‘As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail, I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we’ve failed?’
Although initially deemed a failure, the rising orchestrated by the ‘Easter 7’ in April 1916 proved pivotal in Ireland’s struggle against British rule. The seven signatories of the Proclamation, Thomas J. Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, James Connolly, Patrick H. Pearse, Éamonn Ceannt, Thomas MacDonagh and Joseph Plunkett have been resurrected once again in the first major television series of the event in over forty years.
‘1916 Seachtar na Cásca’ written by Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh, directed by Dathaí Keane, and produced in conjunction with Abú media productions had its first public airing at the 22nd Galway Film Fleadh. TG4 now brings this seven part historical documentary to a wider audience every Wednesday night at 21.30 with repeat showings on Saturdays at 21.30. The series runs from 22 September until 3 November.
Narrated by Brendan Gleeson as Gaeilge with English subtitles, the production essentially provides biographies of the seven leaders executed by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol. The series begins with the men in deliberations prior to the event in the aptly named Liberty Hall. Each man’s story ends with his own death. Notable academics such as Declan Kiberd, Ruan O’Donnell, Diarmaid Ferriter, and Aindrias O’Cathasaigh, the writer of the piece, provide commentary, while the signature tune and visuals prove reminiscent of Band of Brothers.
Rory Mullen pulls off an impressive performance as the veteran Tomas Clarke in the opening episode. Following prosecution for Fenian activity in Britain, Clarke endured fifteen years of imprisonment in extremely harsh conditions. His memoir Glimpses of an Irish felon’s prison life makes for interesting reading. The first episode concludes with Clarke’s execution on 4 May 1916.
The second progamme follows the life of James Connolly. Lorcan Cranitch pulls off a convincing performance as the founder of the Irish Citizen Army. In a similar fashion to Clarke (born on the Isle of Wight to Irish parents), Connolly was born abroad in the slums of Edinburgh to Monaghan parents. Both patriots also spent a significant amount of time in America before returning to fight for Ireland. After sustaining a broken ankle during an attack, Connolly met his death while strapped into a chair. Connolly’s memory is currently undergoing a revival due to RTÉ1’s search for Ireland’s Greatest. Having been shortlisted in the top five, the socialist now finds himself being defended by none other than ‘the man of the people’ himself, Joe Duffy, during the show’s programme on Monday, 4 October.
‘Oh, Grace just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die’
The lyrics above immortalise the story of the poet Joseph Plunkett, whose biography was of concern in the third instalment of ‘1916 Seachtar na Casca’. The song captures the conflict supposedly experienced by Plunkett prior to his execution when he married his fiancée Grace Gifford in Kilmainham Gaol’s small chapel.
Having arrived somewhat at the mid-point of the seven part series after three programmes, it is quite clear that the aim of the series is entirely captured in the title ‘1916 Seachtar na Casca’. It is concerned with the relationship between events in Dublin 1916 and men who instigated them. The programme is neither an analysis of the Rising nor an examination of its aftermath.
TG4’s homepage provides useful background information on each episode. For audience members with a mere cúpla focal, this site also proves accessible: simply click the ‘English Version’ option. If you have missed the first two episodes, never fear, just go to TG4 player . Even ‘Facebook’ has a page devoted to the series.
‘… For we must say goodbye’
Even after a lapse of forty years, good bye has not been said to ‘The Easter 7’. In six years it will be undoubtedly be hello once again.
Joanne Mc Entee is completing doctoral research on the nineteenth century Irish landed estate, as part of the Texts, Contexts, Cultures programme in the Moore Institute, NUI Galway. This project is funded by PRTLI 4.