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1916


dedalus

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Poems should be able to speak for themselves without any prompts or preparations. Skip over the commentary below, then, if you wish, and go straight to the poems.

 

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Easter 1916 is a pivotal date in modern Irish history. This failed rebellion, a foredoomed blood sacrifice in that the participants knew in advance they had no chance of winning, occurred at Easter, the annual commemoration, not coincidentally, of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The rebellion thus set up a mystical parallel in the minds of an exceptionally pious public – then if not now -- and has come to represent the foundation myth of Irish independence.

 

There is a certain amount of truth to this generally accepted opinion, but it is my own view (shared by a number of historians, iconoclasts, and more than a few writers -- notably the playwright Sean O’Casey, who lived through the events he later wrote about) that the state which finally emerged from the turmoil of the post-World War One era was a far cry indeed from the republic proclaimed by the poets, visionaries, socialists, romantic nationalists, feminists, anti-clericals, progressives, proto-communists and all-round oddballs who gave us 1916.

 

The two poems that follow operate on superficially similar yet contrasting lines. The first (written in 2004-05, revised 2007) concentrates exclusively on the morning of Day One just as the Rising is about to begin and is comprised almost entirely of dialogue. The second (written in September, 2010, after revisiting Dublin and sites connected with the rebellion in August) covers a longer period and is more reportorial in tone, with interjections of commentary and internal monologue. Both employ an anecdotal format mixing real and fictional characters, with shifts in language from the standard to the vernacular, yet follow closely the events which actually took place from April 23-29, the week in which the Rising took place.

 

Finally, a series of links has been appended – including a Slideshow to provide a visual dimension – for the benefit of readers who would like to find out more about what really happened, why it happened, and something more about the personalities involved.

 

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Dublin: the Easter holiday weekend of the year 1916. The armies of Europe have been engaged in unprecedented mutual slaughter since the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, and casualties on all sides have reached horrendous proportions. Ireland, an unwilling and reluctant component of the UK, has managed to avoid conscription so far although about 300,000 of its young men have already joined the British Army as volunteers, some from conviction but many more as a drastic means of avoiding endemic widespread unemployment. The war seems far away as the better-off people of the city think about family picnics or maybe a day at the races. Unbeknown to them, other deeply-rooted forces are stirring. One young Dub comes off his night work and, by chance, runs into one of his pals on the streets ....

 

 

Joe McInerney

 

Who fears to speak

Of Easter Week?

 

There was I, shagged out,

shrugging off the midnight shift

and taking in the air of the morning,

when who should rise up before me

but the bould young Jimmy Docherty,

the man himself, ablaze in unaccustomed

splendour: Jayzus, Jim, says I,

suitably bedazzled, where in the name

of all that's holy, boy, -- and don’t ye

be keeping me in suspenders! --

where, in the Name of God, did ye

come by that ... martial uniform?

 

All bought and paid for,

says Jimmy, beaming,

amn't I after payin

two shillins a week

to the Countess, like?

Ah, the Countess, says I,

would that be yer wan?

O, the very article, says he.

Fierce woman, I'm told.

O, dreadful indeed.

No chance of a look-in?

Haha, laughs Jimmy,

put that thought behind you,

la di feckin da!

 

Aye, then, so I'm told,

but what is it, then, has yourself

abroad, so resplendent,

on this fine Easter Monday?

Tis a parade, says Jimmy,

ourselves and the Volunteers,

a march from Liberty Hall

with a stop at the GPO.

One in the eye to the English,

says I, here in the midst

of their Great Big War?

God send they lose,

says he with a serious look.

Sure, let them all be kilt,

says I, more power to them,

the less o' them Prooshians,

the less o' them Brits the better.

 

Is that what you really believe,

asks Jimmy, alert, half smiling.

Well, and why wouldn't I?

You'll come along with me, so?

Whither away? A step down the road,

a short wee stroll from Liberty Hall,

then a sharp left wheel to the GPO.

Ten minutes will do me no harm,

says I, then it's home to the flat,

to the rashers and sausages.

O Jayz, you're a fearful man

for the feed, says Jimmy.

 

Is that a real rifle, says I,

or a bloody good imitation?

O, tis real enough, says he,

with real little bullets inside it.

Down with the British Empire!

says I, with a happy grin.

Upon which the sun never sets,

cries Jimmy with a laugh.

For God, we both roar out together,

won't trust them in the dark!

Well, tis a fine day for it,

says I ; Sure, today, says Jim,

is a day that will live forever!

Are ye cracked or what, man,

today will run its course

much the same as any other:

the gentry will go out to the races,

and I’ll toddle home to me tea,

and we'll all wake up tomorrow

under the same oul' Union Jack!

 

We might, says Jimmy,

and then again, we might not.

But will yeh look over there!

Who in the name of Jayzus,

says I, is that precious article?

Tis Patrick Pearse, says he,

known to himself if none other

as Padraig O Piarsach in Irish.

Go ‘way! Och, indeed, the very man,

says Jim, another half-caste English

sleveen, bent on teaching the Irish

how to be Irish. Ah, to be sure, Jim,

but isn’t that the way of them, boyo?

Have a look at him now, take a gander,

see him shaking at the knees, suppressing

his posh Southside accent, reading out

the Proclamation of the Republic!

 

A sudden chill came over me,

a quick prickle of apprehension:

Jim, says I … is this the real McCoy?

Tis as real as ye like, Joe, says he,

so off ye go, get yourself home to yer tea.

Would yeh hang on a sec, there, Jimmy … !

He was gone, he had crossed the road,

where the windows were being smashed in

and an armed company of soldiers,

Volunteers and Citizen Army,

went rushing into the building.

 

I hesitated, perplexed, uneasy,

facing the thought of the long walk home.

I went three steps then rushed in after them.

 

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Easter Week

 

All is changed, changed utterly,

A terrible beauty is born.

-- W.B. Yeats

 

 

Idiots, really,

drunk on oratory and illusions:

a poet's rebellion with real bullets.

 

I love how they went to the tailors,

taking fittings for fine new uniforms,

tunics and belts to be buried in.

 

It was the style of the thing --

sauntering out, sartorially splendid,

at lunchtime on a public holiday.

 

Christ is crucified.

Christ is risen.

Christ will live again.

 

A sidelong smirk, a furtive wave,

Jayzus, Jim, and what’s the craic?

Can’t talk, Joe, I’m on Parade!

 

The GPO. Left Wheel! Attack!

Look here, young fella, do you mind,

Amn’t I next in the queue for stamps!

 

Kindly leave the premises, madam:

Volunteer Muldoon! On yer bike, missus,

G’wan, get away on out of it.

 

Run up the flag, the Plough and Stars!

Read out the lengthy Proclamation!

Ehh?? ... Whass that he’s after sayin’?

 

Jayz, here come the bloody Lancers!

Clippety-clop along the cobblestones:

Volunteers! Five rounds rapid -- Fire!

 

O God, dey do be dead!

Bear up, Muldoon, they are the enemy.

Feck the sojers, sorr, deh horses!

 

Agnus Dei

qui tollis peccata mundi

 

The English are capitalists, says Connolly,

they would never destroy public property!

Soon the shells rain down on the central city.

 

Machine guns, snipers, rake the roadsteads,

and in little heaps, in shapeless huddled rags,

stray civilians collapse in the crossfire.

 

Explosions, the zing and ring and ping

of bullets caroming off the stonework:

Hoowa! Heeya, ya hoor, ya missed!

 

Fires take hold, walls grow hot, begin to glow,

the ceiling burns, sags, starts to collapse:

ammunition low, the boys keep banging away.

 

We must charge the barricades, cries Connolly!

Shoulda stopped in the pub, thinks Muldoon:

Ehh, could we not, like, crawl behind them, sorr?

 

Hippety-hop, out one of the side doors,

as bullets spark on the flags of Henry Street:

a skip and a jump and a dive into Henry Lane.

 

Fires all around, bullets at every crossroad,

sandbag redoubts at the end of each street:

The O’Rahilly leaps up and leads a charge

 

but they’re all knocked over, bowled like skittles,

bleeding, groaning, beside the upturned market barrows

among cabbage leaves, turnips, cauliflowers.

 

It’s then that a bemused Commandant Pearse,

after seven days of ceaseless noise and slaughter,

concludes the time has come to pack things in.

 

But how to get the English to stop firing?

White flags have been no help to the poor civilians,

nor even the sad appeasement of Union Jacks.

 

The Army over time has gone wild and feral,

enraged by the sting of huge, unexpected losses,

it means to impose its revenge on this rebel City.

 

Let me try, says the nurse, Elizabeth O’Farrell,

and with a fierce fling, a wave of her Red Cross flag,

she now boldly steps out in the street …

 

And the English hold their fire.

Silence: Christ is on the Cross.

 

What follows is a tale of the times:

General Lowe, the British Officer Commanding,

cannot accept surrender from a woman!

 

Three hours later, the whole thing’s over,

and we can see the blurred but famous photo:

Pearse surrenders to General Lowe.

 

All over. So quixotic, so silly,

such a desperate hopeless military fling

in the face of a furious Empire

 

Who were none too bloody pleased

at this stab in the back, as they saw it,

in the midst of a War they were losing!

 

Comes the question of retribution,

and with it comes the turning point,

when England loses Ireland forever.

 

With their city thrown into flaming ruins,

the populace is enraged, not with the English,

but with these home-grown damn'd fanatics!

 

When the prisoners are led to the docks

the whole city turns out to jeer and pelt them:

Look at yez now, yeh bleedin’ bowsies!

 

England has only to be calm and cool,

to be reassuring, play on the prevailing mood,

but opts instead for savage executions.

 

First there is silent and stunned disbelief,

whispered murmurings, a stirring of anger,

and then the photographs begin to appear.

 

Images of the executed leaders proliferate,

first in private homes, then in gathering places,

then in public places throughout the land.

 

The troops go angrily tearing them down

and the well-known stubborn streak comes out,

the mood of the whole country changes.

 

The lads fought a fair fight, stood up to them,

and were good clean-living boys, the most of them.

No need to go shooting them down like animals!

 

Christ is Crucified.

Christ is Risen.

Christ Will Live Again.

 

When I think of the men of 1916

I wish I had been one among them,

racing, giddily, down to the barricades

 

and fighting for Ireland, in no way dying,

(Muldoon muddled through, fair play)

but dodging the bullets, hoop-la, having the craic,

 

living on ever after in a life of reflected glory:

boring the bloody socks off people in the pub,

cadging drinks on the strength of borrrowed history

 

for ever and ever and ever. Amen.

 

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Links

 

Slideshow: Go to Top Left when album appears on your screen and click on the Slideshow option. The default time is set for 3 second frames. You can adjust the time or else hit Pause if or when you want to read occasional captions.

 

http://picasaweb.google.com/dedalus07/1916...LCgysHg2rmpigE#

 

General:

 

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Rising

Blog: http://dublinerinjapan.blogspot.com/2005/0...aster-1916.html

 

Media:

 

- Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/focus/easterrising/

- BBC (non-Irish source) : http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easte...ers/index.shtml

 

- Original Documents & Photographs (National Library of Ireland):

http://www.nli.ie/1916/pdfs.html

 

Finally, a commemorative poem by WB Yeats:

http://www.online-literature.com/frost/779/

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Hi Bren, I think I've read these poems before but I truly enjoyed reading them together with the introduction and enjoyed the links. I agree a poem should need nothing more than the poem itself and both of these can certainly stand by themselves. But, I appreciate the consolidation which adds depth and clarity.

 

The lyrical nature of the first piece is delightful. The dialect is so musical and beautifully comes through the dialogue. To capture an ordinary encounter at a pivotable moment in time is a real art. You are a gifted storyteller.

 

In Easter Sunday, the insertion of the memorial acclimation is the perfect ground for the piece.

 

~~Tink

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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Fantastic presentation, Brendan, from background info to poems to the appendix with slide show. I liked the mood set in first poem and the gamut of emotions, honest and accurate (esp. non-supportive to supportive), portrayed in the second.

 

Tony

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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It was there in my mind, Tony, after leaving Dublin (most reluctantly), and it was just something I wanted to do. I posted these poems here and there and I got a total blank or else low-grade fingerwaving crap about the ills of nationalism, blahdeblah. as if I were waving swastika flags and singing the "Horst Wessel Lied". I can see that ... kind of ... but nationalism was NOT what it was all about!

 

No, it was about the sheer idealism and stupidity and bravery of going ahead with the rebellion: everybody involved knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but these guys and a large number of women also (conveniently forgotten) went out to fight and die anyway. This is what I'm trying to capture, not the history leading up to it and not the events that followed afterwards, just the amazing fact of the thing itself!

 

This. I think, is what we're missing in Ireland: 1916 has been plugged in to the later war for independence, the Black & Tans, Michael Collins, the dreary half-independent priest-ridden, book-banning state we ended up with in the 1930s, with thousands of our best people emigrating and seeking jobs overseas. The new government even flirted with Franco and Hitler. It didn't go any further than flirtation, thank Christ, but even so that is mortally embarrassing! Then we pretended to be "neutral" during WWII behind the shelter of the British Navy and Air Force ... at least a lot of our boys flew for the RAF or joined the British Army against Hitler. Nobody fought for the Germans.

 

Still ... all this was a far cry from the ideals of 1916. What I'm trying to do here is separate 1916 from the later history which more or less (and to this day) gobbled it up.

 

Best wishes,

Brendan

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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No, it was about the sheer idealism and stupidity and bravery of going ahead with the rebellion: everybody involved knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but these guys and a large number of women also (conveniently forgotten) went out to fight and die anyway. This is what I'm trying to capture, not the history leading up to it and not the events that followed afterwards, just the amazing fact of the thing itself!

Yes, but never underestimate how much a martyr can do to promote a just cause. Others who would stand up for liberty will always be able to derive heartening from what they who would live free or die have done.

 

In line with "1916" and my reply to your poem Anno Dom' (The War on Terror), the incident that took place in 1993 in Waco, Texas, comes to mind. Under the color of law (defective warrants, bogus charges, etc.), and under the guise of "protecting" women and children, those acting in the name of the United States federal government went ahead and torched the women and the children who were members of a church ... an unlicensed one, one that had not gotten down on its knee to kiss the ring of the emperor.

 

Regardless of what people may have thought about that church or its beliefs, it was nevertheless a church, and it stood up for liberty against a formidable assailant that arrived with extreme and far superior firepower. If you get a chance, see the documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement. It's well worth it and contains interviews, audio, and video footage from within the church during the time the government showed up with its professional killers and weekend warriors to destroy it.

 

Tony

 

waco.jpg

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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