The Church in the Public Square: The Future of Our Past: Remembering and Reassessing 1916

12.2.2016 | Church in the Public Square

The Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme were the focus of the fifth Church in the Public Square Conference that took place on 21st January 2016. The Conference, brought together leading academics and commentators to discuss how the Easter Rising and Battle of the Somme came to exert such a central place in how Ireland views its past and present.

Entitled ‘The Future of Our Past: Remembering and Reassessing 1916’, the Conference was organised by the Church’s Union Theological College. Addressing the wider questions around current relationships in Ireland that have been shaped by the events of 1916, the conference also sought to open up a meaningful conversation about how society might work together for the common good in the context of different understandings of our past.Over 350 people attended the conference from a wide variety of backgrounds including Presbyterian Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Ian McNie, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Rev. Brian Anderson, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Speakers

Dr. Fearghal McGarry
A leading historian of the Irish Revolution, Fearghal McGarry is Reader in Irish History at Queen’s University Belfast. In recent years his research has focused on 1916, the wider Irish revolution and the impact of both events on independent Ireland.

Dr. McGarry’s talk is entitled ‘The Easter Rising: From History to Memory and Myth’

Dr. Ruth Dudley Edwards
Describing herself as a Judeo-Christian atheist from an Irish Roman Catholic background, Dr. Ruth Dudley Edwards is a prize-winning writer. Born and brought up in Dublin, she has written for most national newspapers in the UK and Ireland and is a columnist for the Irish Sunday Independent and the Belfast Telegraph. Dr. Dudley Edwards is also the author of 11 satirical crime novels.

Dr. Dudley Edwards’ talk is entitled: ‘The Easter Rising: The Legitimisation of Violence’

Philip Orr
The Carrickfergus-based author and historian has written a number of books about the local experience of the Great War and has written and directed several dramas set in key periods of Irish history. The former teacher is perhaps best known for his best-selling book The Road to the Somme: Men of the Ulster Division Tell Their Story.

During the conference he reads adaptations of speeches from his play ‘Halfway House’ which explores the events of 1916, but 50 years on.

Philip Orr’s talk is entitled: The 36th Ulster Division at the Somme: A Story about Unionist and Loyalist Identity

Eamonn Mallie
Eamonn Mallie is one of Ireland and the UK’s best-known journalists. Born in South Armagh, the author and commentator began his career as a researcher in Irish Language for RTÉ. Having worked for the BBC and commercial radio - he was political correspondent for Downtown Radio for many years - he formed Eamonn Mallie News Services in 1989.

Having broken many major stories over the last 35, he is a regular contributor to discussion programmes, he has become a prolific Twitter user and blogger in recent years.

Eamon Mallie responded to Philip Orr’s talk.

Very Rev. Dr. Trevor Morrow
In the year 2000, when Dr. Morrow was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, he was at 51 the youngest minister to be elected and the first Republic of Ireland-based Moderator since 1964.

Ordained in 1978, he is Minister Emeritus of Lucan Presbyterian Church in County Dublin, where he ministered from 1983 until his retirement in 2014. He was Assistant Minister in Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church in Bangor, County Down before being called to Lucan. In 1987 he was one of the instigators of Nexus Ireland, an evangelical reconciliation initiative for young Irish people. The University of Ulster awarded him an honorary doctorate for his contribution to peace making in Ireland.

Dr. Morrow’s talk is entitled: Moving on.

Heather Humphreys T.D
A member for Dáil Éireann’s Cavan-Monaghan constituency, Heather Humphreys was elected in the 2011 general election. The first Fine Gael T.D. to be elected in the constituency, she was appointed Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in July 2014. A Presbyterian from County Monaghan, Mrs. Humphreys first became involved in politics when she was co-opted onto Monaghan County Council in 2003. Re-elected in 2004 and 2009, she was elected Mayor of Monaghan County Council the same year.

Mrs. Humphreys responded to Dr. Morrow’s talk.

The Talks

Session One: Easter Rising
The conference is opened by the Very Rev. Professor Stafford Carson, Principal of the Church’s Union Theological College in Belfast. Profesor Carson introduces Philip Orr who reads an adaptation of a speech from his play ‘Halfway House’ which explores the events of 1916, but 50 years on. The speech is by Bronagh, whose father took part in the 1916 Rising.

This is followed by Dr. Fearghal McGarry, reader in Modern Irish History at Queen’s University. Dr. McGarry sets the historical context of the Easter Rising and its impact on Irish society at the time. Historian and journalist, Dr. Ruth Dudley Edwards, responds to the talk, looking at the long-term political and cultural legacy of the event.

Dr. McGarry's presentation slides which accompanied his talk can be downloaded here.


Session Two: Battle of the Somme
Professor Stafford Carson opens session two and if followed by Philip Orr who reads his second adaptation from his play ‘Halfway House’. Exploring the events of 1916, but 50 years on, in this excerpt we here from Valerie, whose father took part in the Battle of the Somme.

Philip then looks at the Battle from an historic and cultural perspective. The journalist and commentator Eamonn Mallie, responds to his talk, looking at the long-term political and cultural legacy of the event.

Philip's presentation slides to accompany his address can be downloaded here.


Session Three: Moving on
The theme of the final session of The Future of Our Past: Remembering and Reassessing 1916’ is ‘Moving on’ and how this might be possible given the collective impact of both events on society and the continuing effect they have on the Irish and Ulster psyche.

Former Presbyterian Moderator, Very Rev. Dr. Trevor Morrow – who was born in County Antrim and ministered in County Dublin - addresses the conference on this subject and is followed by Heather Humphreys T.D., a Presbyterian from County Monaghan and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.


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