It is my very pleasant duty this afternoon to thank Dr Aidan Collins for his fine, thought-provoking address to us. In doing this, I would like to acknowledge the wonderful work that the Glasnevin Trust has done in restoring this historic cemetery and, in particular, the area here around Parnell’s grave. We are joined today by Shane MacThomáis, the Glasnevin Trust’s Education and Development Officer; a special word of welcome to him – and may I ask you, Shane, to convey our thanks and appreciation to the Trust.
Since we last gathered here a year ago, the new visitors centre has been opened at the gates of the cemetery. This beautiful building, with its state-of-the-art facilities and imaginative presentations, makes it possible for the public generally to readily appreciate the importance of this cemetery in the recent history of our country and its capital city. Glasnevin is, of course, the final resting place of many of Ireland’s greatest heroes – not only Parnell, but also O’Connell, Collins, de Valera and Arthur Griffith.
The last of these, Arthur Griffith, was a great admirer of the man we honour today, Charles Stewart Parnell. Griffith was truly the intellectual architect of our independence, but we have largely forgotten him – which leads me to wonder about the significance, or otherwise, of our nation’s choice of whom to remember and how to remember them. Such choices can say a lot about our society. For, as President John F. Kennedy told his audience at Amherst College on 26 October 1963, just a month before his assassination, ‘a nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers’.
The restoration of Glasnevin cemetery reflects the sense we have as a nation that a proper remembrance and understanding of our past, and of the people who shaped that past, is essential in order to understand the present. History is not merely a sequence of dates, wars and political controversies – not just a record of births and deaths – and, most definitely, not some politician’s self-serving version of the past, not some politician’s choice of whom to remember and whom to airbrush out of the past. It is something in which we can find a meaning, a meaning that has relevance to the concerns of the present. There are no simple lessons to be gleaned from the past, but it is a maturing experience to study, and to learn from, how others in the past worked out how to live their lives and how they coped with the predicaments of life – things which we ourselves have to do, both as individuals and as a community, albeit in circumstances that are often very different from those of our forebears.
Glasnevin cemetery, now restored to its full glory, represents a kind of clarion call, challenging us to redouble our efforts to understand the past and appreciate its true significance for our own times. Acts of commemoration like this afternoon’s wreath-laying and address are similar clarion calls, and are important for that reason – if for no other. And so, once again, on your behalf, I thank Dr. Collins most sincerely for his address today.
Ivy Day 2012
Response by FELIX M. LARKIN to the address by J. Victor Hamilton
at the Ivy Day commemoration in Glasnevin cemetery
7 October 2012
I am honoured today to have been asked to express thanks on behalf of all here present to my friend and fellow-Parnellite, Victor Hamilton, for conducting the traditional wreath-laying ceremony here at the grave of Charles Stewart Parnell, and then for speaking to us. Victor’s faithful attendance here on Ivy Day Sunday each year and at the Parnell Summer School at Avondale in August is an inspiration to us all – and whereas most of us travel from no further away than the environs of Dublin, Victor comes all the way from Hollywood in County Down. He is that very rare thing, an Ulster Parnellite – and we salute him for that.
And here today I want to salute him also for his great work in restoring, at his own expense, the grave of Captain Henry Harrison – and of his parents and his only son – in the Old Priory graveyard in Hollywood, work which he undertook at the suggestion and with the help of Deirdre Larkin, Secretary of the Parnell Society. Henry Harrison was Parnell’s last personal secretary – and, having been elected an MP in 1890 at the age of only 23, he was the last surviving member of Parnell’s parliamentary party when he died in 1954. After Parnell’s death, he had a varied career as a banker, soldier and journalist – and he was eventually close to Eamon de Valera through his work in the 1940s for the Anti-Partition League in Great Britain. I can think of no other figure who served those two colossi of modern Irish history – Parnell and de Valera. And we should remember that de Valera is himself buried here in Glasnevin, not far from where we stand. So close to Parnell was Henry Harrison that Katherine O’Shea chose him to place wreaths on her husband’s coffin on her behalf at his funeral – which, of course, she did not attend.
Victor Hamilton, in restoring the grave of Henry Harrison, has helped to keep fresh the memory of a very special Parnellite – and he has thus placed present-day Parnellites everywhere much in his debt. It was therefore a great privilege for us to hear him speak here today, and I thank him most sincerely on your behalf.