Thursday 12 December 2019

Television review: Pearse loses 1916 all over again

* Rebellion (RTE1)

Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Illustration: Jim Cogan.
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

De Valera is not having a good Rebellion. And Padraig Pearse is not coming out of it too well either.

"Where the fuck is de Valera?", Brian Gleeson shouts to Ruth Bradley as they are shooting at a bunch of Brits in the street below, waiting for reinforcements led by the aforementioned Dev - if he wasn't too busy somewhere else, ducking and diving, generally up to no good.

Later, we see this excellent pair in the same engagement with the enemy, with Gleeson telling Bradley that he is "not into that blood-sacrifice shite", which we can take as a direct attack on Pearse, and his messianic vision.

Indeed, Pearse as he is portrayed here, with that weird serenity of the fanatic, is not just a man who is himself in the grip of madness, he is a highly effective teacher of madness to his pupils at the "progressive" St Enda's who join him in the Rising.

And that's fine by me.

The last time Ireland celebrated 1916, Pearse was still a Christ-like figure without whom we would still be enslaved to our colonial masters - and Dev was still there or thereabouts, the living President of the country we had become, one that was unfortunately still enslaved, but to a different set of colonial masters, to the empire of Rome.

Which brings us naturally to the IRA analysis that the vision of Pearse and the men of 1916 was betrayed by those who ran the country for much of the 20th century - a point of view that seems quite reasonable for a few moments, until you recall that among the men of 1916, was one Eamon de Valera.

That complicates it somewhat, does it not?

I mean, whatever you say about de Valera, you can't say he wasn't one of the men of 1916. They may have been wondering "where the fuck" he was most of the time, at least in a TV drama made a hundred years later, but he was one of them, all the same.

So if the vision of the men of 1916 was betrayed - and of course it was - I regret to inform my republican friends that it was in fact betrayed by one of the men of 1916. And probably by a few more along with him, further down the line. And maybe even by one or two of the women, if truth be told.

And that's without the input of Padraig Pearse. But it is probably fair to say, that if the somewhat cerebral and pragmatic de Valera chose to prostrate himself on the altar of Roman Catholicism, a man such as Pearse with a deeply emotional attachment to that same religion probably wouldn't have steered us too far away from it either.

Moreover in their insistence that the Free State undid all the good of the Rising, republicans are also making what is known as a "category error". They do not seem to realise that the skillset needed to shoot up the town for a week, is of a somewhat different order than that which is needed over a period of a hundred years to run a nation state functioning as a mature constitutional democracy - or whatever it is we're running here.

They have always favoured the simplistic vision, and so there is a kind of justice in the fact that they are now left with a simplistic Pearse. In every other part of Rebellion there is a serious effort being made to display the complexity of the Rising and of life itself, but it seems that Pearse is too far gone for that - and of course Dev even in his absence is utterly beyond redemption.

In fact you'd almost start to feel sorry for them - for Pearse anyway - and you're hoping he'll break off from a decade of the rosary in the GPO to share some of his ideas on education or on literature or perhaps to explore certain unresolved aspects of his sexuality.

But he is frozen in our minds as this fellow who is not really "all there", both a participant in the chaos around him, and a sort of a distant admirer of it - a kind of a performance artist gone wrong.

You're thinking there must have been more to him than that. But maybe there wasn't.

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