Around a hundred people attended the Cabra 1916 Rising Committee’s exhibition and launch on Saturday (7/11/2015) of their publication Our Rising – Cabra and Phibsborough in Easter 1916.
The event took place in the Cabra area itself, in the parish hall of Christ the King church. To accompany the launch, the Irish Volunteers group put on a very interesting display of artifacts from the period, including uniforms and weapons, and provided some personnel also dressed in Irish Volunteer uniforms and IRA typical clothing of the War of Independence period. Along the walls there were many period photos and a wonderful display of schoolchildren’s art on the subject of the 1916 Rising.
After some time allowed for people to gather, the MC Éamonn O’Hara called people to order and after they had sat down, gave a brief background to the work of the Cabra 1916 Rising Committee, then outlined the formal part of the book launch to follow. First he introduced singer Diarmuid Breatnach.
Breatnach took the floor and explained that the songs he was going to sing were from or related to the period. “During these years of commemorations,” he said, “we are told that we should remember the First World War. Some people disagree with that but I think it is right; we should remember the War but — not in the way most of those people mean. We should instead remember that hundreds of thousands were sent to murder their class brothers in other lands, sent to their deaths and millions more to injury and tragedy, for the profits of a few.”
“Also, when we are told that we should commemorate the First World War, they don’t mean that we should remember those brave few who dared speak out publicly against the war, who held anti-recruitment rallies or who picketed army recruitment meetings and shouted slogans there. And who paid the price of imprisonment and sometimes even death for doing so.” And yet, Breatnach went on to elaborate, those things too are part of the history of war and to his mind the most important part, since among all the wars of the past and the present, it is that trend that holds out a hope for the future.
Breatnach related that Peadar Kearney was born not far from Phibsborough – in Dorset Street, around the corner from Inisfallen Parade, where Sean O’Casey was reared. When Kearney taught night classes in Irish, O’Casey was one of his pupils.
Among the songs that Kearney wrote was a three-verse song mocking a British Army recruiting sergeant, who apparently had a pitch at Dunphy’s Corner. According to a local historian, that was outside what is now Doyle’s pub, at the Phibsboro crossroads. Breatnach said that he had added two verses of his own composition to that song.
“Of course, the 1916 Rising is a part of the history of the First World War too,” Breatnach continued, “and not only because it took place during that War. For the IRB, undoubtedly, it was a case of ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’. But for some others, including Connolly, as he made clear a number of times in writing, the Rising was necessary to interrupt the War, to stop the bloodshed of class brother killing class brother across Europe.”
Breatnach pointed out that the Rising in Ireland was one of the most significant internationally against that imperialist war and that it was not until February the following year in Russia that there would be another of such historical importance, to be followed later by the October socialist revolution.
Of the two better-knowns songs about James Connolly, Breatnach said one makes no mention of socialism, the Citizen Army or trade unions and that in his opinion “Where Is Our James Connolly?” is truer to Connolly’s ideology. It was written by Patrick Galvin who was, among other things a writer, playwright, screen writer and singer. Galvin died only four years ago.
Breatnach then went on to perform “Sergeant William Bailey”, followed by “Where Is Our James Connolly?” to audience applause.
O’Hara then introduced one of the authors of “Our Rising”, historian Brian Hanley. “Phibsborough was an area with strong revolutionary connections,” pointed out Hanley and went on to list some of the many participants and even leaders of the 1916 Rising and later who lived in the area, including Michael O’Hanrahan, who was one of the executed sixteen.
Hanley said that although it was right of course that those who were executed for their part in the Rising should have a special place in our memories and be written about by historians, it was unfortunate that many other important participants were neglected. Nearly 100 were sentenced to death but most had their sentences commuted. Had they been executed instead, Hanley pointed out, we would have had many biographies of them, their upbringing and domestic arrangements examined, their words pored over ….. instead, we know next to nothing about them except that they participated and what their role was.
The British Army unit responsible for the suppression of insurgent activities and securing of the area was the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; this was in line with the reality of the British Army, Hanley went on to say, an organisation the main purpose of which was to suppress resistance to the British Empire in places like India, Afghanistan and Ireland. The Fusiliers killed three people in the Phibsborough area, two civilians and a Fianna scout.
Pointing out that most of those men and women who went out to fight in 1916 were not poets or dreamers, Hanley refuted the myth of blood sacrifice. Most of those people were ordinary enough, with all the hopes, excitement and fears of ordinary people, Hanley opined: “They went out with high hopes that they were going to win.”
Thanking various bodies that had supported the project, Hanley went on to point out that the book should not be considered all that had to be said on the subject and, while thanking those local people who had contributed stories and information, encouraged any others who had further information or stories, including corrections of what they had written, to get in touch with the society.
Hanley’s presentation was followed by that of another historian, Dónal Fallon, co-author of Our Rising. “The commemoration of the 1916 Rising is much too important to leave to the Irish Government”, said Fallon, who admitted to being a newcomer to the area, in the community of which he was glad to live. Local history and community groups had a vital part to play in commemorating the important events of this centenary decade, he said, pointing out that we had already had the centenary of the Lockout, next year would be the centenary of the Rising, to be followed by centenaries of the War of Independence and the Civil War, which might be uncomfortable for some people but should not be shirked for all that.
Last of the panel to speak was historian Hugo McGuinness who said he was delighted to have contributed the Cathleen Seery-Redmond piece to the book. He laid stress on the importance of local history and people’s stories as the human element of history. McGuinness recalled that when Connolly and some others were planning a commemorative event, a female member of the committee proposed that it would be wonderful to see Connolly in uniform; Hugo commented that he found little stories like that added human charm to the big narrative of historic events. McGuinness strongly recommended people buy a copy.
All the speakers were accorded warm applause. O’Hara thanked the speakers and asked whether there were any questions or comments. There were a few only and, announcing a historical walk to take place on the 29th, for which flyers had been placed on seats, the MC thanked the Irish Volunteers.org group for their display, thanked the audience for their attendance and concluded the formal part of the event. People remained to buy copies of the book and have them signed by the authors, or conversed or wandered among the exhibition for about an hour afterwards.