History · Politics

How I’m spending Easter 2016 – you never know where life will take you!

To explain firstly for those of you who don’t know, I live in Ireland and Easter 2016 is a huge event here as it marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916. I won’t go into all the debates, discussions and arguments here as to whether or not the Rising was a good thing, if you want to read that there are millions of words written on that very subject. Irrespective of anyone’s opinion on the Easter Rising it is irrefutable that it set in train the long, painful and bloody list of events that led, eventually, to the creation of the Irish Free State. Again, opinions on the rights or wrongs of that are not what I am considering here today.

What I’m remembering today is a conversation I had over 20 years ago in Liverpool when I was an undergraduate. It was in the student common room of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University and somehow we found ourselves taking about the Easter Rising. I vividly remember saying that whatever else might be going on, I fully intended to spend Easter 2016 in Dublin, nowhere else.

Well today is Easter Sunday and I’m not in Dublin. Instead I’m ensconced on the sofa in our living room in Oldcastle, Co. Meath with the television on – telly NEVER goes on here this early in the mornings (9.45am) unless there is a major event happening. RTE (our state broadcaster) is giving full coverage of today’s State Commemoration. So am I disappointed not to be in Dublin this weekend? No, not really. Oh, I imagine the atmosphere in Dublin today and tomorrow will be great and it would be great to be there but with a wheelchair using child, hordes and hordes of people and a LUAS strike, its not the most appealing combination!

But I’m marking Easter 2016 in my own way. Yesterday I gave a paper on ‘Women of the Rebellion and the War of Independence’ at a seminar in Trim. Today is a day to follow it on the telly (I’ll see more anyway!!) and tomorrow, Easter Monday (the day the Rising actually started) I feel very honoured to have been formally invited by the government to attend the official State Commemoration at Ashbourne in Co. Meath, site of the Battle of Ashbourne. Over twenty years ago I never imagined I’d be living in Ireland and not only watching the commemorations but contributing to them in a small way.

You never know where life will take you!

Bits and Bobs · History · Politics

RTE’s Rebellion – final thoughts

The first big TV programme of RTE’s 1916 commemorations finished on Sunday night. I watched all five episodes with decreasing enjoyment as the weeks went on. So here’s my final thoughts. It wasn’t complete garbage, but it wasn’t great either.

My main problems with it:

* the inaccuracies throughout – I accept that a lot of viewers would not have been aware of them but as the whole drama was about one of the major episodes in Ireland’s history I don’t think it was unreasonable to expect that the details could have been sharper.

* the whole storyline with the character of May was appallingly lame and hackneyed and added nothing to the drama, if anything it took from it.

* while I felt the acting overall was good, there were some rather weak portrayals and in particular I felt Camille O’Sullivan’s portrayal (betrayal??) of Countess Markievicz was little short of hammy.

* the character of Lizzie – while generally I liked her – was just a bit too gushy and times and no way would she have spent days (weeks?) in an armed rebellion looking like a glammed up Virgin Mary in that coat and dress. (Although I did LOVE the coat)

I think RTE overhyped it and hence expectations were high. It does seem to have inspired some viewers who wouldn’t know much about the personalities involved to go away and read up on it which is most definitely a good thing. Or maybe they said that just to shut me up from saying “But the Countess wasn’t like that!!” !!!

History · Politics

RTE’s Rebellion – initial thoughts

I’ve just watched the first episode of RTE’s Rebellion series and overall I enjoyed it. My main thoughts:

Great to see women characters to the fore, I wonder if the Elizabeth character is a composite of Helena Molony and Countess Markievicz?? I’m not sure about the storyline with May – the idea that she took the document from Dublin Castle because she had been thrown over by her married lover. I’m not really buying that. The Frances character – I was delighted to see her wearing a Cumann na mBan brooch 🙂 – I started off liking her portrayal, but not sure how they will develop her. The moment when she said to Pearse (incidentally I thought the actor resembled Willie rather than PH) that she was happy to play her part and he then dismissed her was good to see. Not good that it happened but good to have that shown early on. Let’s see how that develops.

Very good that the different groups involved are being flagged up – Irish Citizen Army, Volunteers, hints of the IRB (although I don’t think they were named – I might have missed it) – I know for those of us who have read and studied this period, such highlighting isn’t needed, but for people who didn’t know the rebels’ backgrounds, it was probably useful. Making the main real-life protagonists into background characters works well I think, I see some people commenting on social media that they wanted to see more of the Countess or more of Connolly, well I like the idea of focusing on those who are lesser known. Good to see some slight nods to social history as well, mentions of separation money etc.

It is a dramatisation not a documentary and so can take licence with some things that an account claiming to be strictly factual cannot. I will continue to watch it because even though I know how the story ends, I want to see how they show it. Verdict on episode 1 – good, generally well acted, mostly looks good (Dublin could do with being so clean today!), not perfect, but main thing is its not one dimensional.

Books

What I’ve been reading lately – April 2015

I love books as some of you will know, and I read a lot. There’s always at least two books of mine on the go in this house. A friend asked me recently if I’d read anything lately that I would recommend, so I suggested a few things I’d enjoyed and thought she might like. That got me thinking about how much I actually do read, I don’t know if there’s any kind of average of number of books read in a month but it made me sit and jot down what books I’d read most recently. And that naturally led to a blog post. Now this may or may not become a regular feature here but here’s the books I read in April and what I thought of them.

Women of the Irish RevolutionLiz Gillis Women of the Irish Revolution This is a photographic history of many of the women who  took part in various ways in the revolutionary period in Ireland, roughly from 1913-1923. Its a superb book, with so many photographs I have never seen before. Gillis explores each woman’s role and activities and also gives a synopsis of what they did afterwards, much of which I had no idea of. It is an easy to read, beautifully presented book which I would recommend as a good starting point for anyone interested in this period and most especially in women’s political and revolutionary activities.

Secret Diary of a Demented HousewifeNiamh Greene Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife I had never heard of Niamh Greene but saw this in a charity shop, fancied a light read and it was only a euro. Thankfully it was only a euro. I couldn’t finish it and it is very rare I can’t finish a book. Awful. I only managed 20 pages before I threw it in the bag for the charity shop. Poorly written, no likeable characters and after the 20 pages were up I realised I couldn’t care less what happened to the characters and that there was surely something else I could do with my time. I hate to be bitchy but that is my honest opinion of this book. Greene clearly has a market out there for her books, but I’m not part of it.

John Taylor In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran Ok, cards on the table. I LOVED Duran Duran asIn the Pleasure Groove  a teenager, my bedroom walls were covered in pictures of them. I lost interest in them around 1988 and the pictures all came down. I didn’t keep up to speed with what they were doing unless they were mentioned in some magazine or paper I was reading. Kept most of the vinyl though. So I wasn’t aware that John Taylor had written his autobiography until I saw it in a charity shop (there’s a recurring theme here with my reading). It gave me a bit of a trip down memory lane, and also brought me up to date on what the band had been doing. (I wasn’t sure if they were still together or not…..they are) Its a light enough read in most parts, and I got through it quickly. The section where JT (well I have to call him that really, we all did back in the 80’s) details his alcohol and drug addiction and his struggle to overcome them are, for me, the best and most moving part of the book. I enjoyed this far more than I really expected to if I’m honest. If I’d been reading this as a Duran-mad teenager I wouldn’t have appreciated it at all. But as a woman in her 40’s, I found this interesting, enjoyable, and surprisingly moving in parts. Taylor’s honesty about his relationship with his parents and then with his own child and what he calls his blended family takes this out of the realm of the bog standard pop biog.

Easter WidowsSinead McCoole Easter Widows The latest book from Sinead McCoole explores the lives of the seven women whose husbands were executed in May 1916 in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising. McCoole has an impressive list of works on women in the revolutionary period in Ireland and this book added hugely to my knowledge of that period. I knew the life stories of Maud Gonne, of Kathleen Clarke, of Muriel MacDonagh, I knew something of the story of Grace Gifford Plunkett, but I knew very little of Lillie Connolly, of Aine Ceannt or Agnes Mallin. This book took years to research and write and while reading it I got a real sense of how engrossed McCoole must have been in these women’s lives. I did find it a little unbalanced at times – I got a much clearer sense of some of the women than of others – but that may be due to the sources that were available. One issue that would have improved my enjoyment of the book is that I found it hard at times to keep track of the various people owing to McCoole’s use of their given names without a surname. Many of the lesser characters share given names with the women or their children and that got confusing at times when no surname was used. However, I found this an excellent read, very well written, and would highly recommend it. Some of the stories are simply heartbreaking and it is clear that some of these women suffered for the rest of their lives, financially, emotionally, physically. A very moving book.

Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler’s Wife I saw a wee bit of the film of this on TV about a year ago and thought Time Traveler's Wife the premise was curious. I still haven’t seen the film (but will see it tonight when its on RTE!) but on finding the book thought it was worth a look. And yes, this was another of my charity shop pick ups. I’m not going to outline the plot here, I’m sure there are others out there like me who eventually get around to reading the “latest best seller” a few years after it was published. Its a mix of science fiction and love story and for me it worked on both levels. Henry can travel back and forward through time – at least through his own life – and meets Clare at various stages of her life. They fall in love and marry. If you want to know if its a happy ever after you’ll have to read it for yourself, and DO, its a great book and I loved it. But I wouldn’t read it again (and I have many novels I return to over and again) because I know how it finishes, so the sense of wondering how the story will go wouldn’t be there for me. I’m wondering now if the film can be as good, I’m often disappointed by film adaptations, but we’ll see.

Divas Don't KnitFinally, I read Gil McNeil Divas Don’t Knit Well I’m not a diva (ok maybe I have diva-ish tendencies at times) but I do knit, not briliantly, but I do and I enjoy it. So this was another attempt at a light read. This time it worked, I enjoyed this a lot. Sometimes you (or me anyway) just want a book that’s not challenging, that has a story, that offers a bit of entertainment for an hour or two. Divas Don’t Knit did that for me. Its the story of Jo Mackenzie who after the death of her husband (who had just told her he was leaving her for another woman), moves to a different town with her two small sons, and takes over her grandmother’s wool shop. She sets up a knitting group and gets involved with various local and national characters, some likeable others less so but utterly believable all the same. The plot moved along quickly – maybe a little implausible at times – but it never dragged and it was easy to switch off for a while and just enjoy it. Worth looking at if you need a light easy read of a wet afternoon.

So there you go, that’s what I read in April. Six books. I’d probably usually read more in a month but it was Easter holidays for the part of the month so reading time was much curtailed! If you’ve any suggestions or recommendations of books for me to try, please do send them on, I’m always up for a reading challenge! If you’ve read any of these I’d be interested to hear what you thought of them. Happy Reading!!