Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
John McDonagh has Dublin historian Joe Mooney in studio today as Joe is in New York City and will be at Rocky Sullivan’s this Tuesday evening to deliver a talk entitled A Rare Time for Death In Ireland: Seán O’Casey and the 1916 Rising . (begins time stamp ~16:24)
John: Joe Mooney – you are, as you said, you’re an historian. You’re with a group in Dublin. Explain the group that you’re with and how did that come about?
Good Afternoon. I’m involved with the East Wall History Group and a number of other local history groups in Dublin and particularly around the Dublin Docklands area. We cover all aspects of local history, particularly around the docks – there’s some incredible stories – people look at their school days, the industries, the factories that were there and, of course, the working life of the dock which was always hard-working and hilarious like docks everywhere. But what is of particular interest to the listeners, I would imagine, is the revolutionary history of the Dublin docks. It was the area where Jim Larkin’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union really took off. It was the area where the 1913 Lockout really hit when we saw the Irish workers go up against the Irish-boss class in open class warfare. Out of that the Irish Citizen Army was developed and the Irish Citizen Army would have really have grown in that area and also we had the the St. Laurence O’Toole’s Club and Pipe Band which fed men into the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) and into the Irish Volunteers so come 1916 and the subsequent revolutionary period a lot of people, a lot of very well-known people and a lot of very not so well-known people, came from that area and that’s something we’ve been really looking at – an almost forgotten part of Irish history, Dublin history and revolutionary history is the role of the people in the Dublin Docklands. And of course, a big figure from the area would be Seán O’Casey, the playwright, who was part of many of those organizations in his day.
John: Well a lot of the history now is getting the attention because, for whatever reason, ‘the hundred anniversary’ of anything brings it up and it was The Uprising – like when you walk through Dublin you’re literally walking through history whether it’s James Joyce’s Ulysees or the 1916 Uprising. How do you think the government, the Twenty-Six County government, covered the 1916 Uprising? Because now were getting into a more difficult part of Irish history going into the Civil War. But what was your observations and did they include any historical groups to participate in what was going on?
Joe: Well an eye-opening thing for me was I wrote a small piece, and I don’t want anybody to berate me for this, for the Irish Independent newspaper, once owned…
John: …Well, don’t worry.
Joe: …Once owned by William Martin Murphy…
John: …There’s no Irish press so – Come on!….
Joe: …anti-Republican newspaper and I wrote it so carefully that they couldn’t edit it or take it out of context. It was about the Citizen Army and the lead-up to The Rising. They changed one word in the article, my final one, they took the word ‘British’ out. I said: ‘the people who went up against the bosses of Dublin then went up against the British Empire‘ and they took the word ‘British’ out but left the word ’empire’. It could have been Star Wars for all the reader would have been getting from that.
John: …the Ottoman Empire or the Roman Empire or…
Joe: Yeah. So I think that, in a way, kind of says well, ‘official Ireland’, through the government and the media, would have liked to do – it was part of our history that couldn’t be avoided – but they would have liked to take all blame or all revolutionary thought out of it. Now I think it backfired. The government initially, as people will probably remember, brought out a promo video about the 1916 Commemorations which avoided any mention of, pretty much any mention, of the Revolution, The Uprising, and gave us Bono etc and some business men which was meant to symbolise the Hundredth Anniversary? But the backlash from that really created something – and I think that was the most positive thing. I think a lot of people, when they realised the government just weren’t going to do this justice started thinking: Well what can we do to make it work? And I think the most powerful thing that came out of the centenary celebrations is what would have happened in local areas – local groups and unofficial groups looking at the history and saying: We’re really going to get this out there. And for us a lot of our hidden history in the docks came out of it. In parts of the city, parts of the country, everywhere, you had locals looking back to what was going on in their areas a hundred years ago . The more the momentum grew of new stories coming out people started thinking: Oh, I remember this story from my family! and those stories came out. And particularly a lot of people who, I know a couple of people whose mothers and fathers had fought in The Rising and really, for the first time, they really felt like they were being celebrated and getting their place in history. So that would be my take on it – it was the people of Ireland who made it an important celebration – not the government.
John: But now we’re coming into a difficult period towards 1921 and the Civil War. How is your group going to cover that – your historical group?
Joe: Well first of all just before I move on I should say Dublin City Council was very supportive of local groups. There’s some really good councillors and the current Lord Mayor of Dublin had five members of his family in The Rising and he was at the forefront at the time as a city councillor of pushing the commemorations and now, as Lord Mayor, I’ll be interested to see what he does as we come into the War of Independence. How we will cover it is how we cover every story: We will do a really good job and we’ll do it honestly. We’ll tell the story as it happened. We won’t hide anything. For example, we discovered that in some of the families in our area you had brothers who were involved with Na Fianna, you had brothers who were involved with the Volunteer Movement, you had women involved with the Citizen Army while at the same time other brothers were off fighting with the British Army – for economic reasons or whatever they had joined the British Army. So we tell the story as it happened. We don’t, when we look at people who were in the British Army, we don’t put a slant on it to try and say: Isn’t this great? We were part of Britain – which I think is the mistake I think a lot of people make when they talk about the British war dead – they’re trying to make a political point. I see everybody who died in the First World War as a tragic waste of life be they English, Irish, British, French or German and that’s how we will cover it. That’s how we covered that difficult period – we told everybody’s story exactly as it happened.
John: Well one of the unbelievable things that came out – there’s wall up in Glasnevin Cemetery and the Twenty-Six County government put up the names of the British soldiers that died that week on O’Connell Street in front of the GPO and giving it the equivalency of the Volunteers who died. I mean, stuff like that and the re-writing of history – that’s a full time job!
Joe: Oh yeah! Absolutely appalling! And as I said, we will tell the stories truthfully but how you cover the story or how you commemorate it is a different matter. You put the facts out there – and they’re the facts. But how you commemorate it – and it’s absolutely appalling that British soldiers that were rampaging through Dublin were given the same credibility on a memorial wall…
John: ….You were telling us – what’s that one woman that you said was up on the wall?
Joe: Yeah and interestingly, this appears in one of the O’Casey plays based on this woman: A man I know, his granny was shot dead during the Easter Rising by a British soldier. She was in the house and the soldier shot into the house, bullet hit her, she hit the ground and her blood dripped through the floor. You read that in O’Casey. When he went to the Memorial Wall to see his granny’s name the next name on the wall was the soldier from the regiment that had shot his granny dead – and that is no way to commemorate a revolution in a country and it’s no way to remember the enemy dead.
John: Well you know, talking about re-writing – a little bit off-topic – there’s one guy I just cannot stand – is Bob Geldof. Now he just recently was in Dublin, he handed in his key to the city or his citizenship but he had a book out or something just slamming the 1916 Uprising saying they were fools, they were religious fanatics and they should have waited – John Redmond would have brought us to the promised land. I mean, how is he treated now? Because he came back and made this very ceremonial thing going up to Dublin City Hall and turning back – what was the title he had? The…
Joe: …Free Man of the City…
John: …Free Man of the City because of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma or Myanmar, I mean – but he got plenty of air time to slam everybody that was executed by the British!
Joe: Yeah well I mean, Bob Geldolf, I think it’s fair to say, most Irish people would see him as an idiot and obviously you’re familiar with the expression ‘West Brit’ – he’s the worst example of a West Brit you could come across. And again, it’s absolutely insane when you think – and again I don’t like doing the sliding-scale of suffering or death – but when you think how many Irishmen believed John Redmond (that if they went to war for the British they’d be rewarded with Home Rule afterwards) when you think of the thousands and thousands of Irishmen that died because of John Redmond’s words and you think of the relatively small number, four hundred or so, that died during the 1916 Rising, and you have idiots like Bob Geldof, Kevin Myers, etc in the newspapers trying taking up World War I as if it was something glorious and then talking down the rebels who tried to free their own country in their own city I mean it’s just incredible, like hypocrisy apart from anything else.
One of our former producers who’s now long since dead, Nollaig Ó Gadhra, an historian out in Galway, he always brought up that no one goes into the amount of lives that were saved by The Uprising – that people didn’t join the British Army and go fight in Flanders and just be slaughtered. I mean, the accounting of it! And that has a particular big effect in the Six Counties among the Loyalist population – they were devastated but they are still so proud of that – about dying in the trenches of France and Belgium and nothing will shake them of that vision whereas at least down in Dublin you say – you know there’s a famous song by Finbar Furey, whatever – you were all that we had, you went and fought there when the greatest war was at home right here here in Dublin. So we’re speaking with Joe Mooney and Joe Mooney is going to be at Rocky Sullivan’s Tuesday night at eight o’clock, you heard John Kearns say that. So what brings you over here? What will you be speaking about at Rocky Sullivan’s?
Joe: Well I have had the pleasure of working with John in the past. John’s play, Sons of Molly Maguire, which was of course about some famous Irish labour martyrs was premiered in, it had its Irish premiere last year, great location – Liberty Hall – what better place to have a play about Irish radicals? So I’ve worked with John on a number of occasions and John has set up this talk in Rocky Sullivan’s and what I’ll be looking at will be the life and politics of Seán O’Casey as reflected in his plays. Seán O’Casey is probably most famous for The Plough and the Stars and the riots that happened in Dublin when it was performed in 1926 because of its depiction of the 1916 Rising. But the story’s not….
John: …Why was there riots? What was it that people were upset about?
Joe: It was the depiction of the rebels in 1916. People would have felt that ten years after they died that it was an insult to their memory – the way he described them. But O’Casey’s a little bit more complicated than that. O’Casey came from a Protestant family. He came from the Orange Tradition. He got very involved with the Irish Cultural and National movements, got involved with the trade union movement and was the first secretary of the Irish Citizens Army. And then he turned his back on a lot of that, he fell out with the likes of James Connolly and Countess Markievicz, he did get caught up in The Rising as a civilian and I’ll be covering that in great detail, what actually happened to him.
After The Rising he still, he returned somewhat to Nationalist politics. He has been a friend to Thomas Ashe who died on hunger strike. He wrote two pamphlets about Thomas Ashe. He spoke passionately about the labour movement being getting more involved with the national struggle and then he moved into play writing. His big thing was to look at the day-to-day lives of Dubliners, so-called ‘ordinary people’ during The Rising, and he wrote three really good plays set during the War of Independence, the Civil War and then he done The Plough and the Stars, set during The Rising. He got such a backlash from that that he essentially sent himself into exile in England afterwards. So I’ll be covering all that but he’s a very complex man. There was a lot more to him than just that simple story. For example, one of the people who organised the riot at the Abbey Theatre was Frank Ryan, an IRA leader who then went on to be a leader of the International Brigades in Spain and Seán O’Casey was a staunch supporter of the Spanish Republic against Franco and he actually met Frank Ryan during that time and they discussed the Plough and Star riots and also the support for the Spanish Republic shown by the IRA and other Irish revolutionaries. So there’s a lot more to the story than just simply that he was a man that turned his back on the revolutionary movement.
John: There’s an old saying, it’s said if anyone claims that they understand Irish history they don’t know what they’re talking about because, like you said, everything is complicated no matter what you’re looking at. So that is Joe Mooney who will be giving a talk about – it’s called The Rare Time for Death In Ireland: Seán… now, what does that mean – the rare death for time in Ireland?
Joe: Seán O’Casey lived in the North Docks, as I said, where we have the history group in our area, during The Rising an almost lost part of the story of The Rising is what happened in the Dublin docks. The British Army sealed off the area, took control of it and were subjected to sniper fire throughout the week. However, on the Thursday they decided to clear the snipers out and they rampaged through the area and they killed a lot of civilians – shot them in their houses if they saw anybody moving at the window, shot a child on the street, etc, and in his autobiography O’Casey writes a very passionate piece that was then turned into a poem and the first line is: ‘It was a rare time for death in Ireland’ and that’s where the title came from – it’s just about the civilians that ended up being shot down.
John: So before we head off anything else you would like to see? I mean, you’re only in New York a couple of days and I was looking at your Facebook – you bumped into the naked cowboy, naked people running down Queens Boulevard, crazy stuff on the subway – this is all in a day or two!
Yeah well, it’s a crazy city! It’s a crazy city but it’s a great city and I have to say I’m very happy for Chris Byrne, Rocky Sullivan’s, John to give me the opportunity to bring our talk over here and I would say if anybody is interested in some of the hidden history, the revolutionary stories, we have uncovered, you’ll find them on our website called east wall for all dot ie or you’ll find us on Facebook as the East Wall History Group and you’ll find some amasing stories there. Everybody knows the big names and the big stories of the 1916 Rising but the smaller stories and the more obscure people are just as fascinating – and sometimes more so.
John: As so that is Joe Mooney. He’s going to be at Rocky Sullivan’s now on Tuesday night, eight o’clock – Rocky’s is now a little bit closer to Ikea – it used to be just one street away. It is a beautiful place – they have a stage, they’ve got a great sound system so I’d recommend anybody in the Red Hook area or downtown Brooklyn to get over there and hear Joe Mooney talking about Seán O’Casey and I guess you could do a Q&A and people will be asking you questions and stuff like that.
Joe: Oh yeah, if people want to find out more from the talk – I think the talk’s about an hour long – but beyond that if anybody wants to discuss Dublin and The Rising – I would know for there we would have done a little research into some of the lesser known garrisons such as City Hall, St. Stephen’s Green so we can tell people a lot of the stories that they may not have heard from 1916. (ends time stamp ~ 32:18)