Remembering and reinventing the Rising - Transcript

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The following is a transcript of "Remembering and reinventing the Rising"  a talk by Donal Fallon in Dublin City Library and Archive on Thursday, 23 June 2016.


Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode historian Donal Fallon discusses the history of commemorating the 1916 Rising, while looking at events such as the first anniversary in 1917, the often-violent Easter parades of 1930s Dublin and the 50th anniversary in 1966. Recorded in front of a live audience in Dublin City Library and Archive on 23 June 2016 as part of the Dublin City Council 1916 Centenary Programme.

You’re all very welcome to Dublin City Library and Archives.  My name is Tara Doyle and I am one of the Librarians working here on the 1916 Rising Commemorations for Dublin City Council.  I am delighted this evening to welcome Donal Fallon who is going to talk to us about remembering and reinventing the Rising.  Donal is a really interesting young historian working in Ireland now.  He has a terrific blog called ‘Come here to me’ and if you haven’t looked at it I’d advise you to have a look at it because it’s full of all sorts of interesting articles and photographs – the hidden histories of the city and a lot of social history.  He also has a slot on Newstalk – Tuesday mornings is it Donal?  And he talks about all sorts of interesting aspects of history then as well.  He does walking tours of the city, writes regularly in the media.  He has worked with me on a couple of really interesting projects here so I think it’s a privilege that he’s come and he’s going to talk to us tonight on his own area of research, his specific area of research, on remembering the 1916 Rising.  Will you please welcome Donal Fallon.  (Applause)

Cheers Tara, thanks for that.  We are probably all commemorationed out in this country at the moment but commemoration is a very interesting thing actually and my kind of main area of research is commemoration, memory, how people remember the past and how they forget things, you know what they choose to commemorate and what they choose to forget.  And I suppose when we look at commemorations, like the huge ones we’ve just had in this country, they really tell us more about the time in which they happen than the time that they are commemorating and when they look back on 2016 they’ll be looking at it in the context of Ireland today, just like when they look back on 1998 and the bicentenary of the United Irish Rebellion, they’ll be looking at that in the context of say the Good Friday Agreement.  So commemoration always happens in the context of its own time.  There’s always been a tug of war I suppose for ownership of the 1916 Rising.  Some asked who fears the speak of Easter week?  Nobody feared the speak of Easter week (laughs) but everyone wanted to claim it for themselves and from the very first anniversary in 1917 commemorating the Rising has often been a very contested battlefield of ideas.

So today I want to focus on a few specific cases, a few specific years, of Easter Rising Commemoration that I think are interesting for a variety of reasons.  Firstly, the first anniversary in 1917 which was very widely marked in the city in spite of the fact there was a Proclamation outlawing any such gatherings.  Then I want to look at the 10th anniversary, 1926, that was the year in which the Easter lily symbol emerged established by Cumann na mBan activists.  What was interesting about 1926 and the 10th anniversary of the Rising is by that time in the city you had enormous Republican commemorations at Easter but you also had enormous commemoration at that time in Irish society around the First World War and there were frequent confrontations between those two strands.  I want to look at the 10th anniversary as well in the context of the National Graves Association, a hugely important commemorative body, they have put up more monuments in this country than anyone.  They were established in 1926 and the 10th anniversary of the Rising was the catalyst for their establishment.  Then I’m going to look briefly at the 1930s, incredibly violent confrontation on the streets in the 30s between the far left and the far right, both of whom sought to claim the mantle of Easter week.  And then finally I’ll look very briefly at the Golden Jubilee in 1966.

When we talk about 1916 and these people, in a sense we kind of commemorating commemorators you know (laughs).  The past was enormously important in the lives and the radicalisation of a lot of the people we ourselves are remembering.  The 1898 centenary of the 1798 Rebellion was a real pivotal moment for many of the Irish revolutionary generation.  A lot of people talk about it and the Boar War which happened at the same time as having an enormously important role in politicising them.  There was also the centenary of Robert Emmett’s death in 1903 and even the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf in 1914 when Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and others tried to present Brian Boru as some kind of proto Republican.  You know commemoration was something these people did themselves.  That’s the foundation stone of the Wolfe Tone monument in 1898, it was unveiled at St. Stephen’s Green.  They never got their Wolfe Tone monument, that’s where Fusiliers’ Arch is today and it’s up in Croppies Acre just beside the National Museum.  But people that fought in the 1916 Rising would have been partaking in these kind of events themselves.

The first anniversary of the Rising in 1917 was a very dramatic one actually in the city and I think the authorities had a sense that something could happen, that it could be volatile, because on the 6th of April 1917 there was a Proclamation issued by General Sir Bryan Mahon, Commander and Chief of British Forces in Ireland, and it was posted in police barracks all across Dublin and beyond.  A very clear attempt at preventing any commemorative gatherings in the city during the week marking the anniversary of the uprising.  It said that “between Sunday the 8th day of April 1917 and Sunday the 15th day of April 1917 any assembly of persons for the purpose of the holding of meetings would amount to a breach of the peace and would likely serve to promote dissatisfaction”.  Under the Defence of the Realm Regulations Mahon’s Proclamation made it clear “there would be no tolerance for unapproved gatherings” and it ended with the words “God save the King”.  When Easter Monday 1917 came around all eyes were very much on Sackville Street and there were small crowds gathering on the street from very early in the morning, kind of in anticipation that something would happen.  Defiantly the newspapers reported that, quote “Some Dubliners wore Sinn Féin colours on their clothing, black bands reportedly worn by others as well and a tricolour was raised over the ruins of the General Post Office”.  The paper said that the rubble of the Rebellion was used by youths to attack the police with stone throwing on Sackville Street from about 4 o’clock and an inspector and superintendent hospitalised.  Helena Maloney, a female participant in the 1916 Rising, remembered that in the weeks before this day there was a kind of feeling among female Republicans that something was coming and she remembered producing flags, “We made the flags, three measuring 6 feet by 4½ feet.  There was a very nice Sailor from Glasgow named Moran who looked up at the flagstaff of the GPO and said “You could get a flag on that.  I’ll do it and they won’t get it off in a hurry”.  But the symbolic raising of tricolours in Dublin troubled the authorities but it wasn’t only in Dublin that it happened.  There were similar scenes in Cork and Mullingar.  Anything between 300 and 400 people reportedly marched through the streets of Galway, stopped at City Hall where the municipal flag had vanished and been replaced by a tricolour.  Probably the most dramatic act of the first anniversary of the Rising though happened at Liberty Hall on the 12th of May 1916, on the anniversary of James Connolly, and there were commemorative gatherings for Connolly held in interesting places – in Edinburgh, in Chicago, in New York you had small trade union demonstrations on the 12th of May 1917.  But this was a real act of defiance.  A number of female Republicans again took the lead – Helena Maloney, Rosie Hackett, Jinny Shanahan and others and they took it upon themselves, to quote Rosie Hackett, “On the first anniversary of Connolly’s death, us and the transport people decided he should be honoured.  A big poster was put up on the Hall with the words ‘James Connolly murdered May 12th 1916’.  It was no length of time up on the Hall when it was taken down by the police, including Johnny Barton and Dunne, two notorious kind of ‘G’ men, “We were very vexed over it and we thought it should have been defended.  It was barely an hour or so up and we wanted everyone to know it was Connolly’s anniversary.  Miss Maloney called us together, Jinny Shanahan, Bridget Davis and myself.  Miss Maloney printed another script, getting up on the roof, she put it high up across the top parapet we were on top of the roof for the rest of the time it was there” and she remembered that they were up there, Rosie Hackett remembered, they were up there for hours and she claimed that it took, quote “more than 400 police men to get it down”.  I’m not entirely sure I believe her.  That can happen in the bureau military history statements but it’s a great story none the less and it gave us one of the really iconic images of the first anniversary of the Rising.  She remembered that “thousands of people watched this from the quay on the far side of the river.  It took the police a good hour or so before they got it down and the script was there until 6 in the evening”.  Also on the first anniversary they printed a reproduction of the 1916 Proclamation and I’ve never seen one of these.  They’re actually rarer than the 1916 Proclamation.  Very few of them around today.  Helena Maloney again remembered that it was the women that took the most prominent role in doing this, she said that “we pasted it around the city with flour paste made from glue, jam pots of which were used by teams of willing Republicans all over the city”.  She said that “one poster was up in Grafton Street for 6 or 8 months”.  Dublin Corporation marked the anniversary in their own way too, they passed a Motion calling for an amnesty for Irish prisoners.  So 1917 was very dramatic and it was a day of great defiance in the city.

Skipping forward into the 1920s and post independence I suppose.  Post independence you have competing kind of commemorative rituals in the city and the big one really is Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day.  That picture is taken in 1926, 10 years after the Rising, on the 11th of November at the Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park.  Armistice Day was a hugely important day for many working class people in Dublin.  Frank Ryan, the Republican leader claimed, to quote him, that “the people that partake in this day are bank clerks and students of Trinity College” (laughter).  Now it was very clear it was something much, much more than that.  You know regardless of how politics had changed many working class people did have a connection to the war and continued to identify with it.  There was huge opposition to Armistice Day or Poppy Day in the city, often instigated by Republican activists, many with an IRA background.  In fact, even during the War of Independence and Armistice Day the IRA considered taking very drastic action against that parade that passed Trinity College Dublin.  One volunteer remembered in his bureau military history statement that “We paraded under arms and took up positions in Dame Street and George’s Street.  We were to open fire on the parade but at the last moment this instruction was cancelled.  On our way home we observed a camera man who had taken pictures of the parade, we took the camera off him and destroyed it”.  But in the Dublin of the 20s and the 1930s you know remembering the First World War was very, very common, the Flanders poppy was commonplace in the city.  The British Legion had ‘Poppy Depots’ and not only in places like Rathmines, as An Phoblacht pointed out, but in the centre of the city as well.  Hand to hand fighting, flag burning and even attempted arson in ‘Poppy Depots’ was relatively common in the 1920s.  The poppy was formally launched in Ireland by the British Legion in October 1925, they would have been sold on the streets for years before that and the selling of the poppy brought in huge revenue to the British Legion.  I think it was ... and here’s a newspaper report on kind of a typical Armistice Sunday in Dublin, “City Centre in turmoil, many hurt in charges and stampedes poppy-snatching, guards break up band of processionists”.  It was largely in response to that, in response to the rise of the Flanders poppy in Ireland that you saw the establishment of the lily in 1926 on the 10th anniversary of the Rising.  And again it’s Cumann na mBan.  Cumann na mBan, the Women’s Movement in particular, are very prominent in the commemorative stuff.  They are the ones that are often issuing the commemorative literature.  They are the ones that are selling the lilies on the streets as well and the Easter lily very much was an attempt to I think establish a radical alternative to the Flanders poppy.  Its sales were very poor.  It was considered a minority symbol from the beginning.  In 1926 the British Legion raised the grand sum of £7,430 through selling poppies in Ireland.  Easter lily sales in the same year saw only £34 raised, that was the first year.  By 1934 the figure had risen to just over £900 but it still remained very much a minority symbol and Gardaí often noted in kind of intelligence reports that it was sometimes non-existent the kind of old IRA gatherings.  You know it was very much a symbol that was associated with the contemporary Republican movement.  This poster is from the early 1930s.  ‘They died for a Republic, we’ll accept nothing less, spurring compromise, forward to the Republic’.  So it was associated with the contemporary Republic Movement very much so.  Gardaí noted in intelligence reports that it seemed to be women and children that were often selling them, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann activists.  It was Fianna Fáil that really clamped down on the Easter lily in the 1930s.  They went after the sellers of the lilies arguing that they didn’t have permits, so it wasn’t that they were outlawing the lily themselves they were just outlawing the selling of it on the streets without a permit.  Fianna Fáil had come into power in 1932 with the help of the IRA.  The IRA had actively canvassed for Fianna Fáil and encouraged their members to vote for the party but relationships between the IRA and Fianna Fáil strained very quickly.  In fact from 1933 on Fianna Fáil were talking about a new IRA which was sheltering behind the honoured name of the old IRA and even launched their own commemorative symbol.  Fianna Fáil launched what was called the torch in 1935 as an alternative to the Easter lily. 
That same year, 1926, saw the foundation of the National Graves Association as well.  A hugely important body.  If you travel around Ireland you’ll find National Graves Association monuments popping up in the most unlikely of places, on roadsides and laneways all across the country.  They were a distinctly Republican commemorative body who, quote ‘strove to remember all those who gave their lives to what they perceived to be the cause of an Irish Republic’.  Their founding members were interesting people and they were people that carried great importance.  Kathleen Clarke was Treasurer, the widow of Tom Clarke.  Joseph Clarke who fought at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge in 1916, no relation, he was involved.  You had Sean Fitzpatrick, not of Anglo Irish Bank fame – another one.  James Stritch.  Lily O’Brennan.  You know these were people that carried great weight in the Republican Movement, they were the founders of the NGA.  James Stritch is particularly interesting.  You can see him there on my right hand side of this picture.  That’s the Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa Funeral Committee.  James Stritch is over there.  Not only did he fight in the 1916 Rising, he took part in the 1867 Fenian Rebellion.  He was involved in the smashing of the van, a raid on a police van in Manchester in 1867.  So I think he’s the only person who could claim to be out in 1867 and 1916.  He was on the Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa Funeral Committee, hence this picture.  He was involved in the Wolfe Tone Commemorative Committee.  He was someone that was very heavily involved in commemoration in the city and it’s not really surprising that he’s a founding member of the National Graves Association in 1926.  And there’s Kathleen Clarke and Kathleen Clarke brought a kind of respectability to the NGA because she was the founding member of the Fianna Fáil political party.  So you had a very broad church of people from Sinn Féin to Fianna Fáil to veteran Fenians, all in the NGA in its foundation years.  The first thing that they did or the first thing they strove to do was to unveil a monument at the 1916 plot in Glasnevin cemetery and they eventually managed to do that in 1929 and the NGA still maintain the 1916 plot in Glasnevin.  The unveiling was carried out by Frank Ryan who was the Editor of An Phoblacht, a self-described ‘street fighting man’, one of the most active kind of poppy day agitators in the city.  What I like about this image, it’s from the Cashman Collection, you have Frank Ryan speaking here, he is the Editor of An Phoblacht, An Phoblacht was actually banned at the time of this unveiling.  But look on the other side of him again you have the Fianna and the Fianna are always very central to commemoration in the 1920s and the 1930s.  Frank Ryan was furious at the time that this received no attention in the press.  He wrote that “the daily press Anglophile today is always sought by its silence to belittle the significance of our ceremonies, in a few line comment on the Dublin commemorations they refrain from mentioning an oration that was delivered in Glasnevin obviously to create the impression that Dublin was cowed into silence”.  The NGA’s work is all around Dublin today.  That’s one example, the Thomas Weafer plaques, beautiful plaques on O’Connell Street on the old Hibernian Bank building there on the corner of O’Connell Street and Middle Abbey Street.
The 20s were I suppose there was confrontation between those who were taking part in kind of British Army commemoration and those who were taking part in Republic commemoration.  In the 1930s the confrontation was between the left and the right and scenes of violence between the far left and the far right were quite commonplace on the streets in the 1930s.  Anti-communist feeling in Ireland was very, very high.  You had street protest movements like the St. Patrick’s Anti-Communist League, the Irish Christian Front, the Uniformed Army Comrades Association or the Blue Shirts, all clashing with the organised left.  And Easter was always a flash point in the 1930s.

The Easter commemorations in 1936 on the 20th anniversary of the Rising were particularly violent.  On that occasion a Communist contingent who marched in the annual IRA Easter Parade suffered repeated assault in the city.  They were joined by Willie Gallagher who was a Scottish Communist who had actually been elected to the Westminster Parliament in 1935 and the Irish Press in April, on the 13th of April detailed the assaults on communists, noting that, quote ‘members of the Communist Party of Ireland were attacked with stones and there were a number of free fights in which several people were injured during the IRA procession from Stephen’s Green to Glasnevin Cemetery yesterday’.  They claimed that about 60 members of the Communist Party marched through the streets with red tabs attached to their Easter lilies and at the General Post Office a mob of about 200 people attempted to rush the group and Roddy Connolly, son of the executed James Connolly, was hospitalised.  The Irish Press detailed that the attacks on the group continued all the way to Glasnevin Cemetery where sellers of the British Communist newspaper, The Daily Worker, were assaulted and had their papers taken from them.  Among the people that was attacked on this day was Captain Jack White, DSO, a Northern Protestant, a veteran of the British Army who had fought in the Boar War who had been influential in the establishment of the Irish Citizen Army.  He remembered the following year, he said ‘Last Easter Sunday I had to fight for 3 kilometres against the Catholic actionists who attacked us on the streets as we marched to honour the memory of the Republican dead of 1916.  The pious hooligans came inside the cemetery, tore up the grave rails, to attack us’.  The day after the IRA parade to Glasnevin Cemetery which ended in scenes of carnage there was a meeting at College Green in the City.  Willie Gallagher, the Scottish Communist, and Peadar O’Donnell were going to speak on the theme of 1916 and Gardaí estimated that, quote ‘about 98 per cent of the people present were opposed to the objectives of the meeting’ which is kind of incredible to think about it.  Wild scenes at Dublin meeting speakers attempted address from lamp post.  Peadar O’Donnell attempted to climb up a lamp post and talk to the crowd.  The much anticipated visit of a foreign radical like Willie Gallagher, you know an elected member of the British Parliament, should have provided a boost to a struggling Irish political movement but it was clear reading the newspapers that 1936 was disastrous for the left at least.  And these kind of confrontations remained common in the years that followed, at least in the 30s.  That’s Willie Gallagher, the Scottish Communist MP and of course that’s Peadar O’Donnell.

In 1935 the left boycotted the unveiling of the Oliver Sheppard Memorial, a beautiful monument, a beautiful memorial, sorry, in the General Post Office, showing Cúchulainn, they argued that they would not attend it because Roddy Connolly, the son of James Connolly, was imprisoned at the time and it’s funny that the Republic Movement kind of universally boycotted the unveiling of that memorial because today you see it all the time, you know that symbol of Cúchulainn has been really appropriated by Republicans and in the North you often see it on murals.  But in 1935 the IRA and others all actually boycotted the unveiling of Sheppard’s memorial and the left too.

To skip forward and to finish up with the 1960s, the Golden Jubilee of the 1916 Rising I suppose is remembered for a couple of reasons.  Primarily I would argue it’s remembered for two things, one, it’s remembered for the great insurrection which thankfully we’ve shown this year on television and, secondly, it’s remembered for the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar and neither of those two things – you know the two things that 1966 is primarily remembered for – were really state projects you could say (laughter).  The insurrection, the TV show, I was delighted to see it re-shown this year, was really ambitious and quite ground breaking.  It was stored in RTE Archives for the past 50 years before we got to see it again – an 8-part series broadcasted nightly in 1966 and this is a great scene from it, Michael Malone up at Mount Street Bridge.  People sometimes attribute 1966, the Golden Jubilee of the Rising, to the Troubles that followed on in the North.  I think that’s quite ahistorical.  I think that ignores the other factors that were brewing in Ulster that eventually created the Troubles.  Terence O’Neill, the Prime Minister in the North, described 1966 as ‘Not a very easy year’ and he expressed his frustrations that ‘Catholics insisted on celebrating the Dublin Rebellion’ but I don’t think it was the commemorations of ’66, of the Golden Jubilee, that sparked the Troubles.  Funnily enough reading the newspaper archives though, the fear really was there on the Unionist side, and from Ian Paisley in particular, that the Golden Jubilee could spark something but I don’t think it was.  I don’t think it was commemorations that kicked off the Troubles, no way.  Hugh Leonard who wrote the script for Insurrection, he recalled ‘from the point of view of a dramatist my favourite character turned out to be James Connolly, bow-legged, fiery, an unquenchable optimist, cheering his men on with ‘courage boys we are winning’ while the GPO roof blazed overhead or lying wounded a cigarette in one hand and a detective novel in the other announcing with satisfaction that this was ‘revolution deluxe’ (laughter).  The production was certainly lavish, it involved 200 extras and 300 members of the Defence Forces and Diarmuid Ferriter noted that Insurrection was broadcast twice in 1966 and never since, not it has been maintained due to the Troubles or political correctness but because of the cost of repeat fees and explanation that appears far-fetched.  Journalist, Fintan O’Toole would contend that Insurrection had huge influence on the rise of Sinn Féin in the North.  Harvey O’Brien wrote in his study of the Evolution of Ireland in film that though it saluted the bravery of the Irish it was unusually even handed in its betrayal of the British Armed Forces.  It depicted, for example, a growing respect between a British medic trapped in the GPO and the wounded rebel commander James Connolly.

I think the abiding memory people have of 1966, however, is always going to be the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar on the 8th of March 1966.  Horatio Nelson on his Doric column in the centre of O’Connell Street came crashing down into the street and Liam Sutcliffe who was part of the group, the small group of Republican activists that was built around the maverick Joe Crystal, he talked himself about how it was over a discussion in a Belfast Republican club in the months before they decided that they were going to intervene in the Golden Jubilee and that they would not allow the Golden Jubilee to pass with Horatio Nelson standing outside of the General Post Office.  So ultimately it was the 50th anniversary of the Rising that provided the imperative I suppose for Republicans, like Joe Crystal and Liam Sutcliffe, to bring about the destruction of Nelson.  And that more than anything I think – more than the army parading past the Post Office, more than the lavish production in Casement Park and Croke Park –  that became the abiding memory of ’66.

So 1916, I hope that brief talk has illustrated, has always been contested or the memory of it has always been contested by different factions, be it the left and the right, be it kind of Constitutional Nationalists and Republicans, there has always been a tug of war for Easter week and I think when we look at 1926, 1936 and even 1966 we learn more about that time than we do about the Rising and I wonder how they’ll look back on 2016?  I think on the whole the centenaries have been wonderful.  I think there’s been a wonderful community engagement.  There are permanent memorials to the Rising all across Dublin now in suburbs erected by community groups and I think there was a real engagement this year, in  particular from young people and communities, and that should always be welcome.  Any discussion around history is good.  I just hope in the years ahead that that popular discourse will remain even into the civil war (laughter) but thank you very much, we’ll leave that there.  (Applause)

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