Sean O’Casey: counter-revolutionary

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As I write this I’m listening to Diarmuid Ferriter on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster, talking about Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. It stirs memories in me.

I first discovered Sean O’Casey in 1964 – two years before the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. I was studying in UCD for my Master’s in English, and I can remember sitting in the university library, chuckling aloud and marveling at the energy and wit and truth-telling of O’Casey’s dialogue. For the most part I was totally apolitical at the time, more interested in females, food and booze than in the Easter Rising. It never struck me that O’Casey’s truth-telling was partial: it left no room for a political dimension.

Nowadays it’s seen as fashionable to pour scorn on the disorder in the Abbey Theatre when O’Casey’s plays were first produced. Stupid people, thicks, fanatics, who wouldn’t know a beautifully-crafted play with a harsh truth at its core if it bit their nose. And certainly O’Casey’s plays look at the humanity behind political and military upheaval, and sympathise with the victims. It’s best summarized in Juno and the Paycock, when Juno tells her crippled son: “Ah, you lost your best principle, me son, when you lost your arm; them’s the only sort o’ principles that’s any good to a workin’ man”.

It’s a powerful line, and true. But it dismisses idealism and political or military action as delusions. As Maggie Thatcher said “There is no such thing as society, only people and their families”.

Essentially O’Casey was dismissing the events of the Easter Rising and what followed as worthless sacrifice. He was telling his fellow countrymen and women that what mattered was people and their families, especially those living in the squalor of Dublin’s slums. But while it’s true that armed conflict such as the Easter Rising can be romanticized and glorified so we don’t see the blood and suffering, equally there are those – and I’d include O’Casey – who lurch to the other extreme and deny the worth of anything that isn’t providing for people’s physical welfare. You can’t eat a flag, true; but if your only concern is with eating your dinner, you’ve diminished yourself and ignored the questions of freedom and oppression, of empire and national identity, of the right of Irish people to build the kind of state that they want. These things are real and important to human beings; to dismiss them as empty rhetoric and pretend patriotism, as O’Casey does, is to dismiss those who have a vision and  who act selflessly to make it real.

We still have scribes who can’t get enough column inches or air-time to undermine the sacrifice of the Easter Rising and the many sacrifices that flowed from it. The difference between today’s pundits and O’Casey is that he was  a gifted artist and they are condescending scribblers.

7 Responses to Sean O’Casey: counter-revolutionary

  1. Bríd Ní Chíanáin March 27, 2016 at 10:19 am #

    Aontaim leat a Iude. There is nothing more insulting to people than to hear politicians say- and often left wing politics- that working people and the poor are only interested in bread and butter issues; they have no interest I beauty or truth freedom culture and art spiritual and environmental issues or connections sympathy and support for international concerns. They reject and deny by this sentence the creativity of the working class and their ability to think about and influence events in the world.

  2. Sherdy March 27, 2016 at 11:01 am #

    For months now we’ve been hearing the anti-republican rants from most FF, FG and Labour politicians while trying to cut lumps out of Sinn Fein in the run-up to the general election.
    Couldn’t believe my eyes this morning when I saw the GPO ceremony celebrating the 1916 rising and republicanism, swamped by these anti-republican politicians.
    Hypocrisy knows no bounds when there’s a good photo opportunity!

  3. Donal Kennedy March 27, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    The “thickos” protesting at THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS included Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, widow of Francis, murdered by Captain Bowen Colthurst, and a formidable
    intellectual republican activist, and Frank Ryan, IRA man who served with distinction as an
    officer in the International Brigade in Spain.

    O’Casey opted out of the struggle for independence. He was pretty browned off long before
    the Civil War.
    He became an embittered cynic and made a comfortable living that way.
    But I love the braggart fantasist Cap’n Boyle, who might well have been based on Gaybo’s

  4. Perkin Warbeck March 27, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    A darlin’ post, Esteemed Blogmeister, a daaaaarlin’ post !

    When one hears of the Gate doing Juno and the Abbey doing, y’know, The Plough this year one knows one is hearing of the Twin Theatres of the Absurd. Each of which assiduously, erm, proclaims its utter independence of the other by running on parallel tracks.

    -Only Sodom and Begorrah here !

    Yes, siree.

    -No blurred lines here, oh great divver up of obese annual subsidies !

    Would it have been asking too much of these two thespian wings of the A la Cartes Council to think outside the, erm, box office and stage,say, an equally ‘relevant’ play, by The Great Shakes?

    ‘Titus Andronicus’, f’rinstance.

    It does feature, after all, a character name of Aaron who ends up buried chest-deep and left to die of thirst and starvation. Clearly not the Stonebreakers’ Yard so, but the same dude does die unrepentant to the last.

    And these being the non-exclusionist tolerant times that are in it, perhaps even this traditional male role could be played by an equally topless female, if such a ruse were needed to use it rather than lose it.

    -Aaron go Bra-less !

    (One, however, would draw the line at a (gasp) DruidShakepeare production. There is, after all, a limit to what horrors even the most bottle-hardened of drama anoraks can hack.)

    Focal scoir; there was a culturally-aware aspect of Sean O’Casey which has long been neglected in the Uncle Tom Foolery of the O’Toole-boxset of theatrical orthodoxy.

    Long after he had switched residence from Dorset Street on Dublin northside to Dorset in the English south side, Sean O’Cathasaigh continued to subscribe to the only Leprechaun newspaper in existence.

    B’shin e Inniu, nach maireann / That would have been Inniu, long since deceased.

    • Jude Collins March 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      “B’shin e Inniu, nach maireann / That would have been Inniu, long since deceased.” Ah yes, I remember it well. It was the only newspaper we were allowed to read in St Colditz, Derry. Thanks to the heavy hand of the Irish teacher(s), your humble servant never got beyond the title in the understanding stakes…

      • Perkin Warbeck March 28, 2016 at 7:15 am #

        Bhiodh oifigi INNIU, a Mhaistir Ionuin Blog, suite direach trasna na sraide on GPO / The offices of INNIU, Esteemed Blogmeister, used to be located directly across the street from the GPO.

        On the fourth floor of a building which eyeballed the Colditz of the Colony (Brave, New) / Ar an gceathru urlar d’fhoirgneamh ag stanadh go bolgshuileach ar Colditz na Coilineachta ( Croga Nua)

        Foirgneamh a bhfuil seilbh gafa, erm, inniu ar an bun-urlar ag Sean-Shiopa Ann Summers a reiceann, erm, slabhrai traidisiunta an ghiolla gheillte / An erection whose ground floor today has been occupied by the Ye Olde Ann Summers Shoppe which trades in, erm, traditional chains of bondage.

        In the words of the old song in Leprechaun, ‘We brought the Summers with us’ / I bhfocail an tsean-amhrain Leiprechain, ‘Thugamar fein na Samhraidh linn’.

        Mo lean, mo chraic, mo chra, nior mhair bunaitheoir, cead-eagarthoir agus treoir-spiorad an nuachtain fada go leor le greann doite a bhaint as ioroin mhilis na staire seirbhe sin/ Gadzooks, it is a pity beyond all telling or spelling itself that the founder, first editor and guiding spirit of the newspaper did not live long enough to savour the bittersweet irony of that particular twisteeen of fate.

        Another irony which would have tickled his characteristically caustic fancy was A SPIRE / Ioroin eile a reiteodh lena ghreann sainiuil grinn ab ea SPUAIC.

        Bhaistigh an duchasach seo de chuid Thir Eoghain INNIU ar an nuachtan nua miosuil /seachtainiuil siar i 1943 mar b’e a, erm, UAILLMHIAN iontach reasunta go bhfoilseofai e ar bhonn laethuil le himeacht aimsire / Back in 1941 this son of Tyrone founded the first monthly, then weekly newspaper INNIU / TODAY for it was his perfectly legitimate , erm, A SPIRE ATION it would eventually morph into a daily.

        This coincided with the commencement of his younger , erm, Brother’s column in Leprechaun in The Unionist Times / Chomhtharla seo le tus an choluin Leiprechain a scriobh a dhearthair nios oige in Amantata na hAontachta.

        Scriobh Ciaran O Nuallain (mar b’e a bhi ann !) ar ball beathaisneis dar teideal ‘Oige an Dearthar’ / Ciaran O Nuallain (for it was he !) later went on to write a biography entitled ‘The Salad Days of the Brother’.

        The Brother, of course, went on to fatefully short-circuit his own cultural horizon (to much appreciative hallooing from the jewelry rattlers and other self-important slugs of complacency in the box-seats) by morphing from Irish Myles na Gopaleen into English Myles na Gopaleen / Chuaigh an Dearthair ar aghaidh ar ndoigh chun a uaillmhian culturtha fein a mhaolu (cinneadh cinniunach a spreag seonini na seoda agus seilidi fein-thabhachtacha na spadantachta sna suiochain bosca gliogar a bhaint as a sasamh).

        Faoin am a shrois Ciaran O Nuallain stadas an Eagarthora Emeritus amach i 1979 shuiodh se ar thaobh amhain de thabla leathan i gcul-oifig chung ar an gceathru urlar de 29, Sraid O Conaill, Iochtarach / By the time he ascended into the role of Editor Emeritus Ciaran O Nuallain used to sit on one side of a wide table in a narrow back office on the fourth floor of 29, O Connell Street, Lower.

        On the other side of the table sat his successor, a native of Londonderry, oops, London who was not unacquainted with the inside of Crumlin Road and Derry Houses of Detention / Ar an dtaobh eile den tabla shuiodh a chomharba, duchasach de Londaindoire, upanna, Londain, fear nach raibh gan taithi airithe ar an dtaobh mhichompordach de Phriosun ar Bhothar Chroimlinne.

        As the years progressed and the Mountain Range of Unsold Copies of INNIU grew higher on the table between them they gradually became invisible to each other / Le himeacht na mblianta agus de reir mar a d’fhas Sliabhraon na gCoipeanna Neamhdhiolta d’INNIU in airde, d’imigh siad de reir a cheile, as radharc a cheile.

        Toradh amhain a bhi ar an dul as radharc dreimreach seo na go raibh orthu glor na cumarsaide eatarthu a ardu / One result of this diminution of visibility was the necessity for them to raise the volume of their verbal communication.

        This was invariably conducted through the medium of flawless Spanish for, as if they hadn’t already supply enough of linguistic eccentricity to be going on with, both were Iberophiles / Dob i an Spainnis gan locht an mean cumarsaie gan eisceacht eatarthu mar, i measc treithe eile aisteacha na mac barruil seo, chothaigh siad beirt suim gan srian san Leithinis Ibeireach.

        Dha ean corr, ar snamh./ At swim, two wordbirds.

        Not unlike La Golondrina, it was customary for both of them to spread their wings and fly south every summer. Though not, one hastens to add, either simultaneously or even at the same time / Ar nos na Fainleoige ba nos acu beirt a seolta a ardu agus eitilt o dheas le Teacht an tSamhraidh. Ag amanta difriula, ni mor a ra.

        Ciaran O Nuallain, it is widely recognised and even more bitterly resented in certain academic circles, was the uber-grammarian of Leprechaun / Glactar leis go forleathan agus cuireadh olc nios forleithne fos gan sos I rosanna airithe acadula, gurb e Ciaran O Nuallain an Briathar Saor.

        Ar ocaid chluiteach amhain, nuair a thainig boic mhora ollscoile le cheile chun beim a leagadh ar a gceim ard ar dhreimire na sochai, chul-chuala boc feinthabhachtach amhain a ainm fein a lua ag CON. / On one legendary social occasion where the academically snooty felt it their duty to shake their booty, one such overheard his patronym being namechecked by CON.

        Tapping the Grammy-award-winning Grammarian on the shoulder, he brusquely enquired as to the reason for his name being taken in vain if not in vitro / Bhuail se cniogog ag ghualainn an ghramadora ghramadaigh agus d’fhiosraigh se go borb an fath go raibh a ainm a lua gan chead.

        Bhi me ag caint FUTSA, ni raibh me ag caint LEATSA !, ab ea an freagra grod / I was talking ABOUT you, not TO you ! was the snorted retort.

        The not entirely inappropriate irony of Myles na Gopaleen’s deathday has been noted: April 1st. / Ta clu amuigh ar dhata oiriunach, ioronta bais, Myles na gCapaillini: Aibrean 1.

        The same might be said of the circumstance of his older brother’s death / D’fheadfai an ni ceanna a ra faoi thosca (bhain bas ioronta le Tosca chomh maith) an bhais a fuair a dhearthair nios sine.

        A Dublin univesity decided to award (belatedly ) Ciaran O Nuallain with a honorary doctorate / Chinnigh ollscoil ar leith cois Life (go deanach) doctuireacht onortha a bhronnadh ar Chiaran O Nuallain.

        The recipient to be was not noted for being over-enamoured of social gatherings of the high and (allegedly) mighty / Nior chuir einne riamh I leith an te a raibh an caipin bog bheilbhite le bronnadh ar a chloigeann, go raibh se ro-thugtha don mhortas gan mhacalla.

        Taobh le Ciaran O Nuallain chuirfeadh An Fear Cuthailleach leitheidi Graham Norton i gcuimhne / Beside Ciaran O Nuallain the likes of The Bashful Man would have come across as a 18th century Graham Norton.

        Ghealaigh an la cinniunach ach nior oscail Ciaran O Nuallain a shuile ar maidin / Ciaran O Nuallain, alas, never made it to the Award Ceremony, having passed over in his sleep during the night before.

        Tir Eoghain abu ! / Come on, Tyrone !

        (Though not, perish the soul-destroying thought, to the ‘tune’ of that Garry Glitter anthem/ Nil ga leis an rosc catha seo a ra le fuaimrian uafasach ar leith).

  5. Ryan March 28, 2016 at 2:06 am #

    All Wars and Battles are glorified and romanticized. The Easter Rising is maybe a perfect example of a battle which its planners sole intention was to romanticize and glorify their cause: the Irish struggle for freedom.

    The majority of people, especially Unionists but also many Republicans, believe that the leaders of the Easter Rising were planning and striking for a military victory over the British in Ireland. This simply wasn’t the case. I haven’t read all the writings of the leaders of 1916 but Patrick Pearse was a poet and was willing to give his life as a “blood sacrifice” for Ireland. He apparently even compared himself to Jesus Christ who gave himself up on the Cross as a sacrifice in order to cleanse the world of its sins. Pearse and other leaders saw themselves as making a strike for freedom against impossible odds stacked heavily in favour of the British. Their desire was to reawaken the Irish peoples hunger for freedom from the British Empire which they saw as withering on the vine for too long. They fully expected it to cost them their lives. Indeed, the leaders of 1916 said that if they were NOT executed then it would all have been for nothing. This obviously worked because after the leaders of 1916 were executed Irish public opinion dramatically switched in their favour. Even in countries like India and other colonies of the British Empire the leaders of 1916 were greatly admired and inspired massive growth for independence instead of mere Home Rule. It can be fairly argued that the events of 1916 actually contributed to the fall of the British Empire, the largest in History.

    I’m no expert on the Hunger Strikes of the 1981, which were lead by Bobby Sands but I wonder if Bobby Sands and the rest of the Hunger Strikers were of a similar mind set as Patrick Pearse and James Connolly in reference to “sacrifice”? Hunger Strikes have long been used in Irish history and have inspired other peoples to use the same tactics, such as the Palestinians. But did Bobby Sands, before he went on Hunger Strike, view his possible death in the same way as Patrick Pearse saw his death? Did he see his possible death as awakening the desire of Irish freedom in more moderate nationalists in the North? Certainly both deaths had the exact same impact, it brought massive support to the Irish Republican cause. Before Bobby Sands was just a mere IRA volunteer. After his death he was known Worldwide, had 100,000 people attend his funeral and a flood of support for Sinn Fein and the IRA. So much support in fact that Sinn Fein could see that it was worthwhile entering politics and Margaret Thatcher could see her criminalization policies had utterly failed and she realized she had to accommodate Nationalism and not just pander to Unionism, hence the Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985.

    Political Unionism of that era could also see how dangerous the Easter Rising was. They knew it wasn’t an attempt at a military victory. How could a few thousand men/women defeat the British Army who were armed with Artillery guns, superior weapons, battle ships, etc? Not to mention the leaders of the rising held back, according to RTE, around 15,000 Irish volunteers in reserve. Why would they hold back the bulk of their forces if they wanted to challenge and defeat the British Army? Because that wasn’t their intention, as even Edward Carson could see. He warned that “great care” needed to be taken with the imprisoned leaders of the rising. In other words he disagreed with their executions.

    The Easter Rising lead to the Tan War. Irish Republicans had the sympathy and support of the majority of the Irish people and did intend to strike for a military victory over the British. It all ended in a truce, which the British called, in 1921. The rest is history. But be in no doubt, the Easter Rising, in many ways, was very far from a failure. It had achieved exactly what its planners wanted it to achieve. 26 counties of Ireland are no longer under British rule, out of the last 6, 4 now have Irish nationalist majorities and that growth is continuing. Will the dreams of the leaders of the Easter Rising be realized? I’m 100% certain of it, its a question of when, not if. That’s why Irish Republicans of all shades should come together and make it happen ASAP. But be in no doubt, the current political set up in Ireland is NOT what the leaders of 1916 wanted. The irony is they would’ve boycott the commemoration parades held today, except for the ones held by dissident republicans, as the last surviving member of the Tan War, Dan Keating, made clear before he died in 2007 at the age of 105. (I’ll put a video of him below).

    But does all this matter? Is “Bread and Butter” issues the only thing that really matters to people and their families? Sure they’re extremely important issues but their not the only thing that is important. Culture, tradition, heritage, history, nationality and community are all extremely important too and it has been shown repeatedly throughout history that they are all worth dying for. It makes us what we are. Life would be pretty boring if it was solely about basic survival, aka “Bread and Butter” issues. People would be no different than the Cows and Sheep in the fields chewing grass if we didn’t consider anything important except the well being of ourselves and our immediate families.

    I remember being in the pub watching the Ireland vs Germany European Championship qualifiers game in October 2015. Ireland beat Germany, the reigning World Champions, 1 nil in a competitive match and that win (we thought a draw was the best we’d get) helped us greatly to get to the Euros. When Shane Long outrun those 3 German defenders by himself, maybe the best defenders in the World, and kicked that ball like a rocket pass maybe the best Goalkeeper in the World and it hit the back of the net, the atmosphere was unbelievable in that pub. Most of us didn’t even know each other in that pub but yet the community, the shared heritage and the feeling of shared national identity and the pride of it was worth dying for as we celebrated wildly together as a fellow Irish man in Shane Long left the Germans dumb struck….