DEPENDING on what part of Ireland you come from, the year 1916 means very different things. For many it means the Rising, the rebellion led by artists and intellectuals, which paved the way for Independence in 1921.
For northern Protestants, it means the Battle of The Somme, when the 36th Ulster Division of the British army was cut down in droves by German machinegun fire.
For nationalists and unionists, the Rising and the Somme were their respective blood sacrifices - one to an independent Ireland, the other to Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.
History though is never quite so straightforward. Members of the Irish Volunteers, the precursor of the IRA, fought at the Somme, and Irishmen fought on all fronts in WWI - though not for the same reasons as Ulster Protestants. Many fought to show Britain that Ireland was worthy of being granted Home Rule.
After war ceased in 1918, those who survived returned home. It is often overlooked that there were war veterans with nationalist views who joined the IRA and fought in the War of Independence (eg, Tom Barry who served in the Middle East and Africa ). At the same time, other Irishmen shamefully joined the Black and Tans. Others would enlist in the Irish Army following independence. Less Within 15 years, as noted by a 1936 report by the British Ministry of Pensions: “The majority of ex-servicemen are members of the Fianna Fáil Party and supporters of the present government."
There were unionist veterans who joined the UVF, vigilante groups, and the controversial Ulster Special Constabulary, and who were involved in some of the worst violence seen in Belfast before 'The Troubles'.
1916 was a pivotal year in modern Irish history, one that played a huge part in influencing the shape of events to come, but what must not be forgotten either is that fact that those who fought, who witnessed, or were involved in any way in the Rising or the Somme, were ordinary people, that this was lived history, where people were transformed, were forced to make huge decisions, where lives were changed, and where many lives were lost.
That aspect of 1916, of ordinary people caught up and involved in historical turning points, will be explored in One Hundred Years and Four Quarters, a major new exhibition of new paintings, painted constructions, and sculpture, by leading Irish artist Hughie O’Donoghue.
In these works, O’Donoghue depicts a revolutionary, a soldier, a sailor, and a peasant in 1916, and through their differing perspectives on that year, seeks to explore the subjective and fugitive nature of truth. The exhibition, which is part of the official Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, runs in the Festival Gallery, Market Street, from July 11 to 24. O’Donoghue will also give a public talk about his work on Wednesday July 13 at 2pm.
Festival Gallery opening times are 11am to 6pm, Mondays to Wednesdays and 11am to 8pm Thursdays to Saturdays. Admisison is free.