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Soloheadbeg Parish Centenary: Winner of the Chambers Ireland Commemorations and Centenaries Award

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

At the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards 2019, Tipperary County Council won the Commemorations and Centenaries Award for their successfully-planned centenary event at Soloheadbeg. In this blog, they tell us more about the event and how it came to fruition. 

It is generally accepted that the first shots in the War of Independence took place during an ambush in Soloheadbeg County Tipperary on January 21 1919. A consignment of gelignite that was being transported by two county council workers accompanied by two RIC men was held up near Solohead quarry and in the subsequent altercation the two RIC men were killed.

The centenary of the Soloheadbeg Ambush was marked on the 20 January 2020 at Solohead Cross in County Tipperary. The event was organised by Solohead Parish Centenary Committee, a local group which had been set up in 2018 to plan the event. The group were supported in their efforts by Tipperary County Council and the Commemorations Unit of the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

A monument had been erected in Solohead Cross and unveiled by then President of Ireland Sean T O’ Ceallaigh, on 22 January 1950. This monument is approximately 3 miles from the ambush site itself and was chosen by the committee as the most appropriate location for the centenary event.

A meeting was held between members of the committee and the Heritage Officer at the monument site in the summer of 2018, where the committee outlined their plans and sought advice on various logistical matters, funding and maintenance issues in relation to the monument. Funding was provided towards the cost of an information panel to be erected at the monument and unveiled as part of the ceremony. Local county council outdoor staff and engineering staff from the Cashel -Tipperary Municipal District provided help in tidying up and maintaining the site. The Heritage Officer also made the formal request to the Defence Forces for their presence at the event. The Commemorations unit of the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht also came on board and provided financial support which greatly helped the group to achieve their objective and with advice in relation to formal elements of the programme.

The committee were acutely aware from the start that this was a particularly sensitive event in our history and were committed to having a respectful, sensitive and inclusive event that remembered all people involved in the events at Soloheadbeg in 1919. They made huge efforts to ensure that the event was not glorifying violence in any way but rather a reflection on a troubled time in our part and an acknowledgement of the different impacts it had on the lives of those involved and on their families. Efforts were made to contact relatives of those at Soloheadbeg on the day, who carried out the ambush, the county council workers transporting the gelignite and the RIC men who lost their lives on the day.

The event was planned meticulously with huge attention to detail and this was evident on the day with a very smooth-running event. A traffic management plan had been undertaken with the local Gardai and this facilitated ease of access to the village on the day to over 2000 people who were in attendance.

The day began with a Mass of Remembrance celebrated in the local Church by Archbishop Kieran O Reilly. The crowd then adjourned to the memorial site where a number of wreaths were laid and the names of all those present on the day in 1919 were read out followed by a minute’s silence. The crowd was addressed by Minister for Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan. An information board telling the story of events unfolding on the day was unveiled by Dr Martin Mansergh who then gave an address to the crowd. The Proclamation was read by Michael Maguire and the Defence Forces conducted a Flag ceremony. A keynote oration was delivered by Mr Éamon Ó Cuív T.D. There were a number of closing speeches including an address by the Chairman of the Solohead Parish Commemoration Committee Mr Oliver Coffey.

A publication chronicling the history and timeline of events that day and details of all the people involved was prepared by local historian and committee member Michael Ryan and circulated for free to all in attendance. It was an excellent example of a commemorative booklet and was very well received on the day and in the aftermath of the event.

There are no doubts but that this was a significant undertaking for a local community, as the first commemorative event moving into a turbulent period in our history one which required great sensitivity. Great credit is due to the organising committee for taking on this event and for at all times adhering to the principles of respectful and inclusive commemoration. They brought together all elements of the community and any challenges that arose they worked through them together. The history books record these events in great detail but we must also remember that the narratives have also been handed down through generations, and are powerful and emotive. As such, the input of the local communities themselves on the ground is essential to navigating the path to inclusivity and sensitivity in these matters. All participants in events of the 21 January 1919 were remembered on the day as equals in an event that was to have a major impact on our history. The descendants who had lost relatives and those that had lived were there together in remembrance. It has been held up as a model of community-led commemoration and the committee have since being hugely helpful to other groups in the county and further afield in giving advice for commemorations for this period of history.

We were absolutely delighted to be nominated and to receive the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Award in the Commemorations and Centenaries category. At Tipperary County Council we are passionate about working with and supporting our communities and we were delighted to be able to be part of this historic event with the local community. It was a great honour for all and for the Chairman of the parish committee Mr Oliver Coffey, who joined us at the awards night in Dublin as the award was a tribute to the community of Solohead.

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