Signatories – a great 1916 drama

SignatoriesI saw Signatories at the Pavilion Theatre last night and really enjoyed and was moved by this rich, multi layered dramatic reflection on the lives of the seven signatories of the Irish Proclamation and Elizabeth O’Farrell, the young nurse charged with bringing the surrender order from garrison to garrison.

The series of eight ten minute monologues was commissioned by UCD as part of its Decade of Centenaries Programme. Directed by Patrick Mason with writers Frank McGuinness, Emma Donoghue, Thomas Kilroy, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Marina Carr, Joseph O’Connor, Rachel Fehily and Hugo Hamilton each writing about one of the signatories.

Emma Donoghue’s piece on an aging Elizabeth O’Farrell – played by Barbara Brennan – recalling the surrender, waving her white flag as she moved from place to place was a strong and most memorable opening to this dramatic and emotive piece of theatre. It was first staged in Kilmainham Jail over three nights and now will be staged in a few more places including the National Concert Hall and the Civic Theatre in Tallaght, a hundred years after the men faced their executions in Kilmainham.

Watching and listening to the last hours and words and thoughts of some of the signatories as they waited in their cells to be executed, certainly brought the humanity and tragedy of the 1916 Rising to life.

The bravery and courage of Padraig Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Tom Clark, Sean MacDiarmada, James Connolly and Eamonn Ceannt, and their belief in a free Ireland certainly deserves to be remembered by some of Ireland’s finest writers.

Book a ticket as soon as you can and hope that Signatories will transfer in time to a theatre near you.

The GPO–Easter Monday 24th April 1916

GPO DublinIt is hard to believe but on Monday 24th April 1916 – a hundred years ago – The Rising began!!

On Easter Monday 24th April 1916 Dublin’s, General Post Office was taken over by a large group of Nationalist Rebels led by Padraig Pearse and James Connolly. The members of The Volunteers and The Irish Citizen Army, armed with guns and sundry array of weapons, marched from Liberty Hall towards Sackville Street.

The day was sunny and crowds gathered heading for the races at Fairyhouse, to Phoenix Park or to the seaside. Many of the shops were shut but the GPO remained open to sell stamps, for letter and parcel post and for members of the public to collect government allowances and pensions.

James Connolly, the Union leader and head of the Irish Citizen Army, alongside Padraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and William James Brennan Whitmore had led the rebel army toward the large imposing neoclassical landmark building which had been designed by Francis Johnson and built in 1818.

With its large stone portico and six towering granite columns, the GPO was the hub of both postal and telegraph communications in the city. They stopped outside on the street and Connolly gave the order to turn left and charge the GPO.

Customers and staff were all ordered out of the building as the rebels smashed the glass windows and barricaded them. The green, white and orange Irish tricolour flag and the green and gold flag of the Irish Republic were both hoisted and flown up over the building
Padraig Pearse joined by James Connolly and a few others stepped outside where he declared an Irish Republic as he read out the proclamation of The Provisional Government Of The Irish Republic To The People Of Ireland to the crowds of curious onlookers on the street.

Some listened but others chose to walk away. Copies of the printed proclamation were left for the public to read.

The rebels came under attack a short while later by a party of Irish lancers, the mounted cavalry on horseback who came down Sackville Street. Coming under heavy fire from the rebels, the riders and horses were forced to retreat.

On Easter Monday the long cherished dream of a rising against the British had finally happened with a number of key building and locations captured by the force of 1,200 men and women throughout the city.

The GPO garrison, headquarters of the rebellion, was well fortified and they set up barricades. They had a supply of food from the well- stocked kitchens of the nearby hotels and took over the adjacent Metropole Hotel. Commandant Brennan and a group of men were sent to take over the buildings opposite the GPO on Earl Street.

The rebels watched in dismay as around them local people began to loot the nearby shops and businesses immediately, smashing glass windows and doors and stripping the business of their stock.

Taken by surprise, the British Army sent more soldiers to Dublin to quash the rebellion. By Wednesday they had a heavy machine gun and two other guns trained on the GPO which came under steady and constant b ombardment from the British gunners. A British gun ship had sailed up the Liffey and destroyed Liberty Hall.

By Thursday much of Sackville Street on both sides was ablaze. The Imperial Hotel, the Metropole Hotel and the surrounding shops and cafes were on fire as the sky filled with flames and smoke. The street had become a raging inferno. James Connolly was badly wounded, shot in the leg.

The fires raged on and by Friday evening the decision to evacuate the GPO which had already started to burn was made.
The O’Rahiily and a number of the Volunteers tried to make a run for Moore Street but he was fatally injured. The rest of the garrison escaped through Henry Street and Henry Place to Moore Street where they began to boring holes between the houses there trying to get to safety.

The GPO was now totally ablaze, most of the building destroyed. As machine guns raged relentlessly against them and fires raged, and with little food in the city, Padraig Pearse knew they could not continue as innocent civilians were being shot and killed. With heavy hearts the decision was made to surrender – with Pearse and Connolly both signing the surrender order.

On midday Saturday 29th April Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell stepped out with a white flag. Later she accompanied Padraig Pearse to meet General Lowe to officially surrender. She also helped deliver the surrender orders to all the other rebel garrisons.

On Sunday the remaining rebel garrisons had all reluctantly agreed to surrender too.

The men and women of the rebel garrisons were marched under army escort through the hostile crowds to Richmond Barracks. Some of the women were transferred to Kilmainham Jail.

Under General Maxwell’s orders, many were transported almost immediately to prisons across Britain and Wales. Determined to stamp out any further chance of rebellion, General Maxwell also ordered the trial and execution of the leaders of the rising – many of whom would be sent to Kilmainham Jail to await their fate.

Easter 1916-2016

O'Connell Street Easter Sunday 2016

O’Connell Street Easter Sunday 2016

Easter Sunday

The streets of Dublin were crowded as thousands of us gathered to watch the Easter 1916 Centenary Commemoration Parade. The day was bright and dry as the massive crowds made their way along the long parade route which led towards O’Connell Street. There were wide screens to display the formal ceremony outside the GPO, as the main street of Dublin city was reserved for family member and relatives of those who fought in 1916.

The parade of the Irish Defence Forces received huge cheers as they passed us, army bands, navy services and all types of military vehicles. President Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Dublin’s Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh and the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, all received a warm welcome on this very special day. Everyone watched and was moved by the reading of the Proclamation by Captain Peter Kelleher outside the GPO, the lowering of the Irish tri-colour flag and the army band playing Mise Eire.

Reading of the Proclamation Easter Sunday 2016

Reading of the Proclamation Easter Sunday 2016

The whole city stood still to remember that day a hundred years ago when a small band of rebels took the GPO and declared an Irish Republic. The Irish Air Corps with their plumes of green white and orange flew over O’Connell Street which brought huge cheers from everyone watching below. This important part of our history was honoured, the brave men and women of 1916 were recalled and their effort to fight for Irish freedom commemorated on this very special Easter Sunday 2016.

Reflecting the Rising

On Easter Monday, the city was transformed for RTE’s large scale event organised for families and all those with an interest in the Rising.
Artist and writer Don Conroy and I were delighted to take part. We gave two 1916 story and drawing workshops in DIT College, Aungier Street, (site of the former Jacob’s biscuit factory and the garrison led by Thomas MacDonagh and Captain John MacBride during the 1916 Rising).

There was fun and hundreds of events and talks on all aspects of the Rising and re-enactments by drama groups with packed events in O’Connell Street, Smithfield and St. Stephen’s Green. Alongside the family activities and entertainment in in St Stephen’s Green, there was the poignant reminder by a children’s drama group of all the children who died during the Rising.

The skies stayed bright and sunny and the marvellous events of the weekend were finished off by RTE’s Centenary concert, broadcast live that night from the Bord Gais Theatre.

It was a weekend to remember and a fitting tribute to Padraig Pearse, Tom Clarke, James Connolly Sean MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett and all those who went out a hundred years ago, on that Easter Monday 1916.

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Hong Kong and Macau Turn Green

What a great experience to be invited to take part in Macau’s Script Road Writers’ Festival! I met lots of writers not only from China and Portugal but from across the world.

I took part in a lively discussion on ‘The Peculiar Life of Writer’ at The Old Court Building with Sweden’s Bengt Ohlsson and Portugal’s Rui Zink. Also I was kept busy with events across the island, talking in Macau’s University, the International School, the Sir Robert Ho Tung Chinese School, as well as a family event at The Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Great to see Macau’s historic St Paul’s Church turn green, like many iconic buildings around the world, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Criona ni Dhalaigh, spoke at the Hong Kong and Macau Irish Festival‘s St. Patrick’s Day dinner in the Grand Lapa Hotel. The next day she led off the first St. Patrick’s Day parade to be held on the island.

Watching the local Irish dancing groups, traditional lion dancers and the Chinese dragon, as well as local hip-hop dancers and the police bag-pipers, I felt very proud to be part of such a multi-cultural celebration of Ireland’s heritage.

In Hong Kong, the Mayor of Dublin presented Father Joseph Mallin – aged 102 – with the great honour of the Freedom of Dublin City. Father Joseph, son of Michael Mallin the 1916 Rising leader, is not only the last living child of an executed leader of the Rising but has dedicated his life to working and helping those in need in Hong Kong.

A concert entitled ‘Mise Eire’ was held to celebrate and commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising and was attended not only by the Irish community living in Hong Kong, but also by those with an interest in Ireland. I was very honoured to read a chapter from Rebel Sisters to the large audience and to get the chance to meet Father Mallin.

Well done to Ireland’s Consul, General Peter Ryan and all those involved in organising such a special event to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising!

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