Tag Archives: 1916 revolution

State 1916 Commemoration: insulting the living and the dead

The hugely successful 19th century Irish theatrical impresario Dion Boucicault once said, “What the audience wants is spectacle, and by God I will give them that”.

That same thinking seems to have formed the basis of the state’s supposed commemoration of the 1916 Revolution.

“Let them have spectacle” is the new “Let them eat cake”. By God, spectacle is what they got, those who could see the giant screens, excluded as they were from the theatre that was O’Connell Street and the GPO. The barriers preventing them from being close to the action might well have borne signs stating “No riff-raff”, since that was what was intended.

O’Connell Street and the GPO were to be the exclusive preserve of the Irish political class, the self-styled ‘elite’ – politicians, both former and current; judges and lawyers; senior state functionaries; corporate kings and bankers; other wealthy individuals; and of course the propaganda wing of state, the media. In an attempt to attach some credibility to proceedings, relatives of 1916 revolutionaries were allowed to apply as supplicants for tickets from some committee or other, or not – a position some of us chose to adopt.

In my case it is because it stretches credibility beyond its limits to have dictating the nature of the state commemoration a prime minister (‘acting’ since the recent election) who has attempted since coming to office in 2011 to submerge the commemoration of the seminal event in modern Irish history, the 1916 Revolution which led to independence and self-government, in a sea of other often minor-by-comparison commemorations, a decade of them no less. Imagine, the state’s launch video for the 1916-2016 commemoration did not have a single image of a 1916 leader but featured a singer (Bono) and a queen (English)!

But the acting prime minister’s party, Fine Gael, has previous form. It is the 1930s iteration of the counter-revolutionary party Cumann na nGaedheal, whose central mission was to obliterate, via the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and a brutal civil war, the Irish Republic fought for in 1916 and sustained up to 1921. It morphed into Fine Gael in 1933 when the remnants of Cumann na nGaedheal joined forces with the fascist Blueshirts. Fine Gael has never moved from that counter-revolutionary corporatist-fascist ideology. During its kleptocratic five-year term since 2011 it forced the most swingeing austerity, often on the most economically vulnerable in society, while transferring huge amounts of wealth to the already wealthy.

In stark contrast, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic promised universal suffrage, religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunities to all citizens, to pursue prosperity and happiness for all, in a resolutely anti-sectarian, sovereign republic, owned by the people. Those ideas and ideals are anathema to Fine Gael values, and to those of its equally right-wing alternative, Fianna Fáil, as history shows.

And so to the commemoration (even if we can only see it on a screen).

In the first place, this ‘centenary commemoration’ was a month early. Instead of holding it on the actual anniversary, 24th April, the government chose to stick with tradition and hold it on Easter Sunday, thus tying it to a Christian religious feast. The revolution actually began on Easter Monday, not Sunday, 1916, but hey, let’s not be pedantic about that. Its association with Easter down through the years has been a handy way of associating the Catholic church with the revolution that that church opposed tooth and nail.

Being monarchic in its structures and practices, the Catholic church has always been antagonistic to Enlightenment secular republicanism and to the concept of the egalitarian and democratic republic.

That is why the counter-revolution played into the church’s hands, allowing for the creation of a state that combined Catholic theocracy with plutocracy and oligarchy, the so-called Free State. By creating a false official history, propagated in Catholic schools, the republican basis of the 1916 Revolution was extinguished in favour of one that presented it as having been a Catholic nationalist rising, not a progressive revolution.

That must have made it easy for the one clergyman called on to read the prayer during yesterday’s event. The Irish Defence Forces’ Head Chaplain is, of course, a Catholic priest. He delivered a heavily politicised prayer which very inappropriately at an event marking 1916 slyly referenced the Troubles. We can take that to mean the recent Troubles. Besides that, it was as if all present in O’Connell Street and beyond the barriers in Riff-Raff Street were Catholics, rather than people of all religions and none.

But worse than that, the absence of even an ecumenical prayer instead lumped all of the dead revolutionaries in together, as if Protestants, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, etc., had not formed part of the revolutionary forces along with Catholics, which of course they did. What of it that the inspiration for 1916 came directly from the United Irishmen of the 1790s, all initially of the Protestant faith, or that the 1914 gunrunning into Howth and Kilcoole was almost entirely a Protestant enterprise from start to finish? A Catholic prayer will be good enough for them, and they should count themselves lucky.

What does that say, in this centenary year, to the Protestants of Ireland, north of the border as well as south of it? We know that the Irish Republic of 1916 was proclaimed as a 32-county Republic belonging to all of the people. And we know that if the border is to be obliterated that we must negotiate with northern Protestants, not all of whom are unionists, as well as northern Catholics, not all of whom are republicans or Irish nationalists. But this state refuses to honour Protestant patriots of 1916 in an appropriate way – by acknowledging their existence or their immense contribution. That reveals the ingrained partitionist mindset that delights in a Catholic state on one side of the border and a Protestant state on the other. But this is the 21st century, time moves on, attitudes change, what seems fixed in stone shifts. That, though, doesn’t apply to Fine Gael, and only to a slight degree with Fianna Fáil.

The Proclamation was read. Yes, it was uncensored. Those passages which address issues that have real relevance to the plight of so many of our people today – sovereignty, equal rights and opportunities, happiness, prosperity, control of national resources – were read in full, without the slightest evidence of even a solitary embarrassed blush among the serried ranks of the political class. Perhaps they have inbuilt auditory filters, or perhaps sociopathy is part of their make-up.

Of course the acting prime minister couldn’t resist one more stab in the back for the revolutionaries of 1916. Rather than allow the customary wreath to be laid at the GPO in their honour he had to continue with one of Fine Gael’s much-contested methods of diminishing the men and women of 1916, something that smacks by now of extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. In directing the president, Michael D Higgins, to lay the wreath on behalf of the people of Ireland, the acting prime minister added ‘for all of the dead of 1916’, thus including the British forces who were sent to suppress the revolution by all means including murder of civilians and the levelling of the heart of one of the great cities of Europe using artillery.

By that action, the acting prime minister destroyed the notion that this was a commemoration directed at the men and women of 1916, and rendered it into nothing more than a very expensive fraud, a sham, a charade. No other prime minister in the history of independent Ireland has plumbed those depths, has offered such a gratuitous insult to the men and women of 1916 or to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who had assembled in Dublin to honour those men and women. The acting prime minister should be driven from office for that one act.

As for the defence forces, they were great. Most of us admire the role they usually play in the world as peace-keepers, less so the drift in the direction of active involvement with NATO and with US invasions of people with whom we Irish have no argument but have much empathy for their suffering. The same applies to the units from various first-responders too. No criticism is intended of any of them.

No, this is about the failings of the political class, and the failure of the government led by Fine Gael to demonstrate any respect for the revolutionaries or the cause of independence and a proper, modern, enlightened republic that they put their lives on the line to achieve for our benefit and not theirs.

And this is about the insults the government and the political class including the media offered in the run-up to and on what purported to be a 1916 centenary commemoration, to both the living and the dead.

What the audience didn’t need was the sight of the political class making a spectacle of itself. But perhaps we did need to see that, in its ugly naked elitism.

Couldn’t happen in a true republic. So let’s create one. That is the best honour we could pay those men and women of 1916. And it is the best thing we could do for ourselves and the generations still to come.

 


RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ – truth and ethics be damned

There is a convention that should normally apply to critics reviewing art, drama, etc. of trying to find some element worthy of praise even in a review which is necessarily harsh in general terms. In the case of RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, that is difficult, given the overall awfulness of this entire enterprise.

So yes, of course, the actors did their best, one presumes, with the material they were given to work with – the lines that were written for their characters, and the directions given them by the series’ director. And yes, the wardrobe team, and hair and makeup, and set dressers and the other functionaries in the process presumably did their best, and some of it was good. But that is not enough.

A film or a TV drama or a staged play depends in the first place on a script, including the premise on which it is grounded. As the ideas develop the script will have a central plot and a series of sub-plots that weave through the narrative, all of which have to be tied up by the end. Crucially, it will also have its main characters – the protagonist (hero) who has a need or goal, and the antagonist (villain) who blocks the achievement of that need or goal. Think of Neil Jordan’s ‘Collins’, Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’, or Dorothy and the Wicked Witch in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. We all understand this aspect of story-telling, partly through instinct and life experience and partly because we implicitly know the structure of story-telling. Good guy, bad guy, and the journey towards resolution.

Presented as it was, Rebellion’ failed hopelessly on these essential elements. Who was the protagonist? Who was the antagonist?

Yes, the protagonist can be a group of people, but that group has to have a common objective – a goal or a need. Given that this series is supposed to be about three young women with the 1916 revolution playing out as moving wallpaper behind their stories, what is their common goal? I can’t see it. And who is the antagonist? Given the surface story, the three women, it cannot be the British Empire except in the case of one of them and partly in the case of another. Is it the patriarchal culture in which they live? If so, the revolution is an unnecessary diversion from the story that needs to be told, since its mission to create an egalitarian society is never teased out. Instead, the revolutionaries are presented, particularly in the form of Patrick Pearse, as being arch-Catholic and conservative, essentially no different to the status quo in terms of attitudes to women, so why bother with the revolution at all?

But the scriptwriter has another crucial task to do if he/she is going to create a credible  and engaging drama, and that is in the creation of characters that ring true to the audience, that we care about, that we gradually understand in terms of the goal or need and where in the character’s psychology that springs from. What character flaw do each carry into the story which they must overcome in order to achieve their goal or need? It is a job that simply must be done, to construct a back-story for the character so that even before we first see and hear them on stage or on screen they already exist in a complete form. An actor can work with that, but not without it.

That, Colin Teevan has utterly failed to do. He has shown us three young women who are at best half-formed in dramatic terms. I could not bring myself to care about any of them, and as the series went on it became obvious that the three-women story was just a soap-opera device, and an opportunity to divert our attention from the potential excitement of the real story of the 1916 revolution.

And in the story of the revolution, and more importantly the revolutionary characters, Teevan failed even more dismally. A character’s backstory has to be true and credible whether a fictional character, but even more so when it is based on a real, once-living, person. For a writer to use the stage, film or television to traduce the character of a real person, and to do it gratuitously as in the case of his portrayal of Patrick Pearse is reprehensible, unprofessional and worthy of outright condemnation regardless of one’s attitude to Patrick Pearse. Pearse lived, had a unique character as we all do, harboured a set of ideas, worked in the world in a variety of political and social ways, had friends and enemies, had a goal and a need which was to free Ireland from the clutches of the empire and to replace it with an enlightened modern republic, penned his name to a very progressive Proclamation and in the process knowingly signed his own death warrant. But that is not the Pearse that Teevan and his collaborators want us to see and to know.

Would that we could sue Teevan and his collaborators for slandering a dead man, because that slander was perpetrated knowingly, and carefully planned as part of the overall noxious enterprise. Prominent among those collaborators is Jane Gogan, RTE’s Head of Drama. Gogan has received high-quality training in screen-writing via the New York University screen-writing course presented at UCD in 1995. I know that because I also attended that superb course. There is simply no excuse for her not to have insisted on great care being taken in the creation of fictional characters and plot construction, but particularly in the truthful representation of a living or once-living person. The ethics of screenwriting demands that.

And ethics must form part of our evaluation of this series. It is unethical to portray the actions and the motivations of a set of historical characters, from the leaders to the rank-and-file in a revolution, in a way that runs counter to known fact. It is unethical to distort fact in such a way as to manipulate public sentiment towards a part of the history that the public not only shares but owns. The 1916 revolution is part of the backstory of each of us as individuals and of us as a collective, whether we acknowledge it or not, or whether we take one side or the other. It represents the facts of a past from which we have emerged and around which we have been culturally moulded.

When a social/political class interferes in a significant way – outside of the acceptable expression of opposing opinions – by altering facts or deliberately misrepresenting key figures so as to manipulate our understanding of history and therefore the backstory to the world we live in today, then that becomes a political act, an act of altering our perceptions through propaganda so as to suit the political and social exigencies of this moment in time and future time as they affect the privileged status of members of the political class.

I have no doubt at all that this dreadful series was concocted to be what it is – a shallow soap-opera that provides the vehicle for portraying the 1916 revolution in a very bad light – at a series of meetings, which I have outlined in a previous review of an episode. Those meetings included senior personnel from the publicly funded State broadcaster, and involved the spending of about €6 million of our money on a production that disseminates highly negative and counter-factual propaganda against a key moment in our history and its central characters.

It is not difficult to discern just who is intended to be the beneficiary of that publicly funded propaganda. It is of course the counter-revolutionary class, the political class, to which those who created this series belong and from membership of which class they benefit in terms of continuation of power, privilege, and wealth. It is the counter-revolutionary class that is challenged by the facts of history and the true characters of the leaders and the rank-and-file of the revolution.

And we can’t have that.

Truth, and ethics, be damned.

 

 


RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ – slandering heroes while creating dross

‘Rebellion’ episode 4.

Well, it doesn’t get much lower than this.

Patrick Pearse, so as to ensure his own execution, is portrayed in this dreadful travesty of the 1916 Revolution as a man willing to guarantee the execution of his fellow signatories to the Proclamation to achieve that end.

The writer and executive producer of this farcical production, Colin Teevan, deserves to be the subject of public opprobrium and ostracism. This was the final indicator in a series of indicators of his intention to portray Pearse in the worst light possible – as a self-centred and evidently insane psychopath. He laid the groundwork for that in each of the scenes in which Pearse appeared from the first episode to tonight’s.

The truth is that Pearse was a complex man, but an honourable one. He was not driven by ego, but by a desire to enhance the lives of others – his considerable work in the area of education at great financial cost to himself bears that out. But the makers of this series have worked by the dictum of never letting the truth get in the way of a lucrative and politically slanted story.

Although Teevan bears much of the responsibility for what is in the first place the writer’s creation, there are others who also bear responsibility. A television series such as this involves an initial proposal, commissioning process, a set of script editors and researchers / historical advisers, producers and a production team, and a director and his team.

Jane Gogan, RTE’s Head of Drama, should be made to carry the can on behalf of the State broadcaster – but that won’t happen. She may well be promoted, RTE being RTE.

The producers Zodiak Media Ireland and Touchstone – in association with Element Pictures – all had oversight of this series, and of the script-writing process. That Element Pictures, with all of their experience – including working with Ken Loach on Jimmy’s Hall – should have put their name to this is a very black mark against their judgement, at least as far as I am concerned.

Somebody made the decision to employ a director from Finland, a man who could not be expected to either know or have much interest in the details of the revolution, including the characters of its principal players. And so his culpability is less than those who chose him for the job. But even so, his direction of this series has been markedly poor – creatively and technically.

Bad enough that it is a mess. It is like watching a car crash in slow motion when we might see that if the driver took corrective action the crash might be avoided. But no. Jane Gogan saw the series before it was cleared to be aired, and so did dozens of others, from high-ranking RTE personnel to producers and distributors. None of them cried ‘Halt!’.

Jane Gogan tried to insert a get-out-of-jail clause in the RTE press release announcing the production. She said – “Rebellion will tell personal stories which are intertwined with the political events of the time. However, it is a drama, not a history lesson, and our story is told from the perspectives of a group of fictional characters who live through the political events of 1916. Men, women and children from Belfast, Dublin and London – people whose lives were irrevocably changed by this extraordinary period.”

That won’t wash. ‘Rebellion’ is a drama that is played out around an event that occurred and which is heavily documented – the before, the during, and the after. It is designed to be RTE’s flagship production to mark the centenary of the event that occurred and it brings that history into play – although warping it in the process, and it brings key characters into play – although warping their input and their very characters in the process.

This is indeed a drama, but one which is based on the foundational narrative of independent Ireland, the key narrative in modern Irish history, and so Jane Gogan is being entirely disingenuous by trying to use that get-out-of-jail clause. It is not Love/Hate or Glenroe. It should not be wholly fiction, although it has turned out to be.

There were a number of decisions which were quite obviously consciously made. One was to adopt the revisionist take on 1916 which in its more extreme versions has been largely discredited. Another was to traduce the characters of real people. Yet another was to swamp the story of 1916 in the centenary year in a drama largely about the comings and goings of of establishment families and characters.

Those are political decisions and they were made by people who are embedded in the political class.

It is dreadful so far, and it is going to get even worse.

Mark my words again.


RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, and its propaganda value

There are occasions in life when time that can never be retrieved is expended on something that is worthless. So far, three valuable hours of my life has been wasted on what RTE describes as a ‘commemorative drama’ to herald the beginning of the Centenary year of the 1916 revolution. Wasted, other than in terms of understanding the propaganda value to the political class even of badly constructed ‘historical’ costume drama – although describing ‘Rebellion’ as coherent drama is stretching it.

I quibbled after the first episode about the use of the term ‘Rebellion’ instead of the more accurate term ‘Revolution’, but it finally dawned on me with Episode 3 that what the writer, director and producers really mean is that this is about rebelliousness within the featured families, to which the 1916 Revolution is just a backdrop.

It would be a useful exercise after the series comes to an end to put a stopwatch to good use to work out the proportion of the five hours of screen-time that is devoted to an exceedingly poor and skewed telling of the story of the 1916 Revolution, and what proportion was used to tell the confusing, intertwined, and fairly inconsequential stories of domestic disagreement. There is of course a market for the latter, and for its setting in a sort of ‘upstairs-downstairs’ genre, but this series, more soap than serious drama, should not be its vehicle.

The 1916 Revolution – what was it really about, who made up the rank-and-file – essential to the creation of a revolution, what scale of operation was in play, what impediments to success existed? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

The leaders – who were they, what were they like, what did they believe in, was there a plan, had they some endgame, some vision? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

Where is Tom Clarke, or Seán MacDiarmada, or Joe Plunkett, three iconic signatories of the Proclamation, all present in the GPO – but not so far in this sorry series? No clue as to their characters, and precious little of James Connolly’s – relegated to a bit part, or of Patrick Pearse’s – other than his addiction to prayer, his deference to the clergy, his obsession with blood sacrifice, and a capacity for rhetorical exaggeration – as RTE would have us believe.

Where is the evidence of strong public support particularly in the impoverished inner city tenements, without which the revolution could not have lasted almost a week? We know it was there, we who have bothered to acquaint ourselves with the true narrative. Instead, that hoary old myth of widespread public disaffection with the revolution is hammered home at every opportunity.

Episode 3 begins with some bearded chap being put up against a wall and shot by firing squad. Who was he? We are none the wiser by the end of Episode 3. Why might it be important to know that he was Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a journalist, an advanced-feminist, a pacifist who had played no part in the revolution itself? Because, perhaps, that it is true, and that he was murdered on the command of a crazed, out-of-control British army officer – an essential detail of the 1916 narrative – but not as the masses are supposed to know it since it would upset the entirely revisionist slant of this television disaster, a revisionism that is deliberately applied. And so it goes on.

Against fleeting scenes of chaos, created as we are led to believe by violent anti-democratic nutcases hell-bent on creating a Catholic state, we are encouraged to note the stabilising influence and the manners and the etiquette of both the Irish ‘Castle Catholics’ and their British masters in Dublin Castle. Fast-forward by 100 years and we see the same spurious choice being presented to the people by the political class – ‘stability’ or ‘chaos’, white or black, good or bad. No need to tease out what each side really stood for back then, or what each side stands for now.

There are those who ask ‘what matter – it is only TV drama?’. Propaganda is at its most effective when it is inserted subtly into the thought-processes of its target audience, and repeated through various forms from news and current affairs, commentary, and yes, entertainment. That works, as Joseph Goebbels knew all too well.

RTE claims an audience of 600,000 for its first episode of ‘Rebellion’. A large proportion of these will vote in the upcoming general election in which the main choice will be between, the political class tells us, stability or chaos. And that audience is also entering into the centenary year of the 1916 revolution with its competing interpretations, one of which champions the Redmondite parliamentarian Home Rule option over the other – the right of a people to self-determination and self-government, to be established through revolution where no other viable option was available. Presenting a partisan and therefore skewed version of the 1916 revolution primes at least a part of that audience to adopt a negative view of the legitimacy of that revolution and of its leaders, and that represents a highly political intervention in the popular history of 1916 on the part of the State broadcaster, RTE. It is not, presented in that way, just TV drama.

‘Rebellion’ looks like a cheap production, but cost as much as Ken Loach spent making The Wind That Shakes The Barley – an excellent production for the big screen, which grossed three times its production costs at the international box-office. Why wasn’t Loach asked to make this series? It is not as if he lacks experience. But then, he could be relied on to create a credible narrative around the main story of revolution and to consign the less consequential sub-plots to their rightful places. That would not suit the political class, including its RTE functionaries.

The 1916 revolution is an intriguing, exciting and rich human story, as rich in dramatic potential – characters, incidents and plot-lines – as was the highly successful and accurate 1913 Lockout TV drama ‘Strumpet City’, produced by RTE in 1980. ‘Rebellion’ on the other hand is dross. Some people, their names figuring prominently on the credits of each episode, opted for dross, and each received a considerable reward tor taking that option.

The foundational narrative of modern Ireland – in which the 1916 Revolution is the inciting incident – deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect. That is entirely absent in this spurious version.

There are times when we remark that ‘you couldn’t make it up’. The series writer did, with input from others.

And there are times when we remark that ‘it couldn’t get any worse’. Oh yes it can, and it will.

Of that I am certain.


The deliberate disaster that is RTE’s ‘Rebellion’

The flagship TV programme offered by State broadcaster RTE to mark the centenary of the 1916 revolution is a five-part series, ‘Rebellion’. Better that RTE had decided to do nothing. Here are my reactions to the first two episodes, formed immediately after each episode was broadcast.

January 3rd – Episode 1

Yes, I am a quibbler, but only when I think something is important enough to warrant quibbling about. A significant series by the State broadcaster about the seminal event of modern Irish history in its centenary is important enough since for many Irish people it may provide the main information they have, in a country which teaches modern Irish history so poorly (not by accident!).

First – The title of the series. Words are very important since they carry meaning. 1916 was not about a simple ‘rebellion’ – a refusal of obedience or order – but was about much more; a profound change in government, constitution and social order which should be described as ‘revolution’. Using terms such as ‘rebellion’, ‘rising’ or ‘insurrection’ downplays the event, which is why the British used those terms, and later, the counter-revolutionaries who took power. The series should be called ‘Revolution’, but maybe that is a bridge too far for the reactionaries in RTE.

Second – whoever cast Camille O’Sullivan as Constance Markeivicz was surely taking the piss. Leaving aside her talent as an actress, casting her in that part is like casting Oliver Hardy as Stan Laurel. Appearances do matter, particularly in an historical costume drama. Markievicz’s physical appearance bears no resemblance whatever to O’Sullivan’s.

Third – whoever wrote Markievicz’s introductory scene, and the lines and actions she was given, was taking the double-piss. Markievicz was anything but unhinged, but that is what various revisionists – Eoghan Harris, Ruth Dudley-Edwards, Ann Matthews and others would have us believe. That scene traduced the character of Markievicz and is simply unbelievable to anyone who has researched Markievicz, which is what the scriptwriter should have done.

Apart from that, for the most part the set-up, which is what the first episode of a drama series is, was reasonably good. Of course there is another quibble – Dublin in 1916 had the worst slums in Europe, and why the director didn’t make sure to show it as a filthy tip in those slum areas, with emaciated adults and children, is beyond me. Given the social conditions the poor find themselves living in today it is not as if it would be difficult to find both emaciated adults and children as a backdrop. Why is that important? Because it gives context to the revolution in terms of extreme social conditions. It gives the revolution meaning and legitimacy.

Last quibble. I know costume drama series are expensive to make, but this is RTE’s big contribution to the centenary year in terms of drama. I understand that there have to be ad-breaks, and I can live with that. But why the hell does a series about such an important part of our history have to be commercialised to the extent that it is sponsored by Kia, to promote their Sportage model? It seems unnecessarily crass to me. It should be sponsored by us, through the licence we pay, and the excessive taxes that the poorer among us pay which bolster the wealth of the political class.

But then I am a quibbler.

When it is important to be.

January 10th – Episode 2

More than a quibble this week about RTE’s revisionist offering for the 1916 Centenary.

Did the writer, Colin Teevan, set out to write ahistorical shite, or was it accidental ignorance? Virtually nothing in this second episode bears any resemblance to the facts of the opening day of the revolution, nor do the characterisations of key individuals such as Pearse, Connolly or Kathleen Lynn have any grounding in known and indisputable fact.

Connolly is virtually mute, a mere spectator, despite the fact that he commanded the revolutionary forces in Dublin and was never in his life a passive bystander.

Pearse was a Catholic, but here he is portrayed as an altar-muncher, hurling himself to his knees at any opportunity. Nowhere is there a hint of his intellect, of his advanced ideas on education which was what his school was about. Instead it is a training ground for young ‘rebels’, with a bomb factory in the basement. Pearse was anything but one-dimensional, but that is how he is portrayed.

Lynn, a medical doctor, was the one who attended Sean Connolly, the Commandant of the City Hall Garrison, on the roof of City Hall when he was shot within a couple of minutes of the buildings occupation by the Citizen Army. He died virtually instantly. He certainly didn’t have any conversations before doing so.

The revolution was, according to Teevan, a Catholic enterprise, complete with the Archbishop’s representative in the GPO doling out absolutions and leading rosaries. Let’s lump Kathleen Lynn in there, and Constance Markievicz, both Protestants – and they were not by a long shot the only Protestant revolutionaries. Let’s forget about the explicitly anti-sectarian ideal contained in the Proclamation, or the guarantee of religious liberty.

Teevan has a Volunteer and a Cumann na mBan woman roaming the streets shooting at looters. That is a lie, plain and simple.

There has been no attempt so far to explain the motivations behind the revolution apart from the need to break the link with the coloniser. Without those motivations being referred to the revolution is just an amateurish enterprise inspired by nationalistic grievance. A brief conversation between Connolly and Tom Clarke (absent) or Sean MacDiarmada (absent), or even Pearse, who is at least present if only as a caricature, would in a couple of minutes of dramatic screen-time inform the audience as to why those with the most to lose – workers and their families and the lower middle class – would be prepared to wager their lives for a revolution, for what was at stake.

The Dublin Castle man fucks a young Irish woman and makes her pregnant, and she loves him – what a crass metaphor to use for the relationship between the British administration in the Castle and the colonised nation.

Does any of this matter? Did the works of the various revisionist historians, most of them politically motivated, matter? Of course, since skewing the narrative to fit a political imperative as the political class sees it creates an ahistorical account, the story of what didn’t happen, or of the motivations that weren’t present, or of the character defects that weren’t there. Portray the revolutionaries as blood-lust Catholics engaged in a crazy enterprise, and that is all the public need to know. Portray the Castle Catholics as refined Downton Abbey types, show the children of the tenements as chubby-faced shoe-wearing healthy kids, and who in their right mind would want a revolution?

Move on to next item on the agenda, in this great little country in which to do business.

This is dreadful stuff, which will be watched by several hundred thousand citizens, many of whom, due to our poxy education system with history relegated to the margins, know so little about the true story as to be easily influenced into believing this shite.

So, I am past quibbling. I am now in the business of ousting this rotten political class which manipulates public opinion in order to maintain power.

And have no doubt about it – this series from RTE is not about representing 1916 fairly, it is about manipulating public opinion.

Eoghan Harris lives on in RTE.


A Revolution in Thought or Feeling

Every revolution has a secret history difficult to discover and to disentangle. The Irish rising of 1916 is no exception.’                                 (F.S.L. Lyons 1971)

In 1992 in the course of a conversation with a friend, Barry Dunne, I remarked to him that my father, born in 1918, had been christened Patrick Pearse O’Rahilly Stokes as a tribute to two of the heroes of the 1916 Rising in which my grandfather, John Stokes,  had fought as a rank and file volunteer at Boland’s Mills. Barry expressed amazement and said that his father, born in late 1916, had been christened Joseph Pearse O’Rahilly Dunne, again in tribute to Patrick Pearse and The O’Rahilly. His grandfather, Joe Dunne had been a member of the GPO garrison in Easter Week. The possibility that this choice of names for their newly born sons was mere coincidence became less likely as more details emerged. Both were members of the Irish Volunteers, were about the same age and were interned in Frongoch prison camp after the Rising. Both worked as hackney cab drivers. The strong likelihood is that they knew one another well. Seventy-six years later, their grandsons would, by pure happenstance, partially rebuild the story, too late to verify the details since both men are long dead.

This, it seems to me, illustrates the secret history of the 1916 Revolution. Two young married men left their homes in working class areas of Dublin, said good-bye to their families, possibly, they must have thought, forever, and went to do battle with the mightiest imperial power in the world at that time. Several hundred other men and women did likewise, but their stories have been allowed to dissolve away over time.

The attention of academic historians has been concentrated on the leaders of the Rising, and on the elite group that surrounded them before the revolution and survived them after it. And even when dealing with the executed leaders, the details of their lives were rearranged where necessary to serve the needs of others. James Connolly’s birthplace was moved from Edinburgh in Scotland to Monaghan, one suspects to make him really Irish. His Catholic death was highlighted but his socialist life was obscured. The other leaders have been judged in different ways at different times depending, it seems, on the exigencies of the moment. In the process, the struggle has shifted from the GPO, and has become instead a battle between what Nietzsche describes as monumental and critical historiography, the former giving us positive images of historical figures, the latter concerned with dismantling the past so as to re-evaluate it from a ‘modern’ perspective. Even within these there have been shifts of emphasis. Writing in Eire-Ireland in 1994, Kathleen Nutt made this point:

‘The healthy condition of antiquarian history is not shared by monumental history. Because such figures in the nationalist historical tradition as Patrick Pearse and James Connolly, have been hijacked by republican paramilitaries, academic historians have been quick to direct their passionate iconoclasm against them.’ 

Critical historians have played their part in this too. In a rush, it seems, to distance themselves from events in the six counties in the last quarter of the last century, some have tended to focus, for instance, on the language of leaders such as Patrick Pearse, and to judge it by the standards of today, thus removing it from its context.

Nutt, in pointing to the negative effects of this form of historiography wrote that:

‘Critical history… dismantles heroic deeds, crushes ideals, and displays goodness and altruism as mere egoistic hankering after self-interest… Thus, heroes of the past are demoted, models no longer exist to be aspired to, little is left to feel proud about, and a community may feel cut off from its past and alienated from itself.’

Nutt points instead to other approaches, instancing  Paul Feyerabend’s notion of ‘the partial, multi-perspectival characteristics of “mini-” or fragmented narratives’ and also to the materialist theory of Jurgen Habermas which recognises the notion of a critical hermeneutic ‘which would incorporate into the interpretation of the past an acknowledgement of and critical reflection upon the scholar’s own historical and geographical vantage point’.

It does seem to be perfectly reasonable that in offering an interpretation of historical periods or events the scholar would illustrate in some way the personal perspective which must in some way inform the work. It equally seems to be reasonable to present history, not as something which happens due to the presence of one monumental figure or other, but as the sum of many fragmented narratives. Those voices which have been lost or excluded need to be heard again so that we may more fully understand ourselves as a people. It is not good enough that we should define ourselves by the actions or reactions of an ‘elite’. Writing on the shortcomings of conventional historiography in 1991 Margaret Ward had this to say:

‘Who are the people who make history? The argument rarely seems to touch upon the human content of the narrative. Conventional historiography has given us kings, with the odd queen thrown in, and rebellious chiefs and politicians, with the peasantry popping in and out of the picture. In the last couple of decades the working class has managed to shoulder its way onto the scene and the history of the Irish working class is now rapidly unfolding, thanks to the diligence of a new generation of historians. But it is all strangely woman-free.’

Since Ward wrote that, much has been done to bring the women and the central role they so often played in the revolution back into the narrative. The other significant group left out of the narrative, the working class, are edging back into it although much more work needs to be done on both (often overlapping) groups.

Very often over the past thirty years or so it has been from within the area of cultural studies that much of the work to liberate the silent voices has come. Rather than concentrating on ‘High’ literature, scholars from the cultural studies area of sociology have foregrounded the importance of popular culture in shaping people’s view of themselves and their societies. As Desmond Bell put it in 1993:

‘Significantly the major re-excavation of our past and reassessment of its significance for contemporary sensibilities has been undertaken by literary scholars rather than by academic historians… Criticism has been first along the pathways where historical determination, cultural formation and popular experience intersect.’

In the past, great emphasis has been placed on the role of the ‘High Art’ of the cultural revivalists such as Yeats, Synge, Lady Gregory and others, in impelling the Irish people towards independence from Britain. But the majority of those without whom the 1916 Revolution would not have happened, the working and lower middle classes, were more likely to be found in the stalls of the Queens Theatre partaking of Irish historical melodramas rather than in the Abbey Theatre, and more likely to get their information and ideas from the pages of some newspaper or magazine which they could buy for a halfpenny or a penny than in some leather bound volume of poetry, even if it carried Yeats’ name. Some shift in the imagination changed a sufficient number from being, at the end of the nineteenth century, broadly supportive of Parnell and the Home Rule movement, into participation in the early part of the twentieth century in a revolutionary movement, and prepared to fight and evidently to die for the republican ideals laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

As Peter Costello put it in 1977 in ‘The Heart Grown Brutal’:

‘Revolution, like tragedy, takes place in the imagination. A revolution in thought or feeling – that is, in what people know about themselves or imagine that they know – is the prerequisite for any revolution.’

As we approach the centenary of the 1916 revolution it is worth applying Costello’s assertion to the possibility, however weak, that today’s citizens might take on themselves the responsibility of completing the work of the stalled revolution – the re-creation of the Irish Republic, put into a state of suspended animation by the counter-revolution of 1922-2011. Do today’s citizens have the information to understand what is at stake and are they open to experiencing a ‘revolution in thought or feeling‘?

Over the past 30 years and more the project of historical revisionism has taken hold and has been paralleled by the active participation of many  of the senior academic historians involved in that project either as guests or very often as contracted commentators in the mainstream media. Too often the revisionist line has been used not for scholarly investigation but as a battering ram against republican activity in the ‘Troubles’, while at the same time these senior academics were engaged in the ‘education’ of future teachers of history to second and third level students.

The two byproducts of this have been the turning away of a significant number of citizens through distorted media coverage from the notion that 1916 was ‘a good thing’, or that it was even a ‘legitimate action’; secondly, by the teaching in our schools of  a version of the story of the revolution corrupted by the political exigencies of today. The very breath was taken out of the story, an element of shame was falsely attached to it, and the people that it should have inspired have been so uninspired as to leave school in large numbers ignorant of the part the 1916 revolution in both the forwarding of the ‘republic’ as a concept and of their own status as citizen, not subject.

Despite the presence of some good, professional historians  in the history departments of the various universities, it is too late for them to rescue the situation in time for the centenary. It will take as long to revise the revisionists as it did for the revisionists to create a corrupted historiography. Recent and imminent retirements of failed senior academic historians may help the next generation, provided care is taken in appointing proper historians in their place, historians who understand that ‘passionate iconoclasm’ should not be part of their tool-kit.

Despite the work of a small number of fine, ethical journalists and commentators, there is no chance, given the right-wing media hegemony that it seems we must endure in the immediate future, that the citizens at large will be properly informed through that channel of the relevance, indeed the central importance of the 1916 revolution in their lives, and of the need to investigate and understand its core meanings and significance.

The ‘revolution in thought or feeling’ can only come about outside of the mainstream media and despite a corrupted academia. We cannot rely on any more that a couple of Presidential candidates, most likely Martin McGuinness and Michael D Higgins, to engage the citizens with the notion of a ‘republic’ and what it should mean.

It falls, therefore, to artists, activists, trade unions,  social media users, working class and women’s groups and so on to engage with the centenary of the revolution, and with what that centenary will celebrate – the establishment of a genuine, progressive, enlightenment republic, the Irish Republic.

It is time for that ‘revolution in thought or feeling’.


The Watchword of Labour

The Labour Party, founded in 1912 by James Connolly, Jim Larkin and William O’Brien, is in closed negotiations with Fine Gael, a party whose ethos and values lie in direct opposition to the ethos and values of Connolly, Larkin and O’Brien, over a programme for government to which both parties can sign up to.

The Labour Party website states that: ‘The founders of the Labour Party believed that for ordinary working people to shape society they needed a political party that was committed to serving their needs; they knew that there is only so much that trade unions and community organisations can do, an effective political party is needed to create a fair society.’

This barely skims the surface of what the founders believed, but we can rely on a line from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic for the fundamental principles that Connolly was prepared to die to establish, to understand his final position: “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”

The Labour website also states, with regard to the period after the 1918 elections: “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background. Moreover, the major parties were conservative and opposed to socialism. This meant that there was little or no attention given to issues of social justice, such as poverty, unemployment and emigration which badly affected the lives of Irish working people.

Poverty, unemployment and emigration? If those words create a sense of déjà vu, then so too should the opening line of that quote – “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background.”

Yes, we have been here before, many times. And now, as in previous times the leaders of the Labour Party, post-1916, will wrestle with their consciences, and the leadership will win, and win easily.

The Labour Party’s members, who just might exercise some authority over the leadership if they had a mind to, will be familiar with a song by James Connolly – indeed many of them will have joined in lusty renditions at Labour Party conferences and gatherings.

Just to remind them of Connolly’s stance on Labour’s duty, here it is:

The Watchword of Labour by James Connolly (1916)

Oh, hear ye the watchword of Labour,
the slogan of those who’d be free,
That no more to any enslaver
must Labour bend suppliant knee,
That we on whose shoulders are borne
the pomp and the pride of the great,
Whose toil they repay with their scorn,
must challenge and master our fate.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Aye, we who oft won by our valour,
empires for our rulers and lords,
Yet knelt in abasement and squalor
to things we had made with our swords,
Now valour with worth will be blending,
when answering Labour’s command,
We arise from our knees and ascending
to manhood for freedom take stand.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Then out from the field and the city
from workshop, from mill and from mine,
Despising their wrath and their pity,
we workers are moving in line,
To answer the watchword and token
that Labour gives forth as its own,
Nor pause till our fetters we’ve broken,
and conquered the spoiler and drone.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.



Republic Day

Re-proclaiming our Republic on April 24th

We are free citizens of an independent state conceived by both the Revolution of 1916 and the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The anniversary of these events, April 24th, has always been ignored by the Irish State which has abjectly failed to complete the task of building the progressive, modern republic that was promised in the Proclamation.

The evidence of this failure lies all around us – one of the most unequal societies in Europe, a shambles of a health system, an education system handed over to the control of religious organisations, the systematic cover up by church and state of rampant child abuse, business and political corruption and collusion resulting in massive costs to ordinary citizens, the handing over of national assets to private multi-national corporations, divisions deliberately fostered between public and private workers, urban and rural people, between social classes – and the list goes on, and on.

The French have Bastille Day, the British have Armistice Day, the US has Independence Day. India, inspired in its quest for independence by our 1916 revolution and War of Independence, celebrates its Republic Day as the most important date in its calendar.  The Irish State has consistently avoided designating the anniversary of the 1916 Revolution and the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic as a day of remembrance, understanding and celebration of that momentous event, and of the selfless heroism and integrity of the women and men involved in that strike for freedom.

We cannot rely on the State. It is for citizens to reclaim the Republic and to reinvest it with the spirit of paragraph four of the Proclamation.

“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

(Proclamation of the Irish Republic, April 24th 1916)

By working to establish Republic Day as our National Day we will bring the progressive, enlightened Irish Republic to life again.

This project has been initiated by ordinary citizens acting in common and independent of any political party or organisation.


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