The 1916 Rising Essay Contest

This year has seen an explosion (!) of books on the 1916 Rising in advance of the centenary next year. They have included overall histories, individual accounts and coffee table books full of pictures, documents and memorabilia, four of which are reviewed on the opposite page by Maurice Hayes. Any of these would make a good Christmas present for someone with an interest in history and the foundation of the state.

  • An explosion of writing on 1916 - the Rising in words and pictures

    This year has seen an explosion (!) of books on the 1916 Rising in advance of the centenary next year. They have included overall histories, individual accounts and coffee table books full of pictures, documents and memorabilia, four of which are reviewed on the opposite page by Maurice Hayes. Any of these would make a good Christmas present for someone with an interest in history and the foundation of the state.

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The bestseller by far has been broadcaster Joe Duffy's Children of the Rising. Although this deals with a collateral aspect of the Rising - the 40 children who died in the crossfire during Easter week - it is a reminder of their tragedy, what life was like for ordinary people in the city at the time and a welcome antidote to the usual tightly-focused narratives of patriotic glory.

Frank Shouldice's Grandpa the Sniper (reviewed on page 24) is the story of what the RTÉ journalist uncovered about his grandfather Frank who, like many of those who fought, rarely spoke afterwards about the events of 1916. An account of one individual's role that brings the wider story vividly to life.

Gene Kerrigan's The Scrap does the same so effectively that it's almost like being there. This is a novelised account, but accurate in every detail, of the experiences that week of the Fairview volunteers of F Company, 2nd battalion, Dublin Brigade. So instead of this being yet another book centred on Pearse or the other leaders, it is a true story of rank and file rebels, compellingly told as only Kerrigan can.

For those who want the full life stories of the individual leaders, the O'Brien Press series of new biographies, 16 Lives, referring of course to the 16 men who were executed, adds up to a substantial body of work. Fourteen have been published so far, with the final two (Patrick Pearse and Thomas Kent) due early next year, completing what will be an impressive collection which many homes and all libraries in the country will want to have.

To Speak of Easter Week by Helene O'Keeffe is a large format book that offers more than the usual retelling of the 1916 story. Instead it gives a new perspective on the events and the aftermath (very difficult for some families) through the oral testimonies of relatives and descendants of both leaders and ordinary volunteers. One man, John O'Connor, who had been part of the Four Courts Garrison, remembered being marched from Richmond Barracks to the North Wall on the Sunday night after the surrender. He remembered the "hostile crowds around Inchicore" and being glad of the "continuous line of British soldiers who stood close together with bayonets fixed... those British soldiers saved us from our own people... getting on the ole cattle boat was quite a relief."

Trinity in War and Revolution 1912-1923 by Tomas Irish is another large format book, just published, that offers a different perspective. The idea of Trinners - where the gates were locked and potshots were taken at passing rebels from the rooftops - having much to do with the glories of the 1916 Rising may seem faintly comic. The college, already a supplier of officer material for the First World War, became a staging point for British reinforcements and artillery brought up to put down the rebellion. But of course the story is far more nuanced than is often portrayed and this book, with one chapter on the Rising, accurately places the events in the wider context of sentiment in the city in the decade after 1912.

Three history heavyweights, Tim Pat Coogan, Diarmaid Ferriter and Ronan Fanning all had new books this year. Ferriter's A Nation not a Rabble is the most substantial, setting the Rising in the wider context of the 1912-23 period and straining to show that the aftermath of 1916 was more a nation coming of political age than an accidental result of British stupidity.

Coogan's book 1916 - The Mornings After is an entertaining read, an assessment of how we developed morally as a nation in the centenary since the Rising. And Fanning's book, Éamon de Valera: A Will To Power, steers a mid-course between the earlier biographies by Coogan (negative) and Ferriter (positive) and offers new insight into the Long Fella when we thought we had heard it all. As the title suggests, Fanning highlights Dev's lust for power, calling him "the most divisive figure in the history of modern Ireland" and with good reason given his self-serving behaviour over the Treaty which Fanning says he rejected even though he knew that compromise was inevitable.

From UCD Press this autumn came Years of Turbulence, a collection of essays by historians, edited by Diarmaid Ferriter and Susannah Riordan. Of interest mainly to people who already know the history of the time and want new perspectives, perhaps the standout essay is Tom Garvin's The Making of Irish Revolutionary Elites which is a portrayal of Jack (who became Seán) Lemass and his career.

One other new biography deserves a mention, Owen McGee's Arthur Griffith, who, unlike the dreamers and poets who made up much of the 1916 leadership, was a working class Dubliner (a printer) who had a more grounded view of events particularly in relation to the economic future of the country. This was in stark contrast to Dev's later vision of dancing at the crossroads and a rural people happy in their cottages with their "frugal comfort" while the reality became mass emigration.

A similar tone is evident in A Woven Silence by Felicity Hayes-McCoy which was inspired by the story of her relative Marion Stokes, one of three women who raised the tricolour over Enniscorthy in Easter Week 1916. Using her own family history she looks at how the ideals for which Marion and her companions fought were eroded, resulting in an Ireland marked by chauvinism, isolationism and secrecy. Nothing to do with Dev, of course.

There were many other new books this year on 1916 - some bookshops have gathered them into displays that also include the earlier standard works by leading historians. Coogan's biographies of de Valera and Collins have both been reissued in paperback with new introductions for the centenary.

One that appeared this year in paperback that is particularly interesting is Inside the GPO: A First Hand Account by Joe Good, a volunteer from London who was in the GPO and became close to Collins and in 1918 was one of the handpicked team sent to London to assassinate members of the British cabinet. He died in Dublin in 1962 and wrote this journal in 1946 for his son Maurice, who edited it for publication.

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Proclamation for a New Generation

This is to help students gain a deep understanding of the Proclamation through an “action learning” project which will invite all primary and post-primary schools to write a new proclamation for 2016 to reflect the values, hopes and aspirations of the generation of 2016.

1916 Ancestry Project

An invitation to all primary and post-primary pupils to trace a family tree back to 1916 using resources such as the 1911 census, military archives and church records – and to forge links with local historical societies, active retirement groups, relatives of those who participated in the 1916 Rising, and other local groups. For more information see pages 16-17.

Proclamation Day 2016

Proclamation Day will take place in all educational institutions on March 15th, 2016, including pre-schools, schools, further- and higher-education institutions. Schools will use the occasion to display the results of their ‘Proclamation for a new Generation’, the ‘1916 Ancestry’ projects, along with other arts and drama initiatives and invite parents and the community to come along. For more information see pages 14-15.

Flag presentations

A national flag will be presented by a member of the Defence Forces to every primary school and special school in the country beginning in the second week of September 2015. Post-primary schools will receive a flag from the Thomas Francis Meagher Foundation at a special event in Waterford in March 2016. For more information see pages 12-13.

Schools’ Collection 2016

Primary school students will be invited to gather local and family history and folklore from their community in a wide variety of formats, including written essays, artwork, video or audio files. This is a digital age follow-up to the Irish Folklore Commission’s Schools’ Collection, which collected material from 50,000 primary school children in the 1930s.

All-island schools’ history competition

This all-island competition is run by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Department of Education and Skills in the Republic, with support from Mercier Press, and will focus next year on the events of 1916.

Ireland 2016 all-island schools’ drama competition

Primary and post-primary schools are invited to write a short drama based on any aspect of the events of 1916, film their performance and submit a short video. Shortlisted entries will be available via RTÉ and the winners, by public vote, will be invited to perform in the Abbey Theatre in spring 2016.

Ireland 2016 all-island art competition

Another all-island competition for primary and post-primary schools: this one calls for an image based on an imagined Ireland of 2116. The winners (by county) will be displayed in the National Gallery of Ireland in September 2016.

Ireland 2016 all-island song competition

An invitation to write a song inspired by the modern, multi-cultural Ireland of 2016. The finalists will be invited to perform on stage at the National Concert Hall in May 2016.

Ireland 2016 film award

Primary school pupils are invited to submit a short film based on any aspect of 1916. Prizes will be awarded to two winning schools as part of the Film in School awards.

‘Me, Mollser’ tour for primary schools

The Abbey Theatre will give performances of Me, Mollser, a drama based on a character from Seán O’Casey’s Plough and theStars, to 5th and 6th classes in primary schools across the country.

Poetry competitions

The Libraries and Post Primary Schools 1916 Poetry Competition invites students to submit a poem on the wide-ranging topic ‘Your Ireland’. There will be county competitions and a national final.

The all-Ireland poetry speaking competition, organised by the National Library of Ireland and Poetry Ireland, will encourage poems that relate to 1916 themes.

Ireland 2016 award for achievement in Junior Certificate History

There will be seven prizes, with one for each of the 1916 signatories, for seven students who perform exceptionally well in History in the Junior Certificate in 2016. The prizes will be awarded on a geographical basis.

Ireland 2016 history lesson plans

The Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills is developing post-primary history lessons based on the Irish Times/RIA History of Ireland in 100 Objects series.


Ireland 2016 transition year module

The National Military Archives and Maynooth University are developing ‘Ireland in Transition’ a transition year unit and resource centred around material from 1916, which will be available later this year.


Politics and Society: a new Leaving Certificate subject

To ensure that 2016 promotes a legacy of interest in politics and active citizenship, ‘Politics and Society’ will be trialled as a new Leaving Certificate subject in a number of schools across the country in 2016.

RTÉ young people’s programmes

Thirty short films made specifically for RTÉ Junior and seven-11 year-olds will look at life in the early 1900s. A reality documentary will show a group of children forgoing modern comforts and living the lives of poor families struggling to survive in 1916 tenement conditions.


Education for sustainable development ‘portal’

To promote active citizenship, equality and respect for human rights, and sustainability, a web-portal will be created that will allow teachers to exchange and debate ideas and share resources and best practice, with a view to strengthening implementation of these issues in schools.


‘An Claidheamh Soluis’

Conradh na Gaeilge will be digitising An Claidheamh Soluis, the Irish literary revival newspaper founded by Eoin Mac Neill in 1899 which was published up to 1932. Schools will be able to research articles from their area –

Seó³Bóthair (Road Show)

Conradh na Gaeilge’s Seó Bóthair (Road Show) in 2015-16 for transition year students will include games, discussions, debates and role-play, showcasing Gaeilge as a living community language.


Consultations with children and young people

Eight regional Ireland 2016 consultations with 40-50 participants will be held, four for children aged eight-12 and four for people aged 13-17, on the theme Imagining Our Future.


Children’s event

The outcomes of the above consultations will be compiled in a report to be presented by children and teenagers to ministers and decision-makers at a major children’s event in April 2016. This event will also commemorate children who died during the Rising.

National cultural institutions-led collaborative education project

A set of 1916 lesson plans for schools that tell the story of 1916, through the major cultural objects of the State that are relevant to 1916, is being developed.


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