A new museum to James Connolly opens next week in Belfast, sparking renewed interest for a statue of the Irish revolutionary near his birthplace in Edinburgh.
Belfast’s James Connolly Visitor Centre will open on April 19th on the Falls Road, where Connolly lived before his execution in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.
His birthplace is currently marked with a modest plaque on the Cowgate, a street in Edinburgh, but Irish republican and socialist groups in Scotland have long called for a statue to honor the Irish revolutionary. However, there are fears it could prompt a sectarian backlash from Ulster loyalists and Scottish unionists, The Times UK reports.
One of Scotland’s most eminent historians, Professor Sir Tom Devine, believes the time is right for such a statue, citing the warm reception received by the Irish and Highland famine memorial in Glasgow Green.
“There has been a sea change in recent years, with the excellent famine memorial, which would not have been possible 20 years ago, and the opening of the Irish consulate in Edinburgh [in 1999],” he said.
“Connolly rightly deserves more recognition in Scotland. The time is right for this to happen. I think this is a no-brainer. There might be an issue in Glasgow, but I doubt it would be an issue in Edinburgh.”
JAMES CONNOLLY FALLS ROAD PARADE AND VISITOR CENTRE OPENING CEREMONY This Friday, Good Friday, on the Falls Road in...Publiée par James Connolly Visitor Centre Belfast sur Samedi 13 avril 2019
Iain Whyte, the leader of Edinburgh’s Conservative group, disagrees. “Connolly remains a divisive figure across the whole of the UK. There is already a memorial plaque in the Cowgate which has attracted some controversy, and anything more imposing such as a statue would only inflame people’s passions and perhaps be the target of vandalism,” said Whyte.
Jim Slaven, the founder of the James Connolly Society, said: “It’s ironic that you can have a publicly-funded visitors’ centre on the Falls Road, where the contested nature of Connolly’s legacy, his execution, the partition of Ireland and 50 years of conflict does not pose a problem for local authorities. Yet in Scotland, where he was born and lived for longer than anywhere, when you mention Connolly’s name some political parties go apoplectic.”
Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said a statue of Connolly was “long overdue.”
He said: “There will always be a cross section of people rooted in bigotry and sectarianism who will object to this but I don’t think there would be any objection from the general public.”
There were no objections to the James Connolly Visitor Center in Belfast, according to its director, Harry Connolly.
“Connolly was a devoted anti-sectarian activist who united the workers of the city, most famously the women workers, both Catholic and Protestant, under the banner of one big union,” he said.