Ireland Rises Again!

It has been 100 years since Ireland’s Easter Rising, a fascinating, tragic episode that blended literature and liberation, defeat and victory, national reverence and remorse, and, in William Butler Yeats‘s high poetic oxymoron of “Easter, 1916“, beauty and terror.

The Rising was led by a schoolteacher obsessed with death (Patrick Pearse), a veteran Fenian dynamiter (Tom Clarke), and a committed Marxist (James Connolly)—though women, volunteers, and farmers shared in the planning.

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The rebels seized Dublin’s General Post Office, held it for six days, and proclaimed an independent Irish republic, optimistically, “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”—that meant women and men, Catholics, Protestants, and others.

It was a brief period of insurrection: for example, Enniscorthy—hometown of our guest Colm Toíbín—was seized for a period of days; hundreds of British soldiers and Irish civilians were injured and killed. But after just a week, the rebels had been routed; Dublin had been shelled. When the leaders were captured, fifteen were executed and buried in quicklime without a funeral, setting off a permanent alienation of the Irish people from British occupiers.

A hundred years on, the history of the Easter Rising—and of the Irish republic that rose from it—is, like all histories, a mixed bag. Along the way: civil war, partition of the island (north and south), and emigration. In the 1990s the “Celtic Tiger” of tech and speculation romped through Ireland, but in the ‘08 melt-down the Tiger emigrated, too.

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But suddenly another uprising—an emphatic vote for gay marriage, a pushback to the domination of Irish culture by the Catholic Church, and an emotional attack on structures of injustice—all expressed at the level of sentences, Tweets, performances, and songs.

We rely on a handful of charming and incisive writers to dissect the global dynamics of this exciting Irish moment, from Toíbín to Belinda McKeon and Mary O’Donoghue and the dark-minded Westerners, Colin Barrett and Lisa McInerney.  

You can hear the full version of Tom French’s poem, “1916,” below:

Guest List
Colm Tóibín
novelist of Brooklyn (now a major motion picture) and author of the lecture, "After I am hanged my portrait will be interesting," which appeared in the London Review of Books last month.  
Lisa McInerney
Galway-based writer, and author of The Glorious Heresies.
Colin Barrett
Short-story writer, and author of The Young Skins.
Belinda McKeon
Brooklyn-based novelist (born in Longford) of Tender and Solace.
Mary O'Donoghue
novelist of Before the House Burns  and of short stories, translator of Irish, and professor of creative writing at Babson College.

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  • Potter

    Wow did Colin Toibin hit the nail on the head about Irish writing. I’m just echoing because you all agreed enhusuastically.

    I remember your wonderful show with Edna O’Brien too.

    The Irish should indeed feel at home in the world. And maybe we should too, us here, struggling. We should not be exercised about being exceptional Americans, we in revolt, but should keep working at it. We all have our own work in front of us. I dare say the Irish are less divided and a smaller cohesive people than we are. But still it’s not easy.

    What did Toibin mean by his last about Clinton? A plug? In my view Sanders is more spiritually Ireland 1916 than Clinton.

    Thank you for this inspiring program.