Museum launched a speaking series entitled “Famine, Friends & Fenians,” exploring the New Bedford-Irish connection from the 18th century through the Easter Rising in 1916. It featured Professor Catherine Shannon and author Peter Stevens.
– Michael Quinlin
As the center for Irish immigration in the Midwest, Chicago has deep ties to Irish republicanism. For the past century and a half, the Irish have exerted their influence in the city through labor, government, and stockyard jobs. Prior to the Rising, John Devoy wrote for Chicago newspapers and held correspondences with key Irish figures in Chicago like Alexander Sullivan, a Canadian-born Irish nationalist and Chicago machine boss who was a fierce supporter of the dynamite terror campaigns in England.
No surprise then that Chicago’s centenary celebrations were among the largest and most numerous in the country. The Consulate General of Ireland’s flagship event of the yearlong commemoration took place in June at the Chicago Cultural Center, in partnership with the Irish Fellowship, and the Irish Georgian Society, to host a cultural reception.
Award-winning writer Turtle Bunbury delivered the keynote speech of the night. Bunbury, the author of the Rising history Easter Dawn, spoke on the long-term causes of the rebellion, highlighting personal stories of those involved, and Irish Americans’ critical role in its planning and execution. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel emphasized the “Irish community’s vital role in Chicago’s history, as well as the important relationship Chicago has with its sister city, Galway.”
Earlier in the year, the Consulate collaborated with the University of Notre Dame for the gala premiere of the university’s landmark documentary, 1916 The Irish Rebellion, at the university in South Bend, Indiana. The documentary narrated by Liam Neeson, shares the untold story of Irish Americans’ role in the Rebellion and unseen footage filmed worldwide. The official launch of the companion book, published by the University of Notre Dame Press, was hosted at the Press Union League Club in Chicago following the premiere. To finish off the centennial year, the Consulate held an academic program making the Rising relevant to the Irish political landscape of today.
The Southside Gaelic Park also celebrated 1916 with cultural movies, traditional festivals, music, and a “Living History” exhibit featuring school children dressed as Rising leaders and giving brief biographical performances.
“I got the idea from my daughters Worth Wood Elementary School,” Colm Egan, Living History Exhibit Project leader and chairman of the Hurling Development Committee of the North American GAA, said. “Every year the children dress up as a historical American figure and have to give a short presentation on it. So I thought, why not apply that to the festivities this year?”
Between James Connolly, Pádraig Pearse, and Helena Molony, the children embodied the nationalist fever of all the key Easter Rising characters, complete with period-appropriate outfits. (The event also spurred Puckane National School, Co. Tipperary, which is run by Colm’s brother Darragh, to partake in a similar performance.)
“The costumes and presentations were spot on,” Colm said. “It was a wonderful event and it was well received by the Gaelic Park community.”
Chicago continued the celebration with Cork City native, Paddy Homan, who commemorated 1916 with his own theatrical performance, “I Am Ireland” at Gaelic Park in March. The show illuminated the struggles and sacrifices of the Irish independence movement through stories, poetry, and song.
“These stories and songs resonate with so many people, because it is a part of their history,” Homan said. He brought the show to Cork city last year, and this fall, he plans to bring the show on a national U.S. tour.
The Irish American Heritage Center also marked the 100th anniversary of the Rising by hosting a Day of Remembrance, capped off with an evening musical tribute, “Songs of Freedom,” featuring the Chancey Brothers, the Dooley Brothers, and Catherine O’Connell, among others. And in October, the annual Irish Books, Arts, and Music Celebration brought the literary connections to the Rising to the fore with a weekend-long festival featuring music concerts, lectures, poetry readings and contests, panel discussions, theatre performances, and exhibitions on loan from Ireland.
– Cliodhna Joyce-Daly
Robert Emmet Statue: In April, the Washington, D.C. statue of Robert Emmet, the first of its kind and the model for several identical copies by Irish sculptor Jerome Connor, was rededicated in a small park on Massachusetts Avenue, near the Irish Embassy and Irish Ambassador’s residence.
The ceremony marked the concurrent centenaries of the Easter Rising, the formation of the National Park Service, and the creation of the first commemorative statue of Robert Emmet, which was cast in 1916.
Kennedy Center – Ireland 100: The national centerpiece of the Easter Rising centenary celebrations in the United States was “Ireland 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts and Culture,” a three-week festival held at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the Irish Embassy in May and June.
The festival featured dozens of musical, theatrical, literary, culinary and dance acts and installations that spanned the breadth of Irish arts over the past century from a modern staging of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, to a score of Tiny Plays for Ireland and America, to the ethereal sounds of the world’s largest string instrument, the Earth Harp.
Actress Fiona Shaw served as the official artist-in-residency for the festival.
The last week of the festival was largely dedicated to Ireland’s extremely strong literary tradition and featured fascinating panel discussions with Colm Tóibín, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Louis de Paor, Colum McCann, Paula Meehan, Siobhán Parkinson, capped off with “Muldoon’s Picnic,” a musical and literary revue hosted by New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon.
THE WEST COAST
The centerpiece of 1916 centenary events on the west coast was a unique and original concert held at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, in the city’s historic Nob Hill neighborhood. The concert, “Ireland’s Poet Patriots: A Musical Tribute,” was composed by American Richard Evans and endeavored to bring to life the works of 12 of Ireland’s great writers, including Robert Emmet, W.B. Yeats, Ella Young, Peadar Kearney, Maud Gonne, and Pádraig Pearse. The performance combined original compositions and traditional Irish music, including two sean-nós musicians from Ireland, as well as featuring three classical vocalists, 25 mixed voices, a 28-piece concert orchestra with harp, and a traditional Irish ensemble.
“It is a narrative, a musical storytelling and a reflection on an ongoing developing story and a question of, ‘What is it that we identify with, what is it that is sacred about our past?’” Consul General of Ireland in San Francisco said of the concert. “The performance was deeply touching, and fundamentally the centerpiece of what our community wanted to do and wanted to say around the very special events it was commemorating.”
The 13th annual Irish American Crossroads Festival also took over San Francisco in April, this year presenting 14 cultural events and four directly tied to the Easter Rising, including an Irish American historical walking tour of the Mission District, a former working class Irish enclave, co-sponsored with the organization Shaping San Francisco.
Elsewhere on the west coast, the Irish American Bar Association in Los Angeles held a commemoration in Long Beach with Regional Bishop David G. O’Connell of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and M. Finbar Hill, Honorary Consul General of Ireland.
The Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library in Phoenix, AZ also hosted a number of commemorative events, including a lecture series, a multi-media musical presentation, literary discussions, and an exhibition called “Remembering the Easter Rising,” which has been extended to run through June 2017. The University of California in Berkeley also held a conference within their Celtic studies department to mark the centenary of the Rising.
In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle’s Antioch University hosted a weekend event with academic lectures, art installation, traditional Irish music, dance and culture with mayor Ed Murray. And in Portland, OR, the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernian held a special event that explored the city’s unique connection to the rebellion and featured readings from actors and actresses from Portland’s acclaimed Corrib Irish Theatre.
– Adam Farley
In Denver, the AOH/LAOH organized a celebration inviting members of the Irish community. Irish-Americans, Irish ex-pats, and friends of Ireland were represented by the Colorado Emerald Society, Irish Network Colorado, Michael Collins Pipes and Drums, Celtic Friends, Dr. James Walsh, Dennis Gallagher, and Séamus Blaney. Pictured are local AOH president Jeff Rodenberg and Ken Hannon Larson, editor of Teach Tábhairne Fógra.
The Kansas City Irish Center hosted their annual Fulbright Language Immersion Weekend from April 8 through April 10 with particular focus on remembering the Rising. The center held Irish language classes for beginners and intermediate speakers.
Consul General Adrian Farrell, center, commemorated the 1916 Easter Rising with the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Austin at St. Mary’s Cathedral. It was an event of song, story, and dance with special appearances from Austin’s Inishfree Irish Dancers and Irish Consul General Adrian Farrell. Presented in conjunction with the Celtic Cultural Center of Texas and the Consulate of Ireland in Austin.
On March 12, Macnas, an internationally acclaimed Irish performance and spectacle company based in the West of Ireland, presents a high-octane, visually stunning series performances during the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. Part of Culture Ireland’s “I Am Ireland” program.
At Baylor University, Professor Roy Foster (center left), W.B. Yeats’ official biographer, Oxford lecturer and Irish historian, spoke with award-winning Irish novelist, poet and playwright Sebastian Barry (center right).
SOUTH BEND, IN
March 3, 2016: Actor Liam Neeson arrives on the red carpet for the Gala Premiere of the documentary 1916: The Irish Rebellion at the Leighton Concert Hall in the De-Bartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN.
Producer Bríona Nic Dhiarmada speaks at the Gala Premiere of the Notre Dame Documentary.
Rev. John I. Jenkins with Liam Neeson at the Notre Dame Gala Premiere of 1916: The Irish Rebellion March 3, 2016.
More than 1,000 people turned out in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in April to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising in a city where a full fifth of the population claims Irish ancestry.
The ceremony included pipe and drum bands, a flag raising, a keynote speech by Tyrone native Patsy Kelly (pictured above), who pointed out that many Irish rebels might have descendants in the audience. He was right; among those also in attendance was Kevin Kent, chair of the Irish American Business Chamber in Philadelphia and a distant relative of Eamonn Ceannt, one of the signatories of the Proclamation. The success and size of the centenary celebrations in the city showed that it “has always had a strong Irish American community,” Kent told Philly.com.
At the city’s Irish Center, tribute was paid to Philadelphia’s Irish links, including Joseph McGarrity, a Tyrone native who became a successful businessman in the city, became a leader of Clan na Gael, and helped raise arms for Irish rebels. His portrait was unveiled in a ceremony in March. (Above pictured are McGarrity’s granddaughters with his portrait)
McGarrity’s archives are held at Villanova University, where the ground floor of the Falvey Library there was given over to a months-long exhibit, “To Strike for Freedom: The 1916 Easter Rising,” that included McGarrity’s personal papers and an original copy of the Proclamation. – A.F.
March 6, 2016: 1916 Centenary Concert – A Celebration of Irish Culture. Hosted by the Consulate in Atlanta and headlined by The Willis Clan from Nashville and Irish musician John Doyle, this concert program at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts on 6 March also included poetry from Yeats, Pearse and Tom Kettle arranged by Professor James Flannery and an excerpt from We Have Risen, an original 1916 performance commissioned by Consulate.
MARCH 16, 2016: Sgt. William Jasper Military Ceremony At this annual St. Patrick’s Day ceremony, Minister Paul Kehoe TD, Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Departments of An Taoiseach and Defense, introduced keynote speaker, Lt. Damien O’Herlihy, a reservist from Irish Defense Forces who provided an excellent account of the history of the Defense Forces dating back to 1916.
OCTOBER 22, 2016: Emmet Park Bench Dedication Ceremony Monsignor William Oliver O’Neill sprinkles holy water during the dedication ceremony for newly installed Irish limestone benches in Savannah’s Emmet Park. Numerous Irish organizations in Savannah and the Consulate General of Ireland supported this 1916 centenary project led by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. ♦