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.