Be part of the Centenary Conversation

What have Paddy Cullivan (of Callans Kicks ), Professor Roy Foster and Hector O hEochagáin in common? Not much you might say, but in fact all three will be taking part in The Centenary Conversations, Galway from Thursday to Saturday next week.

The fact that Paddy, Roy and Hector appear in the same programme listing tells us a lot not just about the events in Galway but also about the entire centenary year. A year that we thought would be all about our past turned out to be as much about our future. A year marked down for historical analysis became, as well, a year of huge cultural engagement. A year that many feared would be contentious became a year in which we came together and rediscovered our citizenship.

And now the centenary programme is coming to Galway with the full force of a major State event and a programme that promises to be an eclectic mix of academia and entertainment, high culture and low satire, Irish and English language events, history and science.

The centrepiece of the three days is the State’s 1916 academic conference, 1916-2016: The Promise and Challenge of National Sovereignty, hosted by NUI Galway, under the academic direction of Professor Nicholas Canny. As well as an invited audience the conference is open to the general public. Prior registration at is essential.

It’s as much about 2016 as 1916

The title of the conference gives a broad hint about its content. Yes it’s about 1916 but it’s also very much about 2016 – our responsibilities to ourselves and to the world as we approach the end of our first century of sovereignty.

The Conference examines the vision and aspiration invested in an independent Irish state by idealists and thinkers of the revolutionary generation, and also looks at the challenges facing the Irish sovereign state in 2016 – and the horizons of ambition that should inspire our people as we face the future.

A number of key sub-themes will link the discussion to the ideas and ideals espoused by the revolutionary generation. ‘Ireland among the nations’ for example; what does national sovereignty mean in today’s world of globalization, interdependence, membership of the EU and other supranational organisations? What creative possibilities still reside in the national state?

Global aspects of security and environmental responsibility; economic well-being and visions of the ‘good society’, liberty and social progress; education as the bedrock for a prosperous, creative, confident and innovative civic culture; arts and culture as instruments for individual fulfilment and social cohesion in early 21st c. Ireland; reconciliation between the different traditions on the island of Ireland, on these islands and within the Republic of Ireland – all of these are themes that will be explored in the course of the three days.

Keynote speakers

The keynote speakers for the conference are Professor Philip Pettit of Princeton University, a philosopher and political theorist who is particularly noted for his theoretical work on republicanism, Professor Roy Foster of Hertford College, Oxford, who is widely known to both specialist and general audiences for his work as a historian; Kevin O’Rourke, also of Oxford who describes his work as lying at the intersection of economic history and international economics’; Professor Louise Richardson, political scientist and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford who specialises in the study of terrorism; and Professor Clair Wills of Princeton, a cultural historian with a particular focus on the 20th century.

Panels of respondents drawn from across the Irish third level sector, all experts in their respective fields, will respond to the keynote speakers.

The events around the fringe of the conference are, according to the fringe curator, Naoise Nunn, just as serious – in fact ‘deadly serious’ – but delivered with a lighter touch.

According to Mr Nunn, ‘what we’re trying to do is subvert the earnestness of the conference and show that it’s possible to have fun and to learn at the same time… I think the two will work brilliantly together’. The fringe brings together a host of artists, commentators and special guests to debate, discuss, dissect and laugh about what it means to be Irish in 2016.

The opening day of the conference will see major contributions from Professor Roy Foster, probably Ireland’s best known historian, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny. They will have barely stopped speaking when the real Ceann Comhairle, Hector Ó hEochagáin, will convene a special sitting of the 2116 Parliament. A selection of ten speakers, drawn from all sections of Irish society, will each deliver a five-minute motion to the Assembly – and Hector will call for a vote on each.

Ten strange things about the revolution

And if you’re too late for a ticket to the Foster & Kenny spectacular you can instead amble on down to Galway’s Town Hall theatre where Paddy Cullivan will provide a unique, audio-visual spectacular on the Rising. Combining satire with historical insight and song, Paddy will reveal the 10 strangest things that happened during our Rising, Revolution and Counter-Revolution.

Hector and Paddy are of course part of the conference fringe, but who’s to say that they won’t also appear in the audience for conference sessions. The fringe is interwoven with the conference and deals with many of the same themes – just differently!

It’s not all fun and frivolity at the fringe. The Experts Bite Back, presented in partnership with the Irish Research Council, is a special event that fact-checks claims by politicians and the media on controversial issues and gets to the truth of the matter – to see if we can make better decisions based on reason rather than emotion – encouraging us to look beyond the headlines and seek out complicated and sometimes inconvenient truths.

And just as Conradh na Gaeilge was omni-present in 1916 so it will be in Galway next week. Cuan O Searadáin will chair a Conradh discussion on Thursday afternoon, 10th November, at Áras na Gaeilge in NUIG called Todhcaí na Físe/ A Vision of the Future. Another notable fringe event is Tóraíocht, a dramatic bi-lingual telling of the Diarmuid and Gráinne story, which will be staged at The Black Box on Dyke Road on the 10th, 11th and 12thof November.

Galway’s role in the Rising has been underplayed over the years. Galway’s role in the Centenary won’t easily be forgotten!

Full details of The Centenary Conversations, Galway programme, including free conference registration and booking available now at


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