Ann Marie Hourihane
On Monday, 24 April 1916, the Inland Revenue wrote to an obscure Dublin schoolmaster, Patrick Pearse, threatening to confiscate his property for non-payment of tax. Pearse, a polite and respectable man, was beset by money worries. The previous evening, Easter Sunday, he had left a letter to the headmistress of the girls’ school that he had founded. Wages for his teaching staff were hard for him to find: ‘I enclose you [sic] chq. £5 as a further instalment. Wishing you a very happy Easter.’ Pearse then cycled into the city with his brother. With a handful of disparate comrades, representing a dissident minority of the Irish Volunteers, they seized a number of substantial buildings in the centre of town, making the General Post Office their headquarters, and waited for the British army to attack. Nobody asked Pearse, or anyone else, to do it. On Monday also Pearse stood in front of the GPO and read out a proclamation from ‘the provisional government of the Irish Republic’, a document of which he was probably the main author, to onlookers in O’Connell Street. One of Pearse’s supporters later recalled: ‘The response was chilling; a few thin, perfunctory cheers, no direct hostility just then; but no enthusiasm whatever.’ On Saturday Pearse gave the British his unconditional surrender. He was placed in solitary confinement. His comrades were jeered by their fellow citizens as they were led away to prison.
On Wednesday, 3 May 1916, at 3.30 in the morning, Pearse was executed by firing squad. His comrades Thomas Clarke, a veteran of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and Thomas MacDonagh, a university lecturer who had once taught at Pearse’s school, were shot with him. On the night after Pearse’s trial one of the three military judges, General Blackader, dined with Elizabeth, Countess of Fingal. In her memoirs she reports the General as having been depressed because ‘I have had to condemn to death one of the finest characters I have ever come across. There must be something very wrong in the state of things that makes a man like that a Rebel. I don’t wonder that his pupils adored him.’
The rebels and the British army had more in common than either side would admit. Áine Ceannt remembered that when they were told that her husband, Eamon, had been executed, ‘My sister in law suggested that we go and purchase some mourning. As the War was raging at that time and there many young widows, it was easy to procure an outfit.’
For an Irish person any examination of the Easter Rising of 1916 is like looking too closely at the circumstances of one’s own conception. At first they tell you that you were lovingly planned, and just what Mummy and Daddy had been hoping for. Then you begin to suspect that there are facts which are being withheld from you. As time passes you become convinced that you have been lied to. Eventually you realize that, far from being a carefully nurtured project, your existence is the result of a series of accidents and the actions of a small minority who were interested only in fulfilling their own desires and had only the vaguest idea of the consequences. All the leaders of the Easter Rising except two, Eamon de Valera and Constance Markievicz, were executed. It was a grave mistake, turning a group of unsupported extremists into martyrs. The advanced nationalist party Sinn Féin, which had no involvement in the Rising, won a landslide victory over the moderate nationalists at the 1918 election. And so, we have always been told, modern Ireland was born.
Monty Python used to have a joke, the tag line of which was ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquistion.’ This joke involved actors dressed as members of the Spanish Inquisition bursting in to contemporary scenes – an ordinary modern living room, for example – and shouting in a very serious way, ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’ The incongruity was the joke. The Easter Rising is a bit like that in modern Ireland: it explodes into our lives at the strangest moments. And, of course, no one ever did expect the Easter Rising. Not even in 1916.
The writer James Stephens, in his eyewitness account of the Rising, had this to say about Dublin crowds: ‘Almost everyone was smiling and attentive, and a democratic feeling was abroad, to which our City is very much a stranger; for while in private we are a sociable and talkative people we have no street manners or public ease whatever.’
At the time of the Rising Stephens was trying to learn to read music, in preparation for learning to play the dulcimer. He was reading a theosophist book by Madame Blavatsky. He was working at the National Gallery on Merrion Square. When the rebellion started he spent his time on the streets, cataloguing astonishment. He saw an innocent man shot down by the Volunteers in Stephen’s Green because he had tried to remove his wagon from one of their barricades – barricades were made from bicycles, from clocks, from the rolls of newsprint taken from the Irish Times. ‘One does not know how ugly blood can look until it has been seen clotted in hair,’ Stephens wrote.
At night Stephens paced the floor. He was very fond of normality. ‘This morning also there has been no bread, no milk, no meat, no newspapers, but the sun is shining. It is astonishing that, thus early in the Spring, the weather should be so beautiful.’ Stephens missed the newspapers particularly. He went about gathering snippets of his own: ‘There is not a cat or a dog left alive in Camden Street.’ He was alive to rumour, and the lunacy of rumour: ‘There were one hundred German submarines lying in Stephen’s Green pond.’ Above all he saw the madness of warfare in an ordinary city: ‘An officer in this part [of the city] had his brains blown into the roadway. A young girl ran into the road picked up his cap and scraped the brains into it. She covered this poor debris with a little straw, and carried the hat piously to the nearest hospital in order that the brains might be buried with their owner.’
Stephens cast a shrewd eye on the looting. On the Saturday of Easter week, ‘Another young boy was standing near embracing a large ham. He had been trying for three days to convey his ham to a house near the Gresham Hotel where his sister lived. He had almost given up hope, and he hearkened intelligently to the idea that he should himself eat the ham and so get rid of it.’ Most looters were not so strategically minded. ‘The shops attacked were mainly haberdashers, shoe shops and sweet shops. Very many sweet shops were raided, and until the end of the rising sweet shops were the favourite mark of looters.’
For a contemporary Irish person it is rather heartening to learn that the sense of bewilderment engendered by 1916 was there from the very beginning. On the Sunday after the Rising, when the surrender was complete, Stephens wrote: ‘All we know in Dublin is that our city burst into a kind of spontaneous war; that we lived through it during one singular week, and that it faded away and disappeared almost as swiftly as it had come.’
Pearse became a secular saint. It was understood that he did not smoke or drink alcohol. He had ploughed the profits from his father’s substantial business into his schools. His picture hangs in the office of the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, a talisman of Irish purity, of Gaelic Ireland – the Irish language was Pearse’s first love – and of men who did not want to have fun. Anything further from the Ireland of today is hard to imagine.
Streets, schools, railway stations and blocks of council flats were named after the leaders of the Easter Rising, and in one way it seemed, growing up in Ireland, that there was no escape from their unsmiling faces. And yet I do not remember being taught one thing about the Rising at primary or secondary school. Teachers seemed to assume that we knew all about it already. Or perhaps they were embarrassed. There was no sense that 1916 was relevant to our lives, or even interesting. Our nun told us that Wolfe Tone, an eighteenth-century rebel who became a hero to later nationalists like Pearse, had not really attempted suicide and that this was a slanderous rumour spread by the British authorities. This startling news got short shrift when I brought it home.
The annual commemoration had always been a fragile flower, sometimes forgotten and sometimes forced to bloom.* In 1926 the Rising was commemorated with a Mass in Whitefriar Street and a visit to the Republican Plot at Glasnevin cemetery. The most extravagant gesture that year was the renaming of Dublin’s Great Brunswick Street, where Pearse had lived as a boy, as Pearse Street. In 1929, on the fiftieth anniversary of Pearse’s birth, celebrations were low-key. In 1932, with the first Fianna Fáil government in office, the Rising was celebrated with unprecedented ceremony. In 1935 the leader of Fine Gael, William Cosgrave, who had fought in 1916 himself, said, ‘The time is not right for an adequate commemoration of 1916, which would be accompanied by that generous national enthusiasm indispensable to success.’
In 1941, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Rising, a large parade took place, although it was not as elaborate as some enthusiasts at the Department of Defence had proposed. In December 1940 a memorandum headed ‘Victory Parade Past the GPO’ had been returned to the Department of Defence from the Department of the Taoiseach with the word ‘victory’ corralled between brackets. The Taoiseach was Eamon de Valera, the first man to receive the newly minted 1916 medals.
In 1946 the Irish Times radio critic was already complaining about the predictability and pedestrian nature of the Rising commemorations. By the late 1940s the Old IRA Men’s Association was complaining that no municipal buildings flew the tricolour during Easter Week. The government replied that flags would be flown on all buildings ‘equipped with permanent flagpoles’. In 1962 there were several parades at different venues, and in June of that year the Federation of IRA 1916–1921 wrote to the Taoiseach, Seán Lemass: ‘This multiplication of parades has not been for the best. The citizens of Dublin have become so used to seeing handfuls of old men marching behind the national flag that they no longer turn their heads to look at them, while the drivers of buses and cars hoot them out of the way and break their ranks with indifference, if not contempt.’
Coming up to 1966, the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising, things became more heated. Tom Clarke’s widow, Kathleen, wrote to Lemass in fury at the way her husband’s role in 1916 had steadily been eclipsed by that of Pearse. She said she would speak out if anyone claimed that Pearse, and not her husband, had been President of the Republic. ‘Surely Pearse should have been satisfied with the honour of Commander-in-Chief,’ she wrote, ‘when he knew as much about commanding as my dog.’ Kathleen Clarke’s anger notwithstanding, the 1966 observances were elaborate. I remember the commemorative stamps. My father told me that one stamp depicted a flame, although in retrospect I think that it was a lily (still a republican symbol today).
The annual 1916 parade was discontinued in 1971, shortly after the onset of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, when the Provisional IRA’s campaign seemed to change the contemporary significance of the Rising. The state observances on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Rising, in 1991, were strikingly muted. To those outside the Irish republic a ninetieth anniversary may seem a strange one to celebrate, but in October 2005, at Fianna Fáil’s Ard Fheis, Bertie Ahern announced that the anniversary would be marked with a military parade. It was said that Fianna Fáil had noted remarks by Gerry Adams about the need for Sinn Féin to start preparing for the hundredth anniversary of the Rising, in 2016, and that they were furious over a historical pageant staged by Sinn Féin, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the party, in which its youth wing donned the uniforms of the rebellion period. Now Bertie Ahern wished to reclaim the legacy of 1916 from a party that poses an ever-growing electoral threat to the government.
I phoned the Department of the Taoiseach a couple of times in February with queries about the Easter arrangements, and no one returned my calls. The office of the Taoiseach issued a form for press accreditation which had the wrong mobile phone number on it. In April the Department of Defence website only gave details for the day of the parade itself, yet the newspapers carried reports of other events taking place well in advance of it. The press was not notified that the Minister of Defence would be unveiling a commemorative stone at the Irish army’s headquarters in the Curragh, County Kildare. ‘We didn’t know ourselves,’ said the very nice civil servant. ‘It’s only a road sign.’
‘I don’t care,’ I said rudely. ‘I would have gone if I’d known about it.’
In fact the unveiled stone is not a road sign, though it is sited near the car park at the entrance to the Curragh. According to the defence forces’ press office – the most efficient press office by far – the seven barracks at the Curragh were re-named after the seven signatories of the Proclamation in 1929. The stone unveiled commemorates that fact, and gives directions to the individual barracks.
On Sunday 9 April the Taoiseach swept in to Collins Barracks Musuem on his usual wave of charm to open an exhibition called ‘Understanding 1916: The Easter Rising’. He gave a speech entitled ‘Remembrance, Reconciliation, Renewal’ in which, amongst other things, he called on us to do voluntary work in our communities. The exhibition stretched from the 1913 Lockout – a time of industrial warfare in which the trade unions squared up to the bosses, and lost – through to 1923 and the end of the Civil War: ‘The whole revolutionary moment,’ as the civil servant in the Department of the Taoiseach called it.
At a dinner five days before the parade another civil servant cheerfully told me that the arrangements were ‘Chaos. The invitations haven’t gone out. The booklets aren’t even printed.’
In Marlborough Street, opposite the Pro-Cathedral, the private coaches were waiting. The limousine drivers were waiting inside the fence of the Department of Education, and were not inclined to talk to people with notebooks. In Cathal Brugha Street my handbag got its one search of the day. In 1916 Cathal Brugha was taken out of the South Dublin Union (a workhouse, now St James’s Hospital) with twenty-five wounds which left him permanently crippled. He was eventually killed fighting in O’Connell Street during the Civil War. He had attended Belvedere College, and been educated there by the Jesuits. Like so many of the 1916 leaders, he was a nice middle-class boy.
When the journalists got off the bus we were a respectable, middle-aged lot with the exception of one young man who had recently shaved his head. ‘He’s representing the looters,’ said one of his colleagues. Dublin looters are a live issue today, after a demonstration against a loyalist parade down O’Connell Street in February turned into a riot. The looters targeted a fashionable shoe shop and were scorned for their stupidity when they were reported to have run off with a lot of single shoes.
Two viewing stands were placed in front of the GPO, on either side of the northbound traffic lane, with the government and other dignitaries on the GPO side and journalists and relatives of 1916 veterans on the broad traffic island, with our backs to the Ann Summers sex shop. We had a clear view of the government. There is a tendency in Fianna Fáil to wear coats too long. Bertie’s coat was too long, Willie O’Dea’s coat was too long. Willie O’Dea, who is Minister for Defence, was swamped by a loose coat that flapped off him like a dressing gown as the troops looked at Willie, as Willie looked at the troops. This is what military parades are about, this looking at each other.
The President, Mary McAleese, was wearing a sage green coat and high boots. ‘That’s because she has terrible legs,’ says the journalist beside me. ‘Great highlights.’ The previous president always looked as though she had been called from her study, and was on her way back to it. Mary McAleese, on the other hand, gives the impression that there is nothing she would rather be doing than standing in O’Connell Street on a Sunday morning, looking at soldiers who are looking back at her.
The obsequies that preceded the parade were moving, in parts. When the Honour Guard lowered its collective head. When the lament was played. When the band played ‘Mise Éire’. When Captain Tom Ryan read the Proclamation, which is beautiful.
From where we sat, very comfortably, the crowd seemed quite large, but it was hard to tell; the canopy circumscribed our view. Once the obsequies were over there seemed little point in staying in the stand. It took a little bit of manoeuvring to get away from so much privilege. When I got down to ground level I could see that the wide pavements of O’Connell Street were not thronged with spectators, that the crowd at the barriers was only three people deep. There were a lot of grey heads. I saw a neighbour of mine, who calls himself the Weather Man, pushed up against the barrier outside Clery’s. He is a handsome man, and he was wearing a green shirt. I have not seen him since, to ask him what he thought.
Of course the parade was boring. Our army is so small, and seen so rarely, that we are not really used to it. I think we feel affection for it, but it’s hard to tell. The upper windows of O’Connell Street’s numerous burger palaces were filled with parents and children, watching. At the O’Connell statue near the bridge mothers and fathers sat with their children amongst the four angels at Daniel’s feet.
Two young men stood and sat, respectively, on one angel, and the standing young man became the wag. In Dublin there is always a wag. The applause was polite as the army’s modest hardware drove past. Some kind of space suit, uninhabited, appeared on the back of a vehicle belonging to the bomb disposal unit. No one seemed to find this sight strange, or to consider that the bloodiest bombers produced by Ireland have claimed to be the rightful heirs of the men of 1916. The tanks were applauded. A bizarre vehicle called the Aardvark Flail – which turned out to be for mine-removal – rolled past. A band played ‘Eileen Óg’. The standing young man was on his mobile. ‘Look, a hot chick,’ he shouted as a female soldier drove past on a tank. Three helicopters flew up O’Connell Street. ‘I like that big gun, Mister.’
It seemed to come down to the fact that the bigger the gun that was driven past us, the bigger the cheer it received. The RBS 70, for example, which is a rocket launcher, was very warmly received. But the biggest cheer by far came for the UN Peacekeepers’ float. It featured a rather fragile, branched sign, pointing variously to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Ireland. ‘Ah, that’s excellent,’ said an older woman to what looked like her grandchild.
The gardaí marched past. I could not see them, but the young man standing on the angel shouted, ‘Boo! Boo! Bastards.’ I thought of the looter who was brought to Pearse in the GPO. An order had gone out that all looters would be shot. Pearse, who knew little about the people he had decided to save, said. ‘Ah, poor man. Put him with the others.’
At the foot of the statue a young father wearing corduroy trousers watched his Asian daughter toddling slowly on the traffic island. The crowd would be estimated at 100,000. It did not look that big to me. Nineteen-sixteen has never been about numbers. But now it is as if we cannot afford to admit that even our commemorations are anything but a unqualified success.
Immediately after the parade there was a reception in the basement of the Gresham Hotel for the relatives of those who had fought in 1916, along with most of the Cabinet and quite a few journalists. Well, there was food. On the circular tables were squares of pizza, and ham sandwiches. There were also sandwiches of tuna and sweet corn. There were small vessels of brown sauce and red sauce. There were Cornish pasties, which had been sliced into manageable portions. There was breaded chicken fillet. And also on each table was a square glass vase, like a small aquarium, in which floated the head of an orange gerbera, which is, I think, a desert flower. The water in the vases was getting a bit murky.
Everyone was hungry. We’d been outdoors since well before noon, and there was a sense of relief that we were warm again at last. Over at the far wall a group of thirteen adults was having a photograph taken. ‘All relatives of Thomas MacDonagh,’ someone said, as they smiled for several cameras. As the Rising wore on MacDonagh showed signs of what the historian Charles Townshend calls ‘intense strain’; Peadar Kearney described him as ‘careworn and dishevelled’. He was commanding officer at Jacob’s biscuit factory in Bishop Street.
Síle de Valera and Eamon Ó Cuiv, who are first cousins and TDs, were in demand, as a sort of matching pair, for photographs. The family of William Barrett was there. ‘He was in Jacob’s with Thomas MacDonagh. He died on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Rising, funnily enough.’
Someone walked up to a middle-aged man and said, ‘You’re Patrick Pearse, are you?’ and the middle-aged man said, ‘Yes.’ He was Patrick Pearse O’Hanrahan. There is a bridge in New Ross named after Michael O’Hanrahan, who also fought at Jacob’s, and was subsequently executed. There is a working men’s club in Carlow called after him, there is a football team with his name.
Later that night, at the State Reception at Dublin Castle, the rooms were full of judges and clergymen and Capuchin monks – spiritual descendants of the Capuchins who were the confessors to the revolutionaries before their executions. I was shown the room where the wounded James Connolly spent the night before his execution. ‘They were going to make Margaret Thatcher sleep in there when she was over on a visit,’ someone said. The Taoiseach arrived, looking determined. He has taken 1916 back from Sinn Féin, his new electoral rivals. He is lying upon it, fighting the other boys off.
The parade was on Easter Sunday. The following Thursday a crowd that seemed much larger than Sunday’s caused traffic chaos in its eagerness to see Michael Flatley’s latest dance extravaganza, Celtic Tiger, at the Point Theatre, a mile or so down the Liffey quays from O’Connell Street.
Michael Flatley is not confused by Irish history; his view of it is crystal clear. From the moment Celtic Tiger opens with a video projection of a mouth whispering ‘There’s no place like home … There’s no place like home … There’s no place like home’, you know that you are in the hands of a confident man. Not for Flatley the complications of economics, the rivalries of widows or the untidiness of the truth. To him, Irish history is a children’s story, just like The Wizard of Oz. In a daring move, Flatley, who is pushing fifty, inserts himself within it, as Dorothy.
This was a paying crowd. Our tickets cost €85 each, and we were lucky to get them. We sat in the wrong seats by mistake and were displaced some way into the show by a party that included the aviation tycoon Tony Ryan.
Michael Flatley became famous as the male lead in Riverdance, which made pioneering use of girls in short skirts performing Irish dances for unconscionable periods of time, and there is no good reason for him to stray from this formula. In the first number Flatley wore a short skirt himself, although, disappointingly, he also wore tracksuit bottoms underneath. His skirt and his leather breastplates led me to believe he was a Roman on the brink of invading, which would have sent the whole evening clattering into hypothesis. But then one of my companions pointed out the dolmen projected on the screen: we were in the presence of Celts.
It takes a brave man, it takes a happy man, to rescue the dolmen from the satiric grip of Spinal Tap. Flatley strode around the stage a good bit, directing the rows of dancers. Riverdance was intensely martial, and although Michael Flatley has recently said that his great hero is his fellow Irish-American Jimmy Cagney, his choreography seems to owe its greatest debt to Busby Berkeley, of whom it was once said that he had a great talent for turning people into things. The sheer number of pretty girls on stage overwhelmed the smaller and much less attractive corps of male dancers – except for Flatley, of course. The shortness of the skirts and the sheer monotony of the Irish dancing movements invited the thought that at any moment the whole spectacle could tip into orgy.
In the second number girls in red leotards rolled around the stage, seemingly in some distress. A snake writhed on the screen, showing a bit too much fang. Electronic chanting came from the taped soundtrack. In one of the more shocking moments of the evening, eight male dancers rolled onstage like Cossacks, dressed in ecclesiastical robes, and suppressed the right of Irish women to wear red leotards for the foreseeable future.
Then a humble farmer came on stage and sang, ‘A sleeping tiger waits … a thousand years or more of war, struggle and strife. The destiny of a nation, Finally coming to life … Just look how far we’ve come with our true colours unfurled, the envy of the world.’ This was but a brief foretaste of the ecstatic present, before Celtic Tiger returned to the nightmare of our Irish past. The Vikings came on and danced with some native Irish girls. The horns on the Viking helmets looked a bit dodgy – ‘Like steers,’ as my friend said.
Redcoats jigged out for the next number and performed a hornpipe to a few bars from ‘Rule Britannia’. A thatched cottage was projected onto the backdrop and flames began to lick its thatch as the redcoats evicted an enormous number of scantily clad Irish peasants, all of whom had had time to wash their hair. At the climax of the eviction scene Michael Flatley appeared dressed in a soutane and carrying rosary beads. He just had time to intone ‘Forgive those who trespass against us’ before he was surrounded by pesky redcoats and the stage was plunged into darkness. The humble farmer came out again and sang ‘Four Green Fields’, in front of helicopter shots of Irish scenery. ‘I have Four Green Fields, but one of them is in bondage …’ There was warm applause.
As a lone male footballer entered, a tank appeared on the backdrop and lowered its gun straight at the footballer, and straight at the audience. It shot him, and us. And then we were straight into a street scene in front of the GPO, with stout Irish lads challenging the redcoats to a dancing competition. Michael was wearing a tweed cap and high-waisted trousers and the music was ‘The Wearing of the Green’. The redcoats’ uniforms looked a bit antique for 1916, and their tracer bullets seemed a bit advanced. Our lads fought the redcoats, wrist to wrist. There were no looters, or dead horses, or brains being scraped into hats. Instead a very pretty girl wearing a white gown and wings flew high over the stage, mouthing a wordless song. This was Peace.
Then the humble farmer came out and sang ‘A Nation Once Again’. A tricolour fluttered on the backdrop. There was tumultuous applause. Two women in our section stood up to applaud. Flatley came out punching the air, shaking his head and shouting ‘Yeah!’
During the interval everyone was slightly breathless at having been whisked so quickly through so much history. What would Michael do in the second half? The planning tribunals? Clerical child abuse? We settled on the Pope’s visit and the assassination of JFK.
What happened next showed Michael Flatley’s genius as a showman and his ability to sashay through any cultural minefield. The second half opened on a naughty Aer Lingus hostess, complete with white gloves. As Flatley strode on to the stage in a pilot’s uniform and large sunglasses a cheer of anticipation went up from the crowd. Flatley gave a self deprecatory smile – in this, as in so many things, he is reminiscent of that other great entertainer, Liberace.
An army of airline pilots then entered and the naughty air hostess, looking increasingly nervous, stretched her arms out like an aeroplane and all the pilots carried her past the Statue of Liberty to America. There she performed a striptease, right down to a stars-and-stripes bikini (the top was starred, the bottom was striped). The audience fell back, exhausted.
Then we had the melting-pot number – Irish people happily dancing with other ethnic groups. Then we had the reflective number, in which Michael came out in a white satin tuxedo and played the flute. As he did this a young couple in medieval costume danced in front of an impressionist landscape which was projected onto the backdrop complete with its frame. I still don’t understand what this was about, and could not find anybody who did.
Then Flatley came on in a gangster’s pinstripe suit, and a girl came on in another stars-and-stripes bikini and handed him a machine gun. Here we saw Flatley at his cleverest. By transporting the whole second half to America Michael lost none of the violence, but merely shifted it to Hollywood. Celtic Tiger had no time for ‘the whole revolutionary moment’, or for the remainder of the twentieth century on the island of Ireland, or even for the present-day Ireland to which the show’s title would seem to refer. All we got was a guitar solo of the Irish national anthem, and the projection of famous Irish icons on the screen: Jack Lynch, Westlife, James Joyce, JFK (twice), Colin Farrell and a pint of Guinness (three times).
Finally, the girls in bikinis and boys dressed as officers in the US navy danced to the tune of ‘Yankee Doodle’. I thought that they were going to invade Iraq. Flatley wore a heavily braided hat.
It was the end. Michael had to rouse us to even stronger applause. He roused the audience on our side of the stage, which was the one place where there was no camera recording the show, and thus the one place where he could do his rousing unobserved by posterity.
Afterwards we decided that Tony Ryan was very good at laughing silently. We had laughed so loud that the woman behind us, my friend said, had hit her deliberately with a handbag, several times.
* For the history of 1916 commemorations I am indebted to Diarmaid Ferriter, whose article ‘Commemorating the Rising, 1922-1965: “A figurative scramble for the bones of the patriot dead”‘ will appear in a book due out from the Humanities Institute of Ireland in 2007.
Read more in The Dublin Review issue No. 23 Summer 2006