This week marks the 100th anniversary of the world-historic Easter Rising in Ireland. And, here in the United States, we’re getting quite an education—first, with 1916 The Irish Rebellion, a big, lavishly produced slab of prestige television (with none other than Liam Neeson as the narrator), available on 120 television stations in the United States and on the BBC; then, on Sundance, with Rebellion, a soap-operaish version of the same events; and, finally,  A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel, a graphic remembrance of socialist agitator, editor, and author Connolly illustrated by artist Tom Keough.*

I’ve only seen the two television series, so I can’t comment on Keough’s book.

In my view, 1916 The Irish Rebellion does an excellent job of providing the necessary background (at least for those of us lacking the basic, Irish secondary-school-book knowledge of the events—although it tends to exaggerate the U.S. connection (highlighted in the trailer) and to downplay the egalitarian and socialist impulses in the Rising’s anti-imperialism (which, I presume, the Connolly book serves to correct). And while Rebellion is more an intimate recreation than a documentary (and does take historical liberties and shortcuts in dramatizing, I would say melodramatizing, the events), it does highlight the role of women among the forces for and against Irish independence.

Still, both television series serve to shine a spotlight on the short-lived and ultimately failed rebellion that showed to the rest of Ireland (beyond Dublin), the British Empire (for which this was the beginning of the end), and the rest of the world (in a wide variety of socialist, communist, and national-liberation movements) that the dream of making and changing history was embodied by and yet could not be contained within the “terrible beauty” of 1916.**


*Here’s the appropriate disclaimer: while 1916 The Irish Rebellion was largely financed by the University of Notre Dame and written by Notre Dame professor Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, I played no role in the creation or dissemination of the documentary.

**It is precisely that terrible beauty that is taken up in Ken Loach’s film, Jimmy’s Hall, which takes place in 1932 and focuses on the post-1916 political tensions among the Catholic church, the state, the landowners, and the republican movement.

  1. Ctesias62 says:

    For a more recent perspective re the latterday troubles in N.Ireland may I recommend “Watching the door” by Irish journo Kevin Myers.
    The Provisional Ira as beloved of Noraid/Mr Galvin & Pete King was/is rather a different entity from that envisaged by the 1916 socialists.

  2. Marnie Holborow says:

    Kevin Myers is not to be recommended in my opinion – he is a right wing Irish journalist and part of the revisionist tradition that sees those fighting the British empire more of a problem than the British Empire itself. Equally, conservative support in the US for the republican movement may tell us more about the ‘all things to all people’ Sinn Fein politics than it does about the legacy of 1916.A far better socialist assessment of the event can be found in ‘1916 Ireland’s Revolutionary Tradition’ by Kieran Allen (Pluto Press) which also deals with its legacy and later Irish history.

  3. Ctesias62 says:

    Marnie. Irish Left’s history has been of interest to me mainly because my parents were good friends of the late Maureen Keegan (saor eire etc) they argued (a lot) about armed violence whilst I served drinks!
    Myers may indeed be a bad lot, though reviews for that particular book (in Uk) were by and large (with caveats) positive.
    However my point was that ideals of those original Irish Labour Party founders were rapidly subsumed by just another 19th c style romantic nationalism. Saor Eire got nowhere further than quixotic stuff with only a few dead, more terrible than beautiful like most violent deaths.

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