Ireland’s Easter Rising Reconsidered

Easter Rising

The dying Cú Chulainn, photo: wikimedia

2016 marked the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising, when Irish Republicans staged an armed insurrection aimed at achieving independence from Britain and establishing a separate Irish Republic. At the same time, many Irish citizens were fighting in World War I.

For that anniversary, two Boston College professors—novelist and philosopher Richard Kearney and artist Sheila Gallagher—created a performance in images, music, and words to expand the perception of those events. Called “Twinsome Minds: Recovering 1916 in Images and Stories,” they presented it last week at Princeton University, their 16th performance, I believe.

What did I think? I liked all the pieces—images, music, words—but was the whole more than the sum of the parts? Did the underlying conceit work? The idea for “Twinsome Minds” comes from a line in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. “Irish imagination is at its best, said Joyce, when moving between two ‘twinsome’ minds—that is, when it has ‘two thinks at a time’ opening onto a third,” Kearney said. In that it was partially successful.

I most liked the stories, and found the images alternately beautiful and distracting. Clipping headlines wanted to be read. Abstract images wanted to be interpreted. Art made on-the-spot wanted to draw attention to technique. Many of Gallagher’s images featured a raven, which sits of the shoulder of the dying Cú Chulainn, in the memorial to the Easter Rising.

The double meaning of twinning was that, as in any civil war brothers, cousins, friends, schoolmates, neighbors for various reasons found themselves on opposite sides. While some thought rebellion was the only way to achieve an independent Ireland, others though enlisting in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and fighting for the British in France better supported that goal. While 500 lives were lost in the six days of the Rising (more than half of them civilians), 3,500 Irishmen were killed in the battle of the Somme in one day.

Gallagher showed photos of Ireland’s men and women on opposite sides in this conflict. Poet Francis Ledwidge from County Meath, who died in France, suggested the depth of the divide—and perhaps a sprinkle of contempt—between partisans on the two sides: “I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilization, and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions.”

You can see the whole thing (75 minutes) on YouTube and see for yourself.

Sing Street

Sing Street

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo & Lucy Boynton in Sing Street

A charming movie from Ireland about a half-dozen Dublin boys at the Synge Street Christian Brothers School who start a band (trailer). We sort of know this story. We’ve sort of seen it before. But the freshness of the acting make it fun all over again. Conor Lalor (brilliantly played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a new student at the school and the adolescent boys there plan to make his life miserable. Life at home is bad, too, with his parents fighting and splitting.

A real place, the Synge Street CBS has a long history, and this movie takes place in a time of pupil loss and relatively low achievement (a line in the credits mentions that the school is “not the same place” it was in the 1980s, when the film is set). The first scene of Conor in his new classroom shows the elderly priest who is their teacher, hearing aid dangling, writing on the blackboard with his back to the pupils who are creating holy hell. The principal steps inside and the students stand to attention. The principal glances at the board and points out to the teacher that in this class he is to teach French, not Latin. Teacher: “French. How modern.”

The school’s Latin motto “Viriliter Age” (“Act Manly”), is translated by Conor’s older brother as “Rape your students.” In short, the school is chaos. Conor channels his creativity toward writing songs and creating the band, Sing Street.

These musical ambitions have a lofty goal: impressing the older teen girl, Raphina, who stands near the school every day and claims to be a model. If she is a model, and if he has a band, she can star in his music videos! Simple. The fact that he mostly carries it off is wondrous, resulting in a feel-good movie about a collection of near-misfits who make music work for them.

The band’s songs are by Gary Clark, lead of the 1980s British band Danny Wilson, and it’s good. We don’t know how Conor hears it, but what he sees in terms of music video potential is the pole star he’s determined to follow—and take Raphina with him.

Rotten Tomatoes critics rating, 97%; audiences, 96%.