EASTER 1916—PART ONE
“On the morning of Easter Monday, [April 24, 1916], Pádraig Pearse—one of the leaders of the Easter Rising—said to his mother: ‘The day is coming when I shall be shot, swept away, and my colleagues like me…Shot like the others. We’ll all be shot.’ But he still had the will to resist and fight, and the Rising became a pivotal event in Ireland’s recent history. Before the Rising, only a few people in Ireland were overt supporters of the rebels. After the uprising, however, those involved achieved the status of heroes. On that Easter Monday morning, approximately 1,250 people started a rebellion and set out to capture the most prominent buildings in Dublin. It was an all but suicidal mission. Although they had control of the General Post Office, which was used as the rebels’ headquarters, they failed to take the most important location that served as headquarters for the British administration: Dublin Castle.
“On Saturday [April 29], the rebels surrendered. They were marched across Dublin to prison and their leaders were shown no mercy: tried in secret by a military court and sentenced to death. After this, public opinion swung in favour of the rebels. The public felt that the executions had been unfair and that the men involved deserved, at the very least, a public trial…The troubled relationship between the colonizers and the colonized…is always overshadowed by overwhelming sadness, violence, and despair, and reveals the vicissitudes of the human condition.”
I am quoting from curator Koyo Kouch’s description of “Still (the) Barbarians, a Biennial Exhibition” taking place in Limerick. Kouch’s description begins, “Ireland, which I consider the first and foremost colonial laboratory of the British enterprise, has always been part of my thinking about the psychological and political effects that a system, designed to control through humiliation and alienation, can have on people’s souls…Colonialism…continues to shape our present condition…This exhibition engages with practices displaying aesthetics of subversion, transcendence, and reappropriation. I believe that one of the most palpable consequences of colonial domination is language endangerment and loss, and the consequences of such a thing…Who speaks Irish, who does not, who feels Irish should be the national language, who does not?”
Today’s show deals with a rebellion that Gerry Hunt described in his excellent graphic novel, Easter 1916, as undertaken by “an unlikely band of freedom fighters—teachers, poets, writers, patriots, and trade unionists…From this dramatic gesture, a nation is born.” The show features tracks from the new CD Blood on the Rose / Fuil ar an Rós. The CD came about when Gabriel Rosenstock had the idea of celebrating the artistic contribution of many of the signatories of The Proclamation, and Gabriel’s son Tristan Rosenstock had the idea to record poems and songs of 1916. The CD is available at the website everlastingvoices.ie. It begins with Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem, “I See His Blood Upon the Rose.” According to Gerry Hunt, Plunkett handed the poem to his wife Grace, whom he had married only two hours earlier in the prison chapel. Grace took the poem as she was leaving the jail cell. Joseph Mary Plunkett was executed on May 4, 1916. His fellow rebel, Pádraig Pearse, had been executed the day before. The Irish translation of Plunkett’s poem is by Gabriel Rosenstock.
I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes.
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross in every tree.
A fhuil is léir dom ar an rós,
I ngach aon réalt tá glóir a shúl.
Mar shneachta a cholainn, is ritheann fós
A dheora geala ón spéir anuas.
Is léir a ghnúis i ngach aon bhláth,
An toirneach agus scol gach éin
A ghuth, ar ndóigh – is snoite tá
A chumhacht sa charraig féin.
Is é a shiúil gach cosán dearg,
A chroí a bhogann an tonn tuile,
Fíodh a choróin as gach aon dealg
A chros is beo i ngach aon bhile.