Pearse re-enactment at Glasnevin

Published in Blogging Irish History

2013 is the centenary of the 1913 Lockout (as should be obvious from our special issue!), but what many will consider to be the big one is on the horizon already. Every day at 2.30pm, between now and mid-September, Glasnevin Cemetery is hosting a re-enactment of Patrick Pearse’s famous (or infamous) oration at the grave of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa on 1 August 1915, where Pearse revealed that he and others were, as he put it, ‘baptised in the Fenian faith’. The symbolic meaning was undeniable, as one generation took the baton from another. It is easily the most well-known speech of its kind in Irish history, mainly on account of its famous concluding refrain (‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’). We wandered up to it last week, and it must be said that it is well worth a look. Pearse remains a divisive figure, and a lightning rod for controversy, but what appears to be florid rhetoric on the page acquires a rather different power in the flesh. It is striking to bear in mind that the recitation takes place in the same place as the original speech, and when hearing it, it is hard to deny that it has an undeniable power: Pearse had a knack for this kind of thing; which is, I suppose, the reason why he got the task of making such speeches. His tendency towards the bombastic, interspersed with comments that are frankly indefensible, make Pearse a natural figure to criticise. But one had to ask, when listening to the re-enactment, to what extent he himself believed his own rhetoric? Whether one likes him or not, one has to engage with him, and his published writings are well worth revisiting: there is a hard headed pragmatist in there alongside the idealist.Glasnevin image

And one might make another point. Pearse’s firebreathing speeches are often assumed to have inspired many to get involved in paramilitarism of various kinds. But if making speeches that explicitly encouraged young men to join armies is the criterion for cristicism, what are we to make of Pearse’s contemporary, the constitutional nationalist leader John Redmond? According to the Royal Commission that investigated the Easter Rising, ‘Mr Redmond spoke strongly in favour of recruiting’ for the British war effort; and had done so on a regular basis since 1914. In that light, one might legitimately ask which of the two men had more blood on their hands. Consistency might be no bad thing amidst all of these commemorations.

This is intended to be the first in an ongoing series of re-enactments being hosted in Glasnevin Cemetery. An obvious one to include in the future might be the graveside speech that is, technically, next in the line of republican succession: Michael Collins’ oration at the funeral of Thomas Ashe in 1917. It will be interesting to see if this forms part of the eventual programme, given that it would consist of two sentences and might require a gun licence.

The re-enactment of the Pearse oration takes place daily at 2.30pm until 15 September 2015: http://www.glasnevintrust.ie

 

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