Irish Identity and the Rebellion

One reason the Rebellion of 1916 gained traction, where earlier bids for Irish freedom had failed, is that by the beginning of the 20th century the Irish people had started to develop a sense of national consciousness which had not previously existed.

Centuries of invasion and occupation had decimated the Irish sense of identity. The Irish language was in decline and national self-regard was at an all-time low. The 19th Century in Ireland had brought the Great Famine, and failed rebellions in 1803, 1847 and 1867.

A number of new movements aimed at reviving Irish Nationalism emerged from the middle of 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, including the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA); Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League); the Irish Volunteers; Cumann na nGaedheal, which led to the formation of Sinn Fein; and The Irish Literary Renaissance which sought to make the Irish people aware of their historical literary heritage.

The Irish Literary Renaissance, also known as the Celtic Revival, was greatly influenced by the works of Standish O’Grady (1846-1928), an Anglo-Irish aristocrat whose interest in the myths and legends of the native Irish began when he came across the translations of Gaelic scholar Eugene O’Curry. O’Grady was aware that the stories of the ancient heroes of Irish legend were not the true history of Ireland but he also knew that they had value. He believed that these stories would help restore a sense of national pride, and dispel the notion that the Irish were a feckless and artless race who needed to be governed by their superiors in Britain.

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Ireland had a ‘race history’ which had been guarded carefully over centuries of invasion and occupation, which was passed from generation to generation by poets, bards and storytellers who played an important part in the lives of the Irish peasants.

O’Grady wrote that ‘a nation’s history is made for it by circumstances, and the irresistible progress of events; but their legends they make for themselves….The legends represent the imagination of the country; they are that kind of history which a nation desires to possess. They betray the ambitions and ideals of the people, and in this respect, have a value far beyond the tale of actual events.’

In 1878 O’Grady published ‘History of Ireland: the Heroic Period.’ This was followed in 1880 by ‘History of Ireland: Cuchulain and his Contemporaries.’  His books were not bestsellers at the time of their publication, perhaps because they were presented as the actual history of country, but he is credited with sparking a renewed interest in the oral history of Ireland.

His work had a profound influence on the likes of W. B. Yeats, George Russell (A.E), Lady Gregory, James Stephens, Douglas Hyde and John Millington Synge, amongst other cultural and literary giants who came after him.  One reason for this is because in the re-telling of these stories he found a way to connect the ancient past of the Celtic people with their desire for an independent future.

W B Yeats acknowledged O’Grady as the ‘father of the Irish literary revival’ and referenced him as an influence many times. Yeats produced many works in the same vein. In his introduction to ‘Irish Fairy and Folk Tales,’ he talks of transcribing the stories told by the seanchaí, the ‘ancient hoarder of tales’ on Holy-eve, on creaking boats, and at wakes.  He sought to unlock the histories that were passed from generation to generation and in doing so to restore a pride in Celtic customs and traditions.

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The native Irish people took their storytelling seriously and seanchaí were respected and welcomed wherever they went. Yeats explains, ‘storytellers used to gather together of an evening, and if any had a different version from the others, they would all recite theirs and vote, and the man who had varied would have to abide by the verdict’ – thereby preserving the accuracy of the tale that was passed to the next generation. He observed that the tales they told ‘caught the voice of the people, the very pulse of life, each giving what was most noticed in his day.’

These were folk stories, tales of fairies, ghosts, banshees, mermaids and phantoms, and of families or individuals who were favoured or plagued. They were symbolic stories ‘steeped in the heart,’ tales of ‘birth, love, pain, and death…unchanged for centuries.’ Inherent in the tales are the archetypes that are present in the collective unconscious of every nation and society.

The Irish Literary Revival led to the publication of poetry, prose and drama about the Irish people, by Irish people. A lot of it was written in English, which drew criticism from the likes of D P Moran, a prominent journalist and social commentator at the time who thoroughly disapproved of the Ascendancy class, but English was the predominant language of the people, many of whom could not read or write. In time it led to the foundation of the Abbey Theatre, the first Irish national theatre, and to a pride in the Hiberno-English spoken by the ordinary people, which allows us to communicate what is wonderful about Ireland and its people in our own unique way.

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The Battle of Mount Street Bridge

On Easter Monday, April 24th, 1916, as Pádraig Pearse, Commander of the Irish Volunteers, prepared to read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the steps of the GPO, battalions of Irish Volunteers were occupying strategic positions throughout the city in order to defend the newly declared Republic.

One of these battalions, under the command of Eamon de Valera, occupied the Boland’s area, including the Mills and the Bakery, situated close to Mount Street Bridge, a key crossing point into Dublin from Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire).

De Valera and 2nd Lieutenant Michael Malone had reconnoitered the area sometime earlier to choose outposts for a mission designed to prevent British reinforcements, disembarking at Kingstown, from reaching the City Centre.

The Irish Volunteers C. Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, trained and paraded at Camden Row. Early on Easter Monday morning the Company was mobilised to Earlsford Terrace, where they were issued with Manser ammunition by Dick Carroll, the Company Quartermaster.

At about 11am the men, under the command of Captain Simon Donnelly, marched to Mount Street Bridge, where they met with Lieutenant Michael Malone. He instructed James Grace, Commander of No. 4 Section, to take two young Volunteers, Paddy Roe and Michael Byrne, to the junction of Haddington Road and Northumberland Road to cover the gates of Beggars Bush Barracks.

Section Commander George Reynolds, Jimmy Doyle, Richard Murphy and Willie Ronan were sent to take over Clanwilliam House. Joe Clarke, Joe Christian and Joseph Doyle were sent to take over the Mission Hall, Northumberland Road, and Section Commander Dinny Donoghue and four or five Volunteers were told to occupy the Schoolhouse opposite the Mission Hall.

When the garrisons of Clanwilliam House, Mission Hall and the Schoolhouse were installed, Malone, Grace, Roe and Byrne took possession of 25 Northumberland Road and prepared the building for a state of siege, erecting barricades from the furniture and ensuring food and water supplies for a couple of days. The Cussens, who owned 25 Northumberland Road, were sympathetic to the cause and had already vacated the house.

Almost immediately, the Volunteers in 25 Northumberland Road were involved in clashes with a Company of G.Ws, (part of a local Home Guard unit) marching towards their garrison at Beggars Bush. Four of the G.W.s were killed and more were injured. Unknown to Malone and Grace, the G.W.s were unable to return fire as their rifles were unloaded.

According to Grace’s witness statement, recorded later by the Bureau of Military History (1913-1921), from that point on the Volunteers were subjected to persistent sniping. They gave as good as they got. One sniper in the house opposite 25 Northumberland Road was “particularly troublesome.” Grace attracted fire from him from an upstairs window, losing his cap to a bullet in the process, giving Malone, who was a crack shot, the opportunity to take him down, which he duly did.

At some point, the men occupying the Schoolhouse were instructed to return to the Boland’s area, leaving the seventeen men to defend the remaining outposts.

Late Tuesday night Malone resolved to send Roe and Byrne on “despatch work” (sic).  In fact, he had decided that they were both too young – he believed that they were sixteen or seventeen, according to Grace’s testimony – to face what was to come, a fight they could not win. The boys were reluctant to go but nevertheless obeyed orders, escaping through a skylight to make their way to Malone’s house in South Circular Road to “await orders.”

Exhausted from lack of sleep and in spite of the overwhelming odds against them, including the failure of expected German aid to arrive and the confusion caused by countermanding orders from G.H.Q., Malone and Grace were determined to hold their positions.

At about 1pm on Wednesday, April 26th, word came that the English troops had landed at Kingstown and were on their way. The young recruits of the Sherwood Foresters, who were advancing towards the city, were so inexperienced that many had to be shown on the pier at Kingstown how to fire and reload their weapons.

As they reached the junction of Northumberland Road and Haddington Road, Malone and Grace opened fire, as did the Volunteers based in Clanwilliam House and the Mission Hall. They were supported by sniper fire from Boland’s Bakery and from the nearby railway tracks. Three of the Volunteers positioned at Clanwilliam House lost their lives in the ensuing battle. The surviving four escaped through the rear of the building and evading capture.

The men based at Mission Hall ran out of ammunition and attempted to escape via Percy Lane, at the back of the building, where they were apprehended by British troops.

Lieutenant Malone was shot dead by British soldiers when they stormed 25 Northumberland Road. Grace survived by hiding behind a stove in the basement but he was later captured and sent to prison.

MS Survivors(1)The British troops suffered heavy casualties, in part due to the decision taken by their commander, General Lowe, that Mount Street Bridge had to be taken “at all costs”. Throughout the day his men, led by officers, charged into the path of the fire, even though there were alternative routes into the city. The resulting carnage saw four British officers dead and 216 other ranks of the Sherwood Foresters killed or badly wounded.  Four civilians were also killed in the crossfire.

The brave Volunteers of C. Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, held off the advancing British troops for over nine hours.

The Battle of Mount Street Bridge has been compared to The Battle of Thermopylae, where a group of 300 Spartans battled against an army of over 10,000 Persian invaders and held them at bay until they were betrayed by one of their own. To this day, it is used it as an example of Guerrilla war tactics in officer training courses.

Intriguing Ingrid

As Irish films scored a record nine Oscar nominations this year, it may have gone unnoticed that one Irish-made film has been making waves on the critically acclaimed international Screendance scene.

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The Night Star Dance Company production ‘Table Manners/Stopping at Red Lights’ – a short film adapted from an original contemporary dance piece choreographed by Ingrid Nachstern – is quietly winning acclaim at Screendance and film festivals around the world.

Among other tributes, it received a Best Shorts Award in San Diego, California, Best Editing Award from the Modica Film Festival in Sicily, and an Award of Recognition from the Accolade Global Film Competition in La Jolla, California, which recognises exceptional achievement for craft and creativity in film, television and videography.

‘Table Manners/Stopping at Red Lights’ was first staged as a live performance in Project Cube, Dublin, during April 2013.  The idea for the original piece was sparked by News reports of a man who went on a killing spree through villages in the North of England, murdering random people on the way.  As he made his deadly journey he stopped at red lights, like any normal person would do. The dichotomy between the killer’s lethal acts and his social conditioning intrigued Ingrid. The dance explores the contradictions between private/ public behavior and touches on issues such as over-consumption, abuse of resources and over-reliance on medication.  It is, like all of Ingrid’s work, designed to make members of the audience re-examine their worldview.

The film version features an outstanding cast of Lucia Kickham, Michael Cooney and Ingrid, who also directed, with Michael Gallen on sound.  It was shot in Clonskeagh, Dublin, with film-maker Luca Truffarelli, who has collaborated successfully with several choreographers and dance companies in the past.

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Ingrid started studying Classical Ballet, at the age of three, with teacher Muriel Kitt in Dublin. She recalls that she “didn’t like it much” because she was very shy and found public performance overwhelming.  She took the Royal Academy of Dance examinations up to the age of 17, before taking an extended break.

After graduating from Trinity College Dublin, with a B.A. in Modern Language, Ingrid  worked as a translator in Toronto, London and Oxford. During her time in Canada she started dancing again, taking classes with Richard Sugarman in Toronto and later with Joanna Banks in Dublin. She also undertook the three year teacher training course at the Royal Academy of Dance (London).

She established her successful ballet school in Sandymount, Dublin, in 1997, where she has passed on her passion for dance to the many pupils who have studied with her.  As much as she loves her work as a dance teacher, Ingrid likes to push herself as far as possible out of her comfort zone.  In 2003, eager for a new challenge, she established the Night Star Dance Company.  The company’s debut performance took place in Project Cube the same year, with ‘Bow-Tie Like ‘Chioni’, a piece inspired by the death of her father.  She has since created fourteen original works for Night Star, which have been performed in Ireland and at arts and dance events around the world.

Ingrid returned to public performance as a dancer in 2011, when she was invited to present her solo work ‘Who Am I?’ in the famous Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) New York, as part of Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland series.  During a ten-minute Q&A session after the performance she found, to her surprise, that the audience “got it” – they truly understood what she wanted to convey.  It was an important moment for her because it gave her the confidence to see herself as a performer and choreographer, and as an artist with something interesting to say.

Since then she has danced all over the world and worked with many celebrated dancers and choreographers, including such luminaries as Michelle Boulé, Sari Nordman and Steve Paxton.

Ingrid is genuinely surprised at her recent success. She says that she is more motivated now, at sixty-two, than she was when she was younger and “never says no to any opportunity.”  At an age when most professional dancers have made a career transition in the opposite direction she continues to push the boundaries and accept new challenges. Nowadays, she relishes public performances and believes that “dance for its own sake is just navel gazing – you have to dance for an audience, not for yourself.”  Screendance offers another space to stage performances and gain access to receptive audiences.

Readers can expect to hear more about Ingrid’s accomplishments as she enters this new phase of her career.  She has recently completed a second short film with her “perfect film partner” Luca.  Freedom – to go! “a commentary on present day America in verse” and it is already winning awards.  Yesterday, Saturday 20th, February, 2016, it received an Award of Merit (Experimental) and an Award of Recognition (Film Short) in the The Indie Fest Global Film Awards,in California.  A third short film is in the works.