After a period of silence I am not merely producing one blog but in effect two! One has to do with my own work the other as we will see later is the creation of the distinguished artist Robert “Bobby” Ballagh.
Following on from my last blog the launch of my current book which I mentioned, was a great success. The booksellers Easons put on quite a generous supply of edibles and wine therewith and what might be termed a large and representative gathering of friends, relations and hangers on generally turned up to add lustre to the occasion.
One only realises the passage of time and how society has evolved when considering the implications of such occasions, there was a former Irish Press copyboy, now the distinguished novelist, Hugo Hamilton over there my friend the restauranteur and fish monger, Peter Caviston who had decided that the occasion would be enlivened and enriched by bringing along a choir, The Brooks Singers, who had the bookshop ringing to everything from Tom Moore’s Irish melodies to Brendan Behan’s “Auld Triangle”. Cavistons run the best delicatessen in South Dublin which I patronised frequently and gladly, becoming in the process a friend of Peter’s dad, John.
John took delight in “getting it up for me” by standing at the back of the shop as I entered, drawing himself to his full height, some six feet plus and, giving a parade ground salute derived from his former British army days, uttering in stentorian terms the toast: “Her majesty, God Bless her!”
Amongst the rest of the attendance which was too numerous to name individually there was one man I was particularly glad to see. This was Aogan O’Fearghail, the president of the GAA. Aogan had helped me in the preceding days to get the truth of a story that has persisted in GAA and rugby circles since the famous day when the English international rugby team played at Croke Park.
It was rumoured that Girvan Dempsey scored his famous try at the spot where Michael Hogan, after whom the Hogan stand is named, had died on Bloody Sunday, shot by Crown forces. I discovered that the Croke Park archives contained a map of the grounds, showing where each person had been shot dead. Aogan arranged that I be shown these maps and I had the pleasure of being taken out onto the famous pitch to see whether the site of Hogan’s death matched up with the now much altered Croke Park grounds.
Subsequent checking by the Croke Park architects established that Girvan’s try and the spot where Hogan fell are within a short distance of each other. So though memories remain reminds us that things change and evolve and it is possible for the grass to grow green over the bad things of past relationships.
On the night of my launch Aogan was presiding over the launch of a book, produced by the GAA itself, at Croke Park. But in the midst of this busy schedule he was good enough to come along to Easons to shake my hand and wish my book well before departing to fulfil his duties at GAA headquarters. With that send-off it’s not surprising that the book went into the Bestsellers list after only three days!
And now for the second blog. Bobby Ballagh made a speech which some found to be precisely what needed to be said in the run up to the 100th anniversary of 1916 and others among the attendance told me they found “deeply offensive”. Ballagh had obviously fulfilled the role of an artist in society, he had created thought, debate and an examination of deeply held, and sometimes unquestioned views. Therefore as we are approaching the anniversary of 1916 I thought it would be useful to reproduce Ballagh’s words here:
I would like to begin by stating a simple historical fact- The Easter Rising did happen, although there are still some around who would appear to wish that this seminal event in modern Irish history never occurred.
Certainly last November when the government seemed to be of that persuasion when it launched “Ireland Inspires” on an infamous evening just down the road in the G.P.O.as part of its commemorative programme. This video presentation literally airbrushed the men and women of 1916 out of history in the very location where they made history. No images of Pearse, Plunkett, Connolly, Clarke, McDonagh, McDermott and Ceannt were on display- the forming fathers of our nation ignored- as if they had never lived – as if they had never died.
Someone seemed to think that it would be a good idea to replace them with images of Queen Elizabeth II, David Cameron, The Rev. Ian Paisley, Bob Geldof, Bono and Brian O’Driscoll. And Now even if the reality of the Rising is reluctantly acknowledged, official Ireland is still inclined to suggest that we must be mature and remember “all” who died in a shared history. To the extent that the Irish Government is organising as part of its programme a ceremony at Grangegorman cemetery for British soldiers who died during the Rising. Also we are told that we should welcome the erection of a memorial wall in Glasnevin Cemetery inscribed with the names of all the 1916 dead. Incredible! Connolly, Pearse and other soldiers of the republic on the very same memorial list as the British soldiers that fought to destroy the Irish Republic.
Recently I was working in my studio on a project sponsored by the trade union S.I.P.T.U.; I was asked to design an extension to the already complete tapestry based on the 1913 Lockout to feature the story of the Easter Rising. As it happened one of the first panels I began working on featured the execution of James Connolly. I decided to base my design on a poster I had recently discovered that had been published in New York, which featured Connolly’s execution. Now the artist, who was probably American, depicted a firing squad composed of Red Coats, which is understandable enough, considering American colonial history, however I knew this had to be incorrect, and on checking the facts I learned that the firing squads in Kilmainham Jail after Easter week were drawn from the regiment of the Sherwood Foresters. This was a reward given to the regiment because they had suffered serious casualties at the battle of Mount Street during the Rising. Anyway there I was carefully drawing a firing squad of Sherwood Foresters when I was distracted by something on the radio. It was probably a mention of the name of the regiment that caught my attention. Someone on the radio was suggesting that we should erect a plaque at Mount Street in memory of the fallen Sherwood Foresters. Unbelievable! A memorial plaque to the regiment that shot not only the wounded James Connolly strapped in a chair but also 13 other patriots in the aftermath of the Rising!
Self-confident nations would never engage in such nonsense – such national self – abasement! Imagine the British authorities erecting a plaque of the Cenotaph in London to honour those gallant members of the Luftwaffe who perished on bombing raids of London during World War II. I think not!!
The presentation of the rising as ‘just another event’ is a distortion of our history, a deliberate and desperate attempt to distance citizens from the aims and ideals of a golden generation the likes of which we have not seen since. Among their number were poets, writers, playwrights, teachers, musicians, journalists, actors, artists and ordinary working men and women – citizens – striving to create a society rich in cultural activity and identity. They contributed to the cultural revival of a defeated nation and they left us a legacy that needs to be embraced and cherished with pride – pride in our language not a dismissal of it, pride in our flag not a disregard for it, pride in our national anthem not an apology for it with trust in those elected to represent our interests – citizens interests. The men and women of 1916 were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country in stark contrast to those in our time willing to sacrifice their country for their lifestyles.
I believe that it is only right and proper that at this historic time, that the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who fought in 1916 be marked with dignity and respect, but, I believe it would be a disservice to their memory if we failed to recognise why they did what they did in the first place! Let’s face it, these people were not merely rebels – they were visionaries! What they desired was not simply a green flag over Dublin Castle and a harp on the coinage. They were calling for revolution – a complete transformation of both public and personal reality!
The blueprint for that vision was set out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic a visionary statement of intent which rightly belongs in the pantheon of human achievement alongside exceptional documents like the Magna Carta and the American Declaration of Independence. Let’s face it the Proclamation of 1916 is much more than simply a call to arms: it is a progressive statement of intent and vision of a better future for all Irish men, women and children.
Sadly, however the vision of 1916 has never been fully realised and the Irish people , north and south have been forced to bear the consequences political, social, economic and cultural failure at this critical point in our history I find myself asking some fairly fundamental questions –
“Who fears to speak of 1916? And Why?” and “where stands the Republic today for which so many gave their very lives?”
Well cometh the hour and cometh the man- Tim Pat Coogan, with his book which is being launched tonight, provides us with many answers to such probing questions. He paints a concise picture of the historical forces that were at play in the lead up to the Rising and the subsequent struggle towards Independence which, as we know resulted in a much disputed treaty and the disastrous partitioning of the country. He describes the terrible civil war that followed and the nature of the state that was established by the victors in the aftermath of that internecine conflict. Terence Brown in his book “Ireland, A Social and Cultural History” asks how “a revolution fought on behalf of exhilarating ideals, ideals which had been crystallised in the heroic crucible of the Easter Rising , should have led to the establishment of an Irish State notable for a stultifying lack of social, cultural and economic ambition.”
Once again Tim Pat Coogan answers that particular question by describing the dominant forces that created the nature of the emerging state that was designed to serve their interests, a state that had remained in place, more or less unchanged to this day. He also chronicles a series of historical episodes that could only have occurred with either the connivance or collusion of that state apparatus.
The establishment of institutions, charged with the care of the underprivileged and marginalised that allowed shocking levels of abuse to occur. The abandonment of the catholic minority in the North to their fate in a sectarian state which resulted in a bloody conflict lasting almost 30 years. The dominance of one particular religions ethos which cruelly discriminated against one half of the population, namely the women of Ireland.
The unacceptable levels of corruption that were exposed in the various tribunals which caused “a loss of public confidence in Ireland’s political structures, the rule of law and in governance in general”
And finally the recent economic collapse that brought the state to its knees caused by the greed of a private banking elite, and a political elite. Yet, as you know the unsustainable private gambling debts run up by an unaccountable golden circle have been placed on the shoulders of the citizens of this state who, together with their children and grandchildren, will be condemned to economic bondage in perpetuity.
So as we look back on the 100 years since the Rising what can we say?
Certainly the state that was established in the aftermath of the revolutionary years has not proved to be a rip roaring success – the emigration figures alone are proof of failure – however there is one aspect of achievement that must be acknowledged and that is survival – against all the odds the state has survived – but at a price! – a price that has been paid by the majority of its citizens, and that is the betrayal or abandonment of the dreams and inspirations of a heroic generation – the men and women of 1916.
Tim Pat Coogan’s latest Book; 1916 The Mornings After is available in all good bookstores and online now. Published by Head of Zeus