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The Rising - What If?
national | anti-capitalism | opinion/analysis Thursday February 22, 2018 11:35 by Pat Waine - working class
After The Rising
We all heard the comment , the rebels of 1916 would turn in their grave at the Republic we now have. Well this article asks a question. That question is where is there any proof to back that up . One big hole in that argument is that most of "the rebels " survived and lived long enough to shape the Republic we ended up with
The Rising -What If?
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None of those mentioned, Sean o casey, Sean O faoilean, Frank O Connor ,Peader O donnell fought in the rising. I still Haven't found anyone who fought in the rising who argued for a different Ireland to the Sectarian state Develara and co developed. No reason to believe that those who died in the rising would have been any different.
Another C of I figure who had a dampening influence on the post-1922 Irish state was Ernest Blythe. As penny-pinching Minister for Finance in the Cumann na nGael government in the 1920s he notoriously deducted a shilling from the old age pension. As Managing Director of the state-subsidised Abbey Theatre, he rejected artistically adventurous serious plays in favour of money-spinning comedies. Sean O'Casey cultivated an image of the exiled martyr when living in London. His autobiographical books were a bit stage Irish and melodramatic. He occasionally railed against England's historic oppression of Ireland - a public pose that incurred some acid comments from the left wing polemicist George Orwell. Artists and writers who quit Ireland to find fame and fortune in the UK or the USA were generally economic migrants. Padraic Colum and his wife enjoyed New York society (while he fastidiously kept to his 19th century romantic rural poetics - the Irish Americans lapped it up) and Maeve Brennan slipped nicely into the metropolitan journalism of the New Yorker magazine. Abbey Theatre actors like BarryFitzgerald and his brother Arthur Shields (both Protestants) spread their fame base and enhanced their earnings througn Hollywood productions. Two politically radical writers who stuck it out in Ireland were Sean O'Faolain and Peadar O'Donnell, who kept The Bell magazine going through economically lean times between 1942 and 1954. From the 1960s onward into current times successful Irish poets and novelists have voluntarily enjoyed literary exile on US university campuses, as poets-in-residence and senior lecturers. Their novels and poetics haven't been noted for political radicalism. Compare that with Dublin novelist Dermot Bolger who stayed at home, and is one of the first Irish novelists to situate a novel in a factory - The Night Shift.
There was an inevitability to O'Casey leaving Ireland - sooner or later.
I take your points about Yeats and O'Casey clashing in terms of class. Even on personality, the two couldn't be more different; the flamboyant, self-indulgent, dilettante nature that Yeats was famous for would have made O'Casey bristle! I would argue that the Abbey Theatre's rejection of O'Casey's play "The Silver Tassie" was the straw that broke the camel's back, as they say. The rejection in itself wasn't the sole reason for his voluntary exile from his native land. It was the catalyst for sure but it has to be seen in context.
It was a 'mutual break-up' - O'Casey, the serial up-start and the new conservative Irish state just bedding down. And I include the Abbey Theatre in "Official Ireland". The Abbey Theatre was now the National Theatre - not on some abstract level as the theatre of some national cultural renaissance. But rather as a component in the new state's media; the Abbey Theatre was in receipt of a grant from the Exchequer. The cautious, conservative approach that defined the Abbey Theatre from the 1920s onwards resulted in many writers bringing their work outside of Ireland, not only O'Casey. It also indirectly in time gave rise to the Gate Theatre, as a space for experimental, avant-garde and critical theatre.
For the Establishment in the new Irish polity, O'Casey was about as welcome as a dose of the runs. The Mafia have a saying, "Dead men don't tell stories". Likewise, dead patriot heroes are not in a position to defend their actions being used by a political clique looking to validate their rule. The pro-Treaty side of the Independence Movement (and also in time, a huge section of the defeated anti-Treatyites in the form of the FF party) wanted to create the impression that the new Irish state was the product of the men and women in 1916. And also every bit of trouble in the country since the Anglo-Normans first arrived. This was despite the fact that the territorial extent of the new state was incomplete, the ethos of the new state was characteristically Catholic, its sovereignty as a state was very limited, (and contrary to the vision of Marxist James Connolly) the new state was dominated by bourgeois interests.
The last thing the politicians of the new state wanted was criticism from someone who knew and campaigned alongside the figures from the fabled time of the 1916 Rising. His biography of that time "Drums Under My Window" makes for an educational read, even today.
O'Casey was very critical of the new state, and his opinion carried weight amongst Dublin's Working Classes, among Politically Progressive circles, and in some sections of the literary scene internationally. His criticism was consistent, he had argued all along that Unionist fears of Home Rule being Rome Rule would be correct. He agreed with Connolly in his early 1914 article "Ireland Upon the Dissection Table". In this article by Connolly (link to the text below), he anticipated that a partitioned Ireland would create a "Carnival of Reaction", i.e. that each of the 2 state(let)s would be defined by an inward-looking, narrow, ethnocentric, mutually hostile atmosphere where anything that hinted of a lack of automatic and inherent conformity and consent would be viewed with suspicion.
O'Casey went one step further than Connolly in his analysis - and appeared to have been proved right ! He believed it was a mistake for the Irish Citizens Army (ICA) to ally itself with the Petite Bourgeois militia the Irish Volunteer Force / Oglaigh na hEireann. He argued long and hard how this would be a mistake. When his concerns were ignored he resigned from his position of Chief-of-Staff of the ICA. As the conservative, bourgeois, Catholic forces were consolidating their hold on the Saor Stat, it appeared O'Casey's analysis was correct. The energy of Ireland's embryonic radical socialist movement had been subsumed into Irish Catholic Nationalism, to its own detriment.
O'Casey made many a quip that resonated with people - sort of early soundbites. He once said "watch out for Davis' republican flag having its colours changed; the orange of the original tri-colour will be slowly changed to that of the Papal yellow!"
You list a number of writers who criticised the Irish state and society that emerged after the War of Independence and the civil war. In mentioning Sean O'Casey you note "he had to leave Ireland". His reasons for leaving were literary, not social or denominational. W.B. Yeats rejected his highly symbolist new play, The Silver Tassie, on the grounds that it was too difficult to stage and wasn't good theatre. Behind the scenes Lady Augusta Gregory tried to intercede between the haughty Yeats and the short-fused working class O'Casey, but to no avail. The Abbey Theatre had staged O'Casey's early plays including the canonical The Plough and the Stars (which pilloried Pearse's bombastic public oratory, among other things) and now it was turning down a new offering. In a fit of high anger, Sean O'Casey went to London and pursued his literary career there until his death. O'Casey came from an evangelical Protestant family background, while Yeats came from an Anglican upper-middle-class background, and his personal beliefs were heterodox, aesthetic and daftly mystical at times. It was a clash of aesthetic temperaments that drove O'Casey out of Ireland.
" Most of these went on to agree a sectarian constitution promoting a right wing catholic ethos dominated by the church and backward on almost all social issues."
The Catholic confessional state set up after the 26 counties seceded from the British state was what many Irish people wanted all along. They saw the sovereignty the new state had as a means to insulate (as much of) Ireland from an increasingly "Godless", materialistic, "immoral" world.
The socialists in Ireland's revolutionary period - to which Joan Collins TD identifies with - continued and still continues to agitate for a different Ireland than there is currently. Many of the socialists who fought under Connolly in the 1916 Rising, the rank-and-file of the Irish Citizens Army (ICA) had to emigrate from Ireland.
If you want to see criticism of the new state that was set up in comparison to the visions of the men and women of 1916, read the writings of participants in the Tan War (i.e. the Irish War of Independence). Start with Frank O'Connor and Sean O'Faoilean, and of course Sean O'Casey was no shrinking violet in criticizing the new Irish state - he had to leave Ireland. A socialist, Peadar O'Donnell is quite educational in his writings.
A very readable history book in most public libraries is John O'Regan's "The Irish Counter Revolution".
There were three main components in Ireland's very broad independence movement: radical socialists (who wanted to set up a socialist Ireland, personified best by James Connolly and the many factions in the broad socialist movement , including the editorial collective of this here indymedia), radical Catholic nationalists (who wanted to set a isolationist, Gaelic ethnocentric, ideologically Catholic state in Ireland; personified best by Sean South), and bourgeois nationalists (who wanted to set up a state that resembled other polities found across the Western hemisphere personified best by Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, Sean McBride and even latterly by Gerry Adams).