Thursday 22 February 2018

Books: Rich pickings in Rising's literary palette

A vivid smorgasbord of artistic and literary events will enrich and illuminate our understanding of Easter 1916

Lia Mills' novel Fallen is the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2016.
Lia Mills' novel Fallen is the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2016.
Madeleine Keane

Madeleine Keane

'Did that play of mine send out certain men the English shot?' asked Yeats in his poem The Man and The Echo. Writers certainly played a significant role in the revolution and in turn the Rising would have a profound influence on the literature which followed down the century. It's apt therefore amidst all the ceremonial celebrations and historical hubbub to highlight some of the many literary and cultural events happening countrywide.

A good place to start is at the very fine Yeats' exhibition at the National Library. Public tours take place the first Thursday of every month this year and there's special focus on his poem Easter 1916 with an installation worked around the original manuscript.

Also worth a visit is the James Stephens' exhibition at the National Gallery; Stephens who wrote The Crock of Gold and The Charwoman's Daughter became registrar of the National Gallery in 1915 and published his eyewitness account of the fighting in St Stephen's Green in The Insurrection in Dublin. Lectures by distinguished academics Professor Declan Kiberd and Dr Hilary Pyle on Stephens will also form part of the NGI programme. Down Cork way, the World Book Festival (April 19-23) will feature writers, particularly poets, from cultures still seeking political freedom. Over in Galway, the successful writers in school programme continues apace and as far afield as Paris, the Centre Culturel Irlandais will acknowledge 1916 with debates, conversations and exhibitions.

On St Patrick's Day, in Washington DC and Boston, the Irish literary magazine, Solas Nua will distribute thousand of pieces drawn from In the Wake of the Rising. Published last week by The Stinging Fly, this special issue features 43 contemporary writers (Belinda McKeon, Kevin Barry, Aidan Mathews and Catriona Crowe among others) responding to the principles and the legacy of the Rising.

Needless to say, the range and variety of centenary cultural events in Dublin is vast. Among the standout events 'All sorts of wild reports' on April 20 in Findlater's Church sounds riveting. This will be a dramatisation by actors Catherine Byrne and Rose Henderson along with singers and musicians from the Royal Irish Academy of Music of first-hand accounts re-imagining what it was like to wake up in the city on Easter Monday not knowing what was happening, when rumours were rife. The voices are drawn from the letters and diaries of volunteer nurses in Dublin Castle and those who attended the wounded at Mount Street Bridge, activist Rosie Hackett who was in the trenches and Elsie McDermid, a visiting opera singer who was unable to leave her Merrion Square hotel.

April is the month for the Dublin: One City One Book festival and for the year that's in it, it has teamed up with Belfast - so a tale for two cities. Lia Mills' third novel Fallen is the designated choice and over 70 events will animate the book throughout next month. Published two years ago to critical acclaim, Fallen tells the story of Katie Crilly, who, heartbroken by the death of her twin on the Western Front, takes refuge in her friends' home as her world is torn apart by rebellion. In addition to readings, discussions and dramatisations, Katie will have her own Twitter account @KatieC1916 during April as she reacts to the events of Easter Week 1916.

The Poets' Revolution on April 26 at Dun Laoghaire's dlr Lexicon will feature Paula Meehan, Gerald Dawe and others reading poetry from the leaders of the Rising while actor Bryan Murray, accompanied by musicians, will animate Patrick Pearse's works at Dublin City library on April 6.

This is just a flavour of the superb cultural smorgasbord on offer.

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