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Transforming 1916

Meaning, memory and the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising

by Roisín Higgins

Publication Year: 2012

The fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising has been held responsible for everything from the outbreak of conflict in Northern Ireland to the alienation of an entire generation in the Republic of Ireland. This book examines the myths behind the most elaborate commemoration of the Rising to date.Transforming 1916 explores the meaning and memory of the Easter Rising in 1966 and the way in which history operated in Ireland at a moment of rapid change. Transforming 1916 looks at the commemorative process through parades, statues, pageants, television programmes, exhibitions and documentary film; and considers the tensions present north and south of the border. It argues that the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising was not, in fact, an unrestrained celebration of Ireland’s past but represented instead an attempt by the Irish government to convey a message of modernisation and economic progress. Transforming 1916 casts light on what 1916 means in Ireland and illuminates the politics of commemoration as the centenary of the Rising approaches.

Published by: Cork University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

This book began life as part of a project funded by the Irish Higher Education Authority under the North-South Research Programme. Mary E. Daly at University College Dublin (UCD) and Margaret O’Callaghan at Queen’s University, Belfast were the project leaders and...

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pp. 1-29

In March 1966 the taoiseach, Seán Lemass, received a letter from an elderly patient in a Dublin nursing home which implored him to withdraw all preparations for the commemoration of the Easter Rising before it was too late...

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1. The Official Commemoration

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pp. 30-56

The blowing up of Nelson’s Pillar in March 1966 happened just in time for the golden jubilee of the Easter Rising. The Birmingham Post reported that the shattered stump served as ‘a convenient and symbolic vantage point’ for Irish television cameras during the opening parade...

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2. Alternatives to the Official Commemoration

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pp. 57-85

Writing in the Irish Socialist in June 1966, Michael O’Riordan applauded those who had offered critical readings of Irish society during the jubilee of the Easter Rising. He welcomed them as an important antidote to the ‘adman’s clichés of Lemass and Co., who sound more and more as if...

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3. ‘The Other Place ’: Commemoration in Northern Ireland

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pp. 86-112

In September 1966, assessing his achievements in office, the prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, expressed his belief that Ulster was ‘with it’ and forging ahead towards the 1970s.1 The language of modernisation, however awkward, was present north of the border as...

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4. Calling Up the Dead

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pp. 113-131

Ferdia MacAnna, writing of his part in the pageant at Croke Park, scripted and directed by his father Tomás, recalled the issue of payment for boys who had minor roles: ‘we made representations to the management . . . At one stage there was talk of a strike: there would be no new...

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5. Where Nelson’s Pillar was Not

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pp. 132-156

When commissioned to design the central sculpture for the Garden of Remembrance, Oisín Kelly was concerned about the ‘general difficulty of expressing the heroic in our time’. He intended in his design to create a new nationalist iconography. ‘There is no tradition on which to build,’ he...

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6. From History into Art

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pp. 157-182

Writing of Constance Markievicz in the Daily Express Donald Seaman described her as tailor-made for Hollywood films: What a cracker! She went to war in a gorgeous, high-necked, tight-fitting, bottle green uniform made to her own design. Over it she...

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7. ‘What to Do with their Lovely Past? ’Promoting the Commemoration Abroad

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pp. 183-203

‘They dream their lives away casually here,’ Jimmy Breslin wrote of Ireland in the New York Herald Tribune in 1966, ‘but at the same time the dreaming is what makes them. Dreaming of sex comes out far better than sex.’ The wise man might riddle what dream had come true fifty years...

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EPILOGUE: Towards 2016

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pp. 204-209

Writing in Irish Spotlight in May 1966, Seán Lemass noted that ‘Now indeed is the time to seek answers to the question: “What sort of a nation do we wish to be in fifty years hence?”’ and argued...


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pp. 211-223

Notes and References

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pp. 225-261


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pp. 263-275

E-ISBN-13: 9781908634238
Print-ISBN-13: 9781859184868
Print-ISBN-10: 1859184863

Publication Year: 2012