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1916 Quarter Development Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 901 No. 2

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  9 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michelle Mulherin: Information on Michelle Mulherin Zoom on Michelle Mulherin] Sometimes we forget about the common good and use the term too loosely because people are concerned about themselves. I realise I am generalising but we have to get the focus back on many issues. While it is right to strive towards excellence and debate citizens' rights in this House, bearing in mind we will never be perfect, we need more debate on individual responsibility now that we can do a lot more of what we like. Oppression is a thing of the past; we are much freer than in the past. There does not seem to be the same emphasis on debate about responsibility.

When I speak of the 2016 commemorations, I like to do so with reference to my county. Most of the action during the Easter Rising did not occur in County Mayo. The events took place in Dublin and yet it had a major impact on all of our lives and our country. Mayo is the birthplace of two key figures who took part in the Rising - Major John MacBride of Westport, who was second in command of the Jacob's garrison and was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising, and Dr. Kathleen Lynn of Mullafarry near Killala, who was the chief medical officer in the Irish Citizen Army stationed at the City Hall garrison during the fighting. We also had links to Pádraig Pearse, Roger Casement and Éamon de Valera, all of whom studied at the Irish college in Tourmakeady to improve their Irish. Tourmakeady is one of three Gaeltacht areas in Mayo.

Recently, someone who has more local knowledge than I informed me of another person to commemorate in Mayo. The local commemoration group was not aware of the connection of Dr. Brigid Lyons Thornton to Mayo. She was born in Roscommon but married a Mayo man, Captain Edward Thornton. She tended to the wounded in the Four Courts during the Rising. After that, her legacy is of fighting for underprivileged people and for what we would today call human rights. She was incarcerated in Kilmainham Gaol and continued her medical studies and republican activities. She was buried beside her husband in Toomore cemetery near Foxford in County Mayo in April 1987. Her funeral had full military colours, her coffin was draped with the Tricolour and a guard of honour formed by the western command fired a graveside salute. We are only beginning to talk about our claim to Dr. Brigid Lyons Thornton and her great work and fight against injustice throughout her life, the seeds of which were sown around the time of the 1916 Rising.

I compliment the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and all parties involved in bringing the commemorations to places outside Dublin. Mayo County Council, like every local authority, has put a programme together. Mayo County Council holds the largest collection of artefacts related to the Rising outside of Dublin at the Clarke collection in Ballina, which was opened in 2013. The collection was formed by Jackie Clarke, a visionary local man and former town councillor, and his son, Peter. When he died in 2000, he donated the materials to the county council to make them available to the public. Those archives and artefacts are of considerable value. It is a great tribute to him that his widow, the late Anne Clarke, who died recently, donated the collection to the State in accordance with his wishes. The collection has great financial value and we look forward to having many commemorations there among unique artefacts that are not available elsewhere and to the idea of interfacing with schools and locals to bring the commemoration alive. We will look back and there will be an examination of social and political history. Sometimes when we see black and white images of people in poverty, we do not easily relate to them because they look different to how people look now. We talk about poverty now but these people knew real poverty. It was poverty of a different nature because they were impoverished financially, not culturally. They are stories we can relate to because they go back to the theme of personal sacrifice.

It is particularly important to move forward. I assume that is why it is called the 2016 commemoration and not the 1916 commemoration. It allows us to look at where we are now as a society. I often think of my grandparents and great-grandparents who worked hard to raise their families without the welfare system we have today. They had ambitions for family and the family unit and community were strong. In many ways, I feel the idea was to create a society where families and future generations would flourish and take responsibility for the country. Their motivation was the common good.

In terms of involvement in arts and culture, there is a collaborative 2016 project under way involving the foremost arts venues in Mayo. Ballina Arts Centre, the Linenhall Theatre, Customs House Studio, Áras Inis Gluaire and Ballinglen Arts Foundation are coming together on a collaborative project which will focus particularly on Dr. Kathleen Lynn and her role in the 1916 Rising. One thing of particular importance is that we are acknowledging and highlighting the role of women. As is true in most of history, women are there but they never got the limelight or platform. Dr. Kathleen Lynn is somebody we are particularly proud of. She is from near where I come from and was the daughter of a Church of Ireland rector. She was an important woman during the 1916 Rising. The arts allows us to look at things in a modern setting. The involvement of the arts means that we are not looking at it in a strictly historical way but are thinking outside the box in terms of the contributions made by people. When the arts are used to break down prejudice or racism, it disarms people because the message or interpretation circumvents normal language and speaks in a way that is disarming and allows us to look at events with fresh eyes.

All of this, in addition to the €3 million funding package to support this extensive programme of local events planned for 2016 around the country, is very welcome. It is a once in a century moment in our country's history. It is important that everybody gets to participate and that we reach out to our diaspora because 70 million people around the world claim some Irish connection or descent. They are part of our nation, which extends way beyond these shores. By marking these sometimes intangible concepts, we make them more tangible and speak to the civic spirit. People are looking for an avenue of expression.

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