Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Smithsonian snubs Irish nationalists

Cahir O’Doherty:

DEMOCRATIC Congress-man Eliot Engel of New York, the co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, has written a strongly worded letter to the organizers of the Smithsonian’s Northern Ireland Folklife Festival in Washington later this month, protesting what he calls the lack of equal community representation at the forthcoming Northern Ireland Folklife Festival, citing the inclusion of the Orange Order without equal participation from the Nationalist community.

In his letter the Congress-man said, “It is important to note that the Orange Order is known for its violently anti-Catholic sentiments and actions. I question whether inviting them as representatives from the Protestant community is an action that expresses neutrality and emphasizes resolution. Because the Folklife Festival takes place on the National Mall, there is potential for this strictly cultural event to unintentionally appear political.”

Nancy Groce, the Smithsonian’s curator of the Northern Ireland program at the Folklife Festival disagreed with Engel’s partisan assessment however, noting that it is a cultural program and not a political program, and that the Smithsonian’s organizers have already sent a reply to his letter.

“The congressman is voicing very real concerns, and it is a question of balance, but we don’t want to get into a situation of tit for tat,” Groce told the Irish Voice. “We don’t want label people Nationalist or Unionist, and we don’t want to say that the GAA participants are a balance for the participation of the Orange Order – because that’s not accurate. The truth is no politicians have been invited except to open the ceremony – and they are Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.”

It understood that both the Sam Maguire and McCarthy Cup, the trophies for winning the All-Ireland football and hurling titles, will be displayed for the first time during the festival.

Said Groce, “The Sam Maguire Cup and the Liam McCarthy Cup are both national treasures. We will display them in a limited way during the Folk Festival, but they will be available for viewing at the Irish Embassy. The Northern Irish Bureau and the Irish Embassy have been closely involved in the planning of the event.”

The program is being produced in partnership with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure of Northern Ireland and with the cooperation of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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