Analysis: Northern Ireland centenary celebrations likely to be toe-curlingly bland or offensively jingoistic
IT’S hard not to feel mildly sorry for those tasked with organising the events that’ll mark next year’s centenary of Northern Ireland. While there’s every likelihood they’re all being handsomely paid, it’s no doubt extremely challenging to strike the appropriate tone for a society that was founded on large-scale gerrymandering and defined by 100 years of division.
Many would wonder why they even bother but clearly the Northern Ireland Office believes it’s better to make some kind of effort lest the British government be accused of neglecting this part of the ‘precious union’.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP spurned the invitation to join the Centenary Historical Advisory Panel, with the latter arguing that it would not reflect the full story of partition. This course of action seems appropriate given that non-participatory protest has been a feature of life in the north since its inception.
Like so many aspects of life in the region, particularly pre-Good Friday Agreement, the marking of the centenary will appeal only to one section of the community, while attempts to be inclusive will look like tokenism or even cultural appropriation.
The use of Seamus Heaney’s image in the ‘centenary branding’ has already raised an eyebrow or two. The south Derry-born poet famously penned the lines: “Be advised my passport's green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of partition and the statelet once celebrated for its exclusive ties with Protestantism.
What 'Story In The Making: NI Beyond 100' will consist of isn’t exactly clear. Yesterday’s launch event with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis had elements of farce and confusion, a template that may well prevail for much of next year.
Mr Lewis pledged £3 million for the programme of events, a figure that isn’t especially small or overly indulgent.
He said these would celebrate the region’s “people, culture, traditions and enterprise; and its vital contribution to the United Kingdom” – a brief that sounds like they could be toe-curlingly bland or offensively jingoistic.
It's quite possible that the official marking of the Northern Ireland centenary may turn out to be fun – only not in the way the organisers hoped for.