Patrick Pearse And RTÉ’s Rebellion

With all the controversy stirred up by RTÉ’s dismal television dramatisation of the 1916 Easter Rising, its strange overtones of colonial denialism perhaps best summed up by the programme’s title, “Rebellion” (not, “Revolution”), I was reminded of this paragraph from a 2013 article by professor Bryan Fanning in the Dublin Review of Books. While examining a long forgotten “science-fiction” style story by Patrick Pearse published in the August 4th 1906 edition of the newspaper, An Claíomh Solais, Fanning points out that:

“During his years as editor of An Claidheamh Soluis Pearse clashed with the Catholic Church over what he saw was inadequate support for the Irish language from the hierarchy, who did not support making Gaelic mandatory in seminaries. Pearse being Pearse, his criticism was intemperate. He was a cultural nationalist first and a Catholic only in far second place. His personal mythic structure incorporated Christ alongside Cuchulainn into an idea of sacrifice for nation. His 1906 vision of Ireland’s future in An Claidheamh Soluis cut the Church out of the picture. The culmination of Pearse’s imaginary 2006 procession of poets in priestly robes was the invocation of the “spirit of Gaelic Thought and Imagination” ‑ a Geist not Christ ‑ of a nation in worship of itself.”

That Pearse was something of a laissez-faire Catholic more concerned with the “pagan” than the orthodox Christian is evident throughout his writing. However that nonconformist aspect of his character is excluded from the stereotype crafted by his modern detractors. Propaganda has replaced fact, as illustrated in RTÉ’s “Rebellion” where a British apologist version of 1916 mixes uneasily with a more straightforwardly historical account of the insurrection. The President of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic who anguished over the deaths of ordinary Dubliners during the fighting around the besieged GPO and who persuaded some of his reluctant fellow leaders to surrender to the British Forces to spare innocent lives, did not, of course, “sign the death-warrants” of his comrades and friends. In his own words:

“In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender…”

Nor was an educationalist who impoverished himself by insisting on the founding and funding of a school for girls, St. Ita’s, hostile or antipathetic to women. Again, in his own words:

“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…”

Unfortunately, repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the perceived truth. In that at least, RTÉ’s drama department has played its predictable part.

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3 comments

  1. It may be difficult for us to see where Pearse was coming from with the separation of a century and the Empire’s foot soldiers gone from the 26 Counties. Pearse has been vilified as much as praised in recent times with a serious hatchet-job of a biography on him a few years back. He certainly did speak a lot about spilling blood, or blood reddening soil which is not at all glorious. However, he also said that war is a terrible thing, but that there are things worse than war, and slavery is one of them.

    I wonder how objectors to the revolution would feel if they read of the following:
    ‘Irish settlers in Scotland in the 5th Century tried imposing their language, law and customs on the pre-existing native population. After several centuries of lessening oppression a growing portion of the natives had gained middle-level social status while many others lived in squalor. Some of those who identified as native Scottish violently targeted the Irish warriors imposing Gaelic politics and law on the natives and, while defeated militarily, ultimately caused the retreat of the settlers back to Ireland where their allegiances lay.’

    Would any of us think anything but ‘well, what were they doing there in the first place?’ Would we have much sympathy for the Irish under those circumstances-while naturally feeling genuine abhorrence at the violence and sympathy for the individuals who died and those affected?

  2. british colonialist mentality has triumphed in the main stream, even i ireland. when i ireland or asmong irish in canada, the young are all anti ira and mostly anglo philes. but then the world is now dominated by the evil offspring of the british imperial mentality, the american led war on terrorism. the same language is now used world wide that the british used for irish revolutionaries. and the british practiced water boarding then taught it to americans. turning this arond won’t be easy.

  3. Really no surprise here in how 1916 is portrayed by RTE. All you have to do is look where the money came from. Read some of the comments accompanying reports on the various news sites, and you can see how fast people forget when they have become fat and happy.

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