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.
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.
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: