Labour History in Ireland’s ‘Decade of Centenaries’

Author: Emmet O’Connor
This is the abstract of an article published in Labour History Review (2021), 86, (2), 249-269. Find out more.

In 2012 the governments in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland launched their Decade of Centenaries projects to ‘focus’ on ‘significant centenaries’ occurring between 2012 and 2022-3, with an unusual degree of co-ordination between them. The initiatives have generated major public interest in the commemoration of events like the third Home Rule crisis, the 1913 Lockout, the 1916 rising, the First World War, the War of Independence, extension of the franchise to women, and partition, and also in the meaning and relevance of historiography. This paper examines the thinking behind the Decade of Centenaries, the state of the Irish Labour History Society and Irish labour historiography, the involvement of state authorities with labour anniversaries, and the consequences for publications on labour and on the public understanding of labour historiography. While the Decade of Centenaries is patently an attempt to manage the remembrance of the controversies and violence that led to the creation of the two Irish states between 1920 and 1922, it has been beneficial for historians by encouraging popular engagement with the past. Traditionally, Irish labour historiography has been weak in its presence in the academy, but strong in its organic connections with the trade union movement. The Decade of Centenaries has allowed it to exploit its strength to secure greater state and public recognition. Among the positive outcomes have been a significant increase in the number of labour historians and publications on labour, and an extension of the ambit of labour history into new fields of enquiry.

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