- My Aunts at the Card Table:Ways of Remembering the Rising
Earlier this year, I took a Saturday morning walk through the streets of Clifden in County Galway. As is frequently the case in Ireland a burst of sunshine was followed by a downpour of rain, the rain pounding and cascading from above and from all sides so that I had the feeling I was not in Connemara but instead onboard a trawler during an episode of Deadliest Catch, that television show of last resort. Quickly, I beat a retreat to the Clifden Bookshop where a large space, nine feet tall by about six feet wide, if I recall correctly, had been set aside as a gathering place for books published to celebrate, commemorate, and analyze the centenary of the 1916 Rising. As it happens, at that point I already knew that, half a year later, I was going to be addressing a group of Irish Studies scholars on precisely that subject: remembering the Rising.
It dawned on me, as I made a pass through the volumes, how daunting, even impossible a task it would be, with another six months of this year to go, to compile an synthesis or even a simple inventory of what had been written and said about 1916. I think 2020 might be a good year to take on such a task. To date, I have read but a small fraction of the books published on these events.
The volumes on display in the Clifden Bookshop made clear to me that morning that discussions of 1916 encompass the events of 1916, as well as what preceded and what followed them, as well as any other matters that an author thinks should be brought into the discussion. Paul Muldoon’s “One Hundred Years a Nation,” commissioned by RTÉ for a live Easter Sunday broadcast by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, with music composed by Shaun Davey, includes the following lines:
we turned our backs on our turf banksfor banks that lay offshore,left Ballymore for ballyhoo,outcry for trading floor,we turned our backs on inner growthour junk bonds to redeem,we turned our backs on Knowth and Dowthfor some new pyramid scheme. [End Page 9]
Muldoon’s hip-hop verse is a public statement in the same way that Yeats’s “Easter, 1916” is, with Muldoon’s rhymes matching Yeats’s. Neither poet has been shy of pointing out indiscretion. Muldoon’s poem lacerates the Celtic Tiger’s stupidity and greed, many decades removed from the events of 1916 that Yeats inscribed.
In Vivid Faces, one of the volumes in the Clifden Bookshop’s display, R. F. Foster notes that the “the Irish revolution was sparked into life (ostensibly) with the ‘Rising’, or rebellion of 1916, when a small group of extreme Irish nationalists, organized by the ‘Fenians,’ or Irish Republican Brotherhood, mounted a weeklong insurrection in Dublin, occupying public buildings and creating mayhem before the British Army regained control.” To counter the emotional swelter attached to 1916, Foster—in one long rhetorical sentence—pushes it away from him to a safe distance where it can be considered dispassionately. It is as if 1916 had been an event, or a series of events, that happened to another race of people, distant from us, that we are now asked to understand. Foster’s is a most engaging book. He examines the different small parts of the 1916 narrative; he breaks it down so that we spend as much time in Tom Clarke’s shop on Great Britain Street as we do in the GPO. Examining the various small parts of revolution, Foster brings characters, times, and places to life. All of the major players are present in his study but his work, in common with others that have appeared recently, is concerned with restoring to the historical narrative the contributions of many that had been erased. Of particular interest to me in Foster’s account is the story of Rosamond Jacob, who was born into a prominent Quaker family with nationalist sympathies in Waterford in 1888 and who lived until 1960. That is my own part of the county, the Southeast...