Belfast Telegraph

Uncritical take on 1916 Rising by schools very concerning

By Nelson McCausland

Last Saturday night performing arts students from Colaiste Feirste, the Irish-medium secondary school in west Belfast, staged an Irish language play about the 1916 Easter rebellion in Dublin.

The new production by Maire McNally was entitled 1916 and was premiered by the pupils in the Roddy McCorley Social Club, a republican social club on the Glen Road.


It reflected on the role of the seven republicans who signed the Proclamation of an Irish Republic and then led the rebellion. It also highlighted the role of female republicans such as Constance Markievicz.

Afterwards there was a buffet and music by The Rising Of The Moon band and tickets for the night, which cost £5, were available from the school or from An Culturlann, the Irish language centre on the Falls Road.

The Rising Of The Moon are a band which specialises in Irish music, including Irish rebel music. They are obviously popular in some circles and have performed at Rebel Sunday in the Rock Bar.

The play by the school pupils and the associated entertainment were part of the annual Eddie Keenan Memorial Festival, which is based around the Roddy McCorley Club.

It has been running for several years and was named after a veteran republican who was interned as a member of the IRA in the 1940s in both Northern Ireland and the Free State.

Keenan, who was also an Irish language enthusiast, died in Belfast in 2009 and was given a republican funeral.

There was extensive publicity for the play and this featured two of the pupils dressed in period Irish Volunteer uniforms, with the male pupil holding what was meant to represent a rifle.

I haven't seen the play and have no desire to see it, but if it was part of a republican festival and was performed in a republican social club, it probably gave a republican perspective on the rebels and the rebellion.

Down through the years I have attended many school plays in controlled schools and even some in maintained schools, but this is something very different.

I think most people will see this as an Irish-medium secondary school endorsing and affirming an Irish republican perspective on the 1916 rebels and it's easy to understand why Sinn Fein is so enthusiastic about Irish-medium schools.

Of course, this is not the only school commemorating the 1916 rebellion in such an uncritical way.

In the Ardoyne area of north Belfast the children at Holy Cross Boys' Primary School have also been remembering the 1916 Easter rebellion, and vice-principal Chris Donnelly, a republican commentator and a former Sinn Fein election candidate, was interviewed on the BBC news about what was happening in his school.

There the children, who were aged around 10 or 11, were performing a play called The Death Of The O'Rahilly.

This refers to Michael Joseph O'Rahilly, who worked for Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League and was also director of arms to the Irish Volunteers.

One of the pupils taking part in the presentation was dressed as O'Rahilly, a wounded and dying rebel. The little boy was interviewed about his character and said: "He is a soldier fighting for freedom against the British Army."

Those words struck me, because they sounded exactly like those used by IRA apologists in support of the Provisional IRA.

Both productions raise serious questions for the schools concerned. How many of the children will be influenced by the lethal legacy of 1916 republicanism? How many of them will come to imbibe the 1916 "blood sacrifice" blasphemy of Patrick Pearse?

For the Irish-medium schools movement, there is also another question: what does its play tell us about its school and about the Irish language as a "language for all"?

O'Rahilly said of the rebellion: "It is madness, but it is glorious madness." He was right when he said it was "madness".

But he was horribly wrong when he described it as "glorious".

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