In Dublin today, my countrymen and women are marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising. The London Review of Books is marking the anniversary with a long, thoughtful piece by Colm Ó Toibín, which quotes this passage from a 1913 article by Patrick Pearse, who was one of the leaders of the insurrection.
“I should like to see any and every body of Irish citizens armed. We must accustom ourselves to the thought of arms, to the sight of arms, to the use of arms. We may make mistakes at the beginning and shoot the wrong people; but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and the nation which regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood. There are many things more horrible than bloodshed; and slavery is one of them.”
Stirring, not to say bloodthirsty stuff, eh? Which perhaps explains why it has always been popular with Gerry Adams and his Sinn Féin comrades.
Ten years later, The Plough and the Stars, Sean Ó Casey’s play about the Rising, was staged in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. As Ó Toibín tells it:
“In the play, Irish nationalists carrying the tricolour mix with prostitutes, one of whom, Rosie Redmond, is in a bar in Dublin where the voice of Patrick Pearse comes from outside; the speech he is making includes the lines: ‘Bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and the nation that regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood … There are many things more horrible than bloodshed, and slavery is one of them.’ At one point, a character who has been using the Rebellion as an excuse to loot goods from posh stores runs onto the stage with ‘a new hat on her head, a fox fur around her neck over her shawl, three umbrellas under her right arm, and a box of biscuits under her left’. She describes the looting with immense comic relish. All this irreverence resulted in a riot at the Abbey …, causing Yeats to tell the audience: ‘You have disgraced yourselves again.’”
I’ve always loved that “again”.