Curators of Memory: Women and the Centenary of the Easter Rising

Roisin Higgins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Roisín Higgins explores what emerges in the moment when past and present are believed to touch. The Easter Rising has a powerful ghost-like presence in Ireland onto which are projected the values, fears and aspirations of contemporary society. Therefore the meaning of the Rising changes with each commemoration, and provides a vehicle through which to reinforce and challenge power structures in Ireland. During significant anniversaries there is a disruption of linear time as history becomes much more vivid and visible in the landscape, in cultural practices and political discourses. The collision of past, future and present magnifies aspects around which the society can unite, and also exposes existing fault lines and divisions. This chapter uses a variety of commemorative practices including plays, exhibitions and re-enactments to examine how these encounters with history during the centenary exposed unresolved political issues in Irish society. Historically, women have acted as curators of the memory of the Easter Rising, yet their own stories became increasingly invisible. This chapter shows how the biographies and witness testimonies of women who lived during the Rising nevertheless offered messages for the future which were powerfully expressed because they spoke to current politics and exposed the silencing and inequality of women’s lives in the present. Ultimately the chapter argues the centenary commemorations represented two different things simultaneously: they were an expression of national pride and evidence of the failure of contemporary politics. The appeal of the Easter Rising as a commemorative vehicle is that it represented the possibility of a different world and its popularity in 2016 was indicative of a desire for change in Ireland; an escape from the present in the unrealised potential of the past.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen and the Decade of Centenaries
PublisherIndiana University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 Dec 2018

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