Why we Commemorate 1919-1923

Liam Ronayne, former City Librarian on the significance of commemorating the events of Cork 1920

The revolutionary period in Cork produced some outstanding individuals – the two Lords Mayor, Mac Curtain and MacSwiney, the Wallace sisters, Tadhg Barry, Birdie Conway and Mary Bowles, Liam de Róiste who chronicled the period in his diaries, and many others.  

These men and women were so important in the history of Ireland and of Cork, that no self-respecting city or community could fail to honour their contributions to achieving independence. I am thinking especially of the importance of Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney as Lords Mayor who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. Their importance as political and military figures from the period after 1916 was crucial — Mac Curtain’s importance in both cultural and organisational terms; MacSwiney’s importance as a playwright and as a cultural and polemical essayist. 

But that is not the only reason, and not even the main reason. 

Now is a time of crisis, of reflection, of change in Ireland, and a time when decisions must be made about the future. The years 1913 to 1923 were also a time of intellectual and political turmoil, when the State was born following the conflicts of the War of Independence and the Civil War.  

What is most important about the Decade of Centenaries in Cork, and throughout Ireland, is the need to understand what happened, and why. This current period offers us a chance to learn lessons for our own time.  We need to understand what motivated these individuals, to learn from their writings and actions, and ask ourselves what we can do, what we have to do now, to make a better city and country.  

The title of the City Library’s programme – ‘It seems history is to blame’ - is a quotation from James Joyce’s UlyssesUlysses is set in 1904 just before the revolutionary period, and was published in 1922, as the dust was beginning to settle, and this classic novel reflects many of the issues which Irish people might usefully reflect on, now and for the future. 

 - Liam Roynane, former Cork City Librarian