The US commemoration of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising was launched yesterday in New York by Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, Ambassador Anne Anderson, and leading figures from the Irish and American communities including writer Colum McCann, Senator Chuck Schumer, singer Maxine Linehan, Irish tenor Antony Kearns, and actor Liam Neeson.

Ireland 2016 will consist of a year-long program of over 200 events across the country, exploring the history of Easter Week 1916 and forming a larger celebration of the shared history and enduring bond between Ireland and America.

At the Irish Consulate in New York and, later, at Pier A Harbor House (the spot where thousands of immigrants arrived in New York city from Ellis Island; recently rehabilitated as a venue by Irishman Danny McDonald), the Irish American community gathered to mark the start of the 1916 centenary and to learn what the coming year has in store.

“This is a highly significant year in Ireland and for Irish people across the globe. There’s no other small country with such a hugely engaged diaspora as Ireland,” Minister Flanagan told IrishCentral.

He noted that it was “highly appropriate” to launch the commemorative program for 2016 in New York, since “no other city, and no country, played a more important role in the Easter Rising and the subsequent one hundred year journey for a lasting and just peace settlement, than the United States.”

Irish America must play a key role in the 1916 commemorations, he explained, because the Rising’s overarching aim of Irish independence was “a cause for which generations of Irish Americans had dedicated themselves and, without whose support, Ireland would never have achieved its place amongst the nations of the earth.”

Five of the seven Irishmen who signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic had spent significant time in the US before the Rising, and one of them, Thomas Clarke, was even a naturalized American citizen. America also holds the distinction of being the only foreign country to be mentioned by name in the Proclamation, which, Flanagan added, was itself inspired by the American Declaration of Independence.

The year of Ireland 2016 events across the Unites States was organized by the Irish Embassy and the six consulates general in New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin and San Francisco, which worked closely with partners in the federal and local governments, with key cultural institutions and leading academic institutions, as well as many Irish community groups.

Rather than simply focusing on New York, Boston and other American cities with the strongest historic links to the Rising, the 2016 program of events will be spread out across country, offering the larger Irish diaspora in America an array of cultural, community and educational events. I am Ireland, an initiative led by Culture Ireland, will bring even more Irish art and culture to the US in the year ahead.

The centerpiece of the 2016 celebrations will be Ireland 100, a three week festival of Irish arts and culture from May 17 to June 5 at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC featuring some of Ireland’s best known and most exciting artists, including actress Fiona Shaw, The Abbey Theatre, dancer Jean Butler, musical group The Gloaming, and writers Colum McCann, Anne Enright and Colm Toibin.

Another cornerstone of the program will be “1916: The Irish Rebellion,” a feature-length documentary on the Rising produced by the University of Notre Dame.

The documentary narrator is Liam Neeson, who attended yesterday’s launch at Pier A. It is set to air on PBS and will be screened in various venues across the US.

Flanagan expressed the hope that the program would extend beyond the Irish community in its appeal. “It’s not only for Irish people, it’s not only for Irish Americans, it’s for everybody here across the United States, and I hope there will be people who will become involved in sharing our heritage for the first time – people perhaps with no immediate association or connection with Ireland, in the wider America. I invite them to become involved in Ireland America and our strong relationship.”

On the subject of criticism that the global events for the 1916 centenary have been too politically correct in their inclusiveness of British commemoration, he said it was important to acknowledge the past with an eye to the future.

“In our decade of centenaries we reflect on what is the rich tapestry of Ireland and Irish politics. The years of 1920 – 1922 were particularly turbulent, and it’s important we recognize that and we reflect on the events, but it’s also important that we do so in a way that commemorates our past 100 years and that we also look to the future of a political climate on the island of Ireland, particularly with our nearest and closest neighbor, the United Kingdom,” He said.

“I am fresh from 10 weeks in Belfast, I had talks with [Northern Ireland’s] Secretary of State Teresa Villiers just before Christmas. It’s important to acknowledge the great progress we have made there, but also to acknowledge that this is an ongoing project, and I believe that the centenary program, here in the United States as well as at home, is very much reflective of this.”

Irish Ambassador to the US Anne Anderson also expressed her hopes for the impact of the Ireland 2016 program.

“When these centenary events draw to a close, I hope we will look back on a year that has raised Ireland’s profile in America, that has educated us and animated us, challenged us and illuminated the path forward,” she said.

She observed that Americans, particularly during election time, have a tendency to affirm things in terms of “this is who we are.”

“I love the way that Americans, as they confront choices and challenges, reach for that affirmation. ‘This is who we are.’ It does not suggest a perfect America, it does not erase the flaws or the errors, but it summons what is best and truest in America, the generous-spirited, open-hearted land of opportunity,” she said.

“I hope that in 2016, in our centenary program, we can show America this is who we are. This is Ireland at its best. Not perfect, not airbrushed, but a country of abiding values, endless questing, unsurpassed talent, and extraordinary achievements.”

For a full schedule of events, visit the Ireland 2016 website here.

For more coverage of the 1916 Centenary, click here.