The Bishop of Cork, Rt. Rev. Paul Colton must be applauded for courageously drawing the State’s attention to the other ways in which people are Irish today. The Bishop rightfully points out that for too long “there was only one way in which you could meaningfully be said to be an Irish person – mythical Celtic, oppressed and Roman Catholic”. This narrow approach excluded those of us who are Irish and Protestant, Irish and British. It also excluded those from other countries who have made Ireland their home in recent years.
Reflecting on the State visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, and in particular the wreath laying ceremony at Islandbridge, Bishop Colton said,
“This for me, was a public acknowledgment and validation of my ancestors, and, more deep than that, how a family such as mine came to be in Ireland. I have no doubt the wreath-laying ceremony at the Garden of Remembrance the previous day was an equally potent symbol for many others in our country.
The visit and the work of people such as Myles Dungan, Kevin Myers, Eoghan Harris have empowered people like me to tell my story: to recount unashamedly how we came to be in Ireland; of how we are Irish today, and also to tell a story that is rarely told and even less frequently acknowledged – the story of Protestants in Ireland who were not well off; not in power – but by a convenient manipulation of history were blotted out because they did not slot into a suitable stereotype and spin.”
Speaking at the Cork, Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Synod, he explained how last October he and his family visited the grave of his grandmother’s first husband, Daniel Griffith, in France. From Ushers’ Quay in Dublin, Griffith had been a labourer in Guinness’s when he enlisted in the 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 36th Ulster Division. On November 20th, 1917 he was killed, at the age of 26. At the grave Bishop Colton and his family planted a cross on which he had written “a visit 93 years later on behalf of your dear wife Ciss Marsh – my grandmother”, he said.
Bishop Colton believes that as the Irish State approaches the centenary of the Easter Rising 1916, that the other centenaries should be remembered too- the signing of the Ulster Covenant 1912, the outbreak of the First World War, the sinking of the Lusitania, the War of Independence, the Treaty, and the Civil War.
“I believe it important, that, as we come to this Decade of Centenaries (as the Archbishop of Dublin referred to it in his recent Easter sermon) that the complexity of the demographic and socio-historic genetic make-up of the Irish population is endorsed, understood and empathised with. It is crucial that we are not meted out the polarising caricatures from the history books of my Irish childhood. It is vital that small communities such as ours – small in number, but rich in diversity and pluralism – engage with the preparations for the observance of these centenaries. Many of these have a particular resonance in this part of the country and we do well to ask ourselves how we are to engage with and contribute to these events in the coming years.”
As a result of Bishop Colton’s efforts, the Church of Ireland have set up an advisory group to look at the historical, theological/pastoral and logistical aspects of centenary commemorations of the period 1912-22. It is composed of Ven. Robin Bantry White (Archdeacon of Cork), Rev. John McDowell (Bishop-elect of Clogher) and Dr Kenneth Milne (Church of Ireland Historiographer).