An idea that was floating around for a very long time finally became a reality when a historic exhibition dedicated to Lithuanian history and the celebration of 100 years of the restored state of Lithuania was opened in the central library in Cavan.
The exhibition shows freedom through our, Lithuanian, eyes. It shows the hardships, challenges and injustices that were faced by our ancestors on their fight for a brighter future. A future where we would have the right to think freely, make our own decisions, and make mistakes that we could learn from. The opening was attended by Paddy McDonald, the Chair of Cavan County Council, Egidijus Meilūnas, the Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to Ireland, Tom Sullivan, the library director, and the friends of the Lithuanian school in Cavan “Gintarėlis” (“Little Amber”). Following all of the welcoming speeches made by distinguished guests, the National Anthems of Lithuania and Ireland were performed and then everyone was welcomed to explore the exhibition.
The idea to introduce Lithuanian history to Cavan came about a few years ago while celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. This is when we, Lithuanians in Ireland, promised to share our celebration of 100 years of the restored state of Lithuania with Cavan. Afterall, our history is so similar!
The exhibition explores Lithuanian history from the time of Lithuanian book smugglers “knygnešys” to contemporary history. The history of the book smugglers and secret schools was strongly emphasised due to its uniqueness, as well as the fact that Ireland also had something similar – hedge schools. Everyone was invited to watch Irish documentary about our book smugglers, in which poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn studies the history of the preservation of Lithuanian language and follows the paths taken by book smugglers during their missions.
Other periods of history explored were Lithuania in 1916 and Lithuania during the occupation by Germany. These periods are accentuated since this is around the same time when Ireland began her fight for independence and it shows the struggles that both countries had to face on their way to freedom.
On the main wall of the exhibition, Vincas Kudirka and Jonas Basanavičius can be seen along with the Act of Independence of Lithuania and the signatories. These people were painted in bright colours, as they were not average people, but instead they were fighters for our freedom. This creative idea suggested by Jekaterina, a Lithuanian teacher, became a great accent for the exhibition that speaks volumes about our history.
The period of double occupation brought out a lot of emotions from the attendees, as these years were very dramatic and painful for Lithuania.
However the Singing Revolution – another part of the exhibition, brings out much more positive emotions. The Baltic Way, the rock marches, the songs of freedom, and finally the 13th of January show the Irish our determination on the path to freedom.
All of the pieces on display were made by Lithuanian teachers and students in Ireland. The intention was to make history feel alive so that the guests would understand that it is not all books or archives, it’s us – the people. The people who still remember, who still hurt, and who still let a tear fall whenever they hear the song “Laisvė” (“Freedom”). Raimonda, a Lithuanian teacher, reminded everyone of that by performing traditional Lithuanian songs during the opening.
Towards the end of the evening, the winner of the contest to create a Lithuania-themed bookmark, Keelan Gilroy, was awarded with a prize. This contest took place in all Lithuanian Saturday schools in Ireland with about 40 students participating. The evening was then finished with a speech from the Ambassador Egidijus Meilūnas and letters of appreciation for the friends of the Lithuanistic school.
We would like to thank the Ambassador Egidijus Meilūnas for his time and attention, for letters of appreciation to all sponsors, new books for the library and the gift for the winner of the Lithuania-themed bookmark creation contest.
The exhibition will be open for a long time and can be visited by everyone. The library employees have said that the exhibition is already very popular and has received a lot interest. If any of you, dear readers, will be in Cavan – visit the exhibition and explore our history together with us.
Donata Simonaitienė, the director of the Lithuanistic school in Cavan “Gintarėlis”
Article adapted for English readers by Izabelė Šuškevičiūtė