When Anne Anderson became Irish Ambassador to the U.S. in 2013, planning for the 1916 Easter Rising centennial commemoration in America was one of her early diplomatic duties.
“We knew 1916 would have huge resonance in the U.S., more than anywhere outside of Ireland,” Anderson told a 15 December Irish Network D.C. audience. “The road to the Rising and its aftermath have very big connections to Irish America.”
The Embassy faced several challenges, such as teaching a new generation of Irish Americans about an event more familiar to their parents and grandparents, and also reaching beyond the 30 million U.S. residents of Irish heritage, “not just those already part of the family,” Anderson said.
Cultural events, such as the three-week “Ireland 100” festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., were blended with more historically-focused examinations. The Embassy tracked more than 300 events across the U.S. “that we knew about,” Anderson said, including many “absolutely organic, grassroots” 1916 gatherings outside big Irish hubs such as New York and Boston.
“People were motivated by a sense of joy in their Irishness,” Anderson said. “The brand that Ireland has is extraordinarily positive.”
In the U.S., as in Ireland, the 1916 centennial commemoration required sensitivity to British and unionist perspectives, Anderson said. There were no attempts to “airbrush history.”
This year’s experiences will inform future commemorations as Ireland and Irish America move through the “Decade of Centenaries,” which extends until 2022, and includes the 100th anniversaries of the War of Independence and partition of the island.
“We are looking at what is most significant in the U.S.,” Anderson said, such as Eamon de Valera’s 1919-1920 fundraising tour in America. “But we always felt the biggest year in America would be 1916 (2016).”