In recent weeks, a number of controversial articles have appeared in the British press in relation to the rebels of Easter Week, and the supposed cult of ‘blood sacrifice’ that was at the heart of their actions. Yet the language of Patrick Pearse a century ago must be viewed in the context of its time writes historian Donal Fallon.
The Rising was roundly condemned by many contemporaries, an irony often commented upon in the years since it took place. Yet the reasons for this aren't hard to understand, and should not be dismissed as the work of so-called 'west Brits' and 'Castle Catholics'.
Against the backdrop of a renewed interest in the involvement of Irishmen in the First World War, and with the on-going peace process and emphasis on reconciliation, perhaps it’s not entirely surprising the significant contribution of Germany towards the insurrection and its planning has gone largely unmarked, writes historian Donal Fallon.
The hazards the British army ran into in Dublin in 1916 have much in common with urban battles in our own age. In 2004 a Division of US Marines, were like the British forces in 1916 faced with a city, Fallujah in Iraq, that had fallen into the hands of insurgents.
In 1916, Easter Sunday fell on April 4th, and the main preoccupations in Ireland were the Great War, the injured soldiers returning to Ireland and the setting up of Red Cross hospitals. But what was life like for the women of the city?
After Roger Casement's capture on Banna Strand he was brought to London. During his interrogation on Easter Monday, news of the Rising filtered through, and by the end of the week, English public opinion of Casement had plummeted. He was presumed to have been the instigator of the Rising, although in reality he had come to Ireland to try to prevent it. While their first instinct had been to try him before a court-martial, the British government ultimately opted for the public spectacle of a full civil trial. Casement, however, would have preferred a court-martial like the other rebels.
'In my Dublin days', the English composer Arnold Bax wrote in 1952, 'there was no talk of music whatever'. By then, less than a year before his death in Cork (where he lies in St Finbarre's cemetery), Bax had long become an eminence of British music. Knighted in 1937, he later became Master of the King's Music. But Bax's love-affair with Ireland abided to the grave.
One of the enduring ideas about the 1916 Rising is that it was a 'poets' revolt'. This may be partly to do with the fact the most famous statement about the event is, itself, a poem. Yeats's 'Easter 1916' gave us the unforgettable refrain 'A terrible beauty is born', but it also portrayed leaders like Pearse and MacDonagh as cultured men of letters as well as revolutionaries. There is no doubt that poetry and theatre played a huge role in the events that led to the Easter Rising but it is unlikely that any of the volunteers who saw action on Easter week signed up for combat solely because they read patriotic poems or attended nationalist plays.
Gene Kerrigan said on January 3 that he does not think John Redmond should have supported voluntary recruitment to the UK Army in 1914, and, from that questionable proposition, he leaps to the conclusion that the 1916 Rebellion was both necessary and right.
Easter 1916 represented a lurch to the right in Irish politics. It visited much suffering on subsequent generations of the Irish people. Though not quite jihad, it was a holy disaster. The Proclamation itself, which announced the re-birth of Ireland, is replete with contradictions, evasions and silences. In its many delusions are to be found the seeds of political, communal and sectarian strife in 20th century Irish society. Ireland may be a land of heroes, from Cúchulainn to Pearse and Connolly, but it is worth pondering the words of the German playwright, Bertolt Brecht: "Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes."
In 1966, I published Ireland Since The Rising, a history of Ireland in the 50 years between 1916 and 1966. The book was suffused with optimism. It was influenced by the promise of what I termed the 'watershed years': the emergence of a new generation of Irish decision-takers with preoccupations and horizons wider than those influenced by the civil war and clerical domination. They had their eye on the wider world, and had been stimulated by the effects of the Second Vatican Council, the coming of television to Ireland and by far greater State expenditure on and control of what had been largely the church's fiefdom - education.
July 1916. The days were ticking closer to Roger Casement's execution on a charge of high treason. By now, he was publicly vilified in Britain not just as a revolutionary but as a homosexual, stripped of the knighthood he had earned as a human rights campaigner.
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