BY CON DOWNING
SEVERAL major events to mark the centenary of O’Donovan Rossa’s death will take place in West Cork this summer.
‘In the same way as the O’Donovan Rossa funeral foreshadowed the 1916 Rising, so, too, will the centenary commemoration of his death act as a precursor to the centenary commemoration of the Easter Rising,’ declared UCC history lecturer Gabriel Doherty.
He was in Skibbereen on Wednesday night to give a broad outline of the month of commemorative events planned for this summer to mark the centenary of the death of Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.
Most of the events will take place in Rossa’s native West Cork, where he was born in 1831, but there will also be commemorations in New York, where he died in 1915, and at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, where he was buried during one of the largest political funerals Ireland has ever seen.
According to Doherty, the commemorative programme includes educational, community, sporting, ceremonial, artistic, diaspora and ‘New Irish’ elements, anticipating all of the major themes that will be present in the Easter Rising national commemorative programme in 2016. Among them is the launch in Skibbereen of a new artwork by Robert Ballagh and a commemorative stamp by An Post in Rosscarbery.
The full programme will be officially launched on June 11th next by President Michael D Higgins when he visits West Cork, his itinerary including a visit to the O’Donovan Rossa Memorial Park in Skibbereen, currently being refurbished by a voluntary local commemorative committee, which is appealing for funds to help with the cost of the work.
Jememiah O’Donovan Rossa was arguably the most famous – and feared – of all the Fenians and his burial in Glasnevin Cemetery on August 1st, 1915 was the occasion of Pádraig Pearse’s famous graveside oration that culminated in the words: ‘the fools, the fools, the fools! They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace!’
Given the involvement of the entire leadership of the 1916 Rising, and the prominent role played by the Irish Volunteers, the funeral can be seen as marking the beginning of the countdown to the 1916 Rising itself. In life, and even in death, the West Cork man represented one of the most important figures in the history of Irish republicanism between the Famine and the outbreak of the 1916 Rising.
The commemorative events proper will get under way at Gaelic Park in New York the last weekend of June which marks the centenary of Rossa’s death, including a GAA tournament, a mass and social. An anniversary mass will also take place that weekend in Rosscarbery.
In July, there will be book launches, a newspaper exhibition, theatrical events, a history conference, art exhibitions, Irish language events, a street parade as part of Skibbereen Arts Festival – to mention just some of those confirmed and more will be added. The programme culminates on August 1st, 2015 with a re-enactment of the original funeral of one hundred years earlier in Glasnevin Cemetery.