By Nicola Smith
Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2016
The poet William Butler Yeats once observed, “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, the men of the Irish Republican Brotherhood harnessed poetry to rhetoric in their proclamation of Irish independence from British colonial rule. The place was Dublin’s General Post Office, where the revolutionaries had set up a command post in preparation for an armed insurrection.
This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rebellion, judged by many to be the signal event in 20th century Irish history, although there is disagreement about whether the six-day insurrection, which destroyed parts of Dublin, killed 450 people and wounded more than 2,000, helped or hindered the cause in the long run.
Sixteen of the IRB leaders were court-martialed and executed by the British in the months afterward, which squarely shifted the opinions of those Irish who had been on the fence about the uprising, against the excesses of British rule.
In Ireland, there are plans for a ceremony on April 24 in Dublin, and such Irish-American strongholds as Boston and New York will also hold commemorations and conferences in April to look at the legacy of Easter 1916.
Here in the Upper Valley, a centenary celebration is planned for 7 p.m. on Easter Monday in the Galway Room at Salt hill Pub. The evening has been organized by Maura Naughton, who taught Irish language classes at Lebanon College before it closed, and now offers them for beginners and more advanced students at Salt hill Pub in both Lebanon and Hanover.
“I’m happy to host the event,” said Salt hill co-owner Josh Tuohy, who has been a part of Naughton’s Irish language class in the past.
The roughly 90-minute commemoration will feature students from Naughton’s classes who will take the roles of some of the women and men who were key organizers or supporters of the rebellion, among them Joseph Plunkett, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonough, and Maud Gonne, the Anglo-Irish suffragette and pro-Irish independence activist who was also Yeats’ lover.
Each student will also read from the writings of the person she or he is playing. There will be musical accompaniment on the Uillean bagpipes, guitar, bodhran (Irish drum) and strumstick, as well as projected photos of the rebellion and its leaders.
Eric Rosenbloom, a Hartland resident, will read the words of Padraig Pearse, who wrote the famous proclamation and is considered the spiritual leader of the Uprising. Pearse began the proclamation, “In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.”
Pearse also stipulated in the proclamation that once it had thrown off the British, the Irish Republic would guarantee “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.”
Pearse’s intentions remain in some dispute. To some he was a hero; to others, a man too ready to spill the blood of his compatriots, although Pearse was executed by firing squad by the British on May 3.
But the import of the uprising can’t be underestimated, said Rosenbloom, who has a long-standing interest in Irish literature and culture. Coming after the Boer War of 1899-1902, when the Afrikaners fought the British in South Africa, the Easter rebellion “really started the 20th century rejection of colonial rule,” he said.
Soon after the rebellion was crushed, and the leaders executed,
Yeats wrote the poem Easter 1916, in which he ruminated, with no small ambivalence, on what it meant, noting that “We know their dream; enough to know they dreamed and are dead,” and ending with the famous refrain, “A terrible beauty is born.”