It’s 100 years since the Easter Rising that led to the foundation of the Irish Republic. This year a series of high profile cultural events will take place in Ireland and the U.S. to commemorate the transformative Irish revolution. Cahir O'Doherty looks at the centenary program and picks some U.S. standouts.

The 1916 Easter Rising reminds us of our greatness as a people, or it should. In that year a small number of revolutionaries from a small nation on the edge of Europe rose up in defiance of the greatest military empire the world had ever seen.

It was the first armed uprising against the British Empire of the 20th century, and we have every reason to be proud of the courage it took and the legacy it has left us with. That’s why this year’s cultural celebration of our Irish heritage and history is so important.

Ireland 2016, the planned program for the centenary in Ireland has many categories, but the most important of them all will be the cultural ones. After all, the core leadership of the Easter Rising was filled with writers, poets, musicians and idealists. To honor them best we should probably honor what they held dearest themselves.

Ask an Irish person what it means to be Irish and they will most likely quote a poem, speech or song. That’s because when we want to speak of something foundational we usually turn to the arts. We know where to look for a well-turned phrase.

In Ireland, of course, there’s still some anxiety over who will benefit most from the commemorations, because the conservative Republic that has resulted from their efforts tends to be leery of revolutionaries. Some government leaders openly fret that the anniversary could be used to claim that the 1916 Irish rebellion is “unfinished business.”

That’s why political parties, pundits and paramilitaries are already lining up to claim they are the true inheritors of the spirit of 1916. That’s also why Ireland’s Arts Minister Heather Humphreys insists the Irish government will not allow the centenary to be exploited by hard-line Republicans eager to claim its mantle.

Getting ahead of all the political criticism early will hopefully push the cultural aspects of the 2016 commemoration front and center where they belong, providing us with a rare opportunity to show who we are and what we stand for now, 100 years after our forbears struck for freedom.

Ireland 2016’s program for the centenary has seven categories: State Ceremonial, Historical Reflection, Cultural Expression, Community Participation, Global and Diaspora, An Teanga Beo (the Living Irish Language) and Youth and Imagination.

Here in the U.S. a series of commemorative arts events titled I Am Ireland (planned by Culture Ireland) are scheduled to take place across the country as part of the worldwide celebrations.

Ireland’s national theater the Abbey will tour The Plough and the Stars, Galway’s Druid Theatre Company will return with The Beauty Queen of Leenane and the celebrated Gare St. Lazare Theatre Company will present their (Samuel) Beckett Season 2016.

In New York the Irish Arts Center will host some prominent Irish artists during 2016, with a program featuring music from vocalist and singer Camille O’Sullivan, dance from Arcane Collective with their Samuel Beckett-inspired Return to Absence, and theater with playwright Deirdre Kinahan’s Wild Sky.

The Irish Arts Center in association with Corn Exchange will co-present the highly anticipated stage version of Eimear Mc Bride’s novel A Girl Is a Half Formed Thing, adapted by Annie Ryan at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

Fans of playwright Enda Walsh, whose co-production of Lazarus with David Bowie is currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop, will enjoy the Wide Open Opera’s production of The Last Hotel, a new opera by Walsh and Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, which will be presented at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn from January 8-17.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will be presenting a three week season of events entitled Ireland 100: Celebrating a Century Of Irish Arts and Culture.

Highlights will include the provocatively titled This Is an Irish Dance by Riverdance alum Jean Butler and composer and cellist Neil Martin. Vocalist, actress and musician Camille O’Sullivan will also bring some old world cabaret flair to the proceedings with the songs of Jacques Brel, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Kurt Weill.

The Irish literature series at the Washington festival will take place during the final week of the planned events and offers a star-studded set of panels. Conversations with Colum McCann, Ireland’s Laureates Anne Enright and Paula Meehan, and Eavan Boland in conversation with Colm Toibin will all be highlights.

Ireland is a changed nation in the hundred years since P.H. Pearse read the Proclamation outside the GPO in Dublin, and even more so culturally than politically.

Ireland 2016 and Culture Ireland’s I Am Ireland programs will underline how inextricable the arts are from Irish identity. In a statement Irish Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Aodhan O’Riordain said, “It is for our artists and their talents that Ireland is known globally. Ireland has been home to many creative geniuses whose work is applauded worldwide and for 2016 the Irish government is committed to a special programmed to share globally the treasures created by our artists.”

O’Riordain’s office has pledged to offer support to participating artists coming to the U.S. in excess of $2.25 million.

After the recent Abbey Theater fiasco, where the national theater created a centenary program that featured the work of only one female writer from a lineup of 10, the Irish program has wisely placed a special focus on the role played by women in the Easter Rising.

Focusing on the role of Cumann na mBan (the Irishwoman’s Council) the Ireland 2016 team will develop a number of events during 2016, including a conference to be hosted by National University of Ireland Galway which will explore the role of women in Irish political life beginning with Countess Markievicz, the first woman elected to the British House of Commons and also the first woman to serve in an Irish government.

A Dublin City University seminar entitled Women and Irish Politics from 1916 to the Good Friday Agreement is also scheduled, and a traveling exhibition outlining the role of women in the Rising will be curated and made available to local communities and Irish embassies and consulates abroad.

One hundred years after promising to cherish all the children of the nation equally, Ireland clearly has some work to do to live up to that commitment. But with these cultural events and the discussions they will inevitably inspire, the bright flame lit by our revolutionary generation will get passed on to a new one in 2016.

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