“A MINORITY WITHIN A MINORITY”

The verdict was never really in doubt.

However there was plenty of food for thought in tonight’s final instalment of TV3’s1916 drama experiment ‘Trial of the Century’.

For the past two nights, viewers had watched a dramatic interpretation of the trial Padraig Pearse might have faced, had the British authorities not opted to court martial and execute him and other leaders of the Easter Rising.

The first episode, scripted by Hugh Travers and directed by Maurice Sweeney, focused on the prosecution case that might have been made if Pearse was tried before a jury for treason.

The second episode concentrated on the hypothetical case for the defence Pearse might have offered.

Tonight’s episode saw a contemporary jury – made up mostly of well known public figures – debating the cases laid out by the prosecution and the defence in the drama.

Their task was to reach a verdict if Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Padraig Pearse was guilty, as charged.

The foreman of the jury was the broadcaster Pat Kenny.

The other jury members were the singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey, the human rights activist Colm O’Gorman, the comedian Eleanor Tiernan, the writer and broadcaster Emma Dabiri, the journalists Justine McCarthy and Una Mullaly, the playwright Michael Nugent, former investmemt banker Nick Leeson, Senator and student leader Lynn Ruane, All-Ireland winning Armagh Gaelic Footballer Oisin McConville and the historian Professor Patrick Geoghegan.

What followed was a polite but fascinating discussion where most of the contemporary jurors, by their own admission, struggled to dispassionately look at the evidence outlined in Travers’ courtroom drama.

Kenny began by asking each juror if they could envisage taking up arms in the rebellion had they been living in 1916.

While Oisin McConville and Emma Dabiri were certain they would have, Michael Nugent insisted he would have opposed the Rising and others expressed sympathy for the cause but struggled to say if they would have been actively involved.

For the most part, the discussion was understandably conducted through a 2016 lens.

For much of the discussion Michael Nugent offered a contrary opionion, arguing some of Pearse’s writings were delusional.

The playwright controversially argued: “If you take some of the writings of Pearse and replace God with Allah, you are not million miles away from ISIS.”

Colm O’Gorman, Justine McCarthy and Una Mullaly politely rejected his claim – the latter describing it as offensive.

The panel also struggled with the question of whether the rebels had acted recklessly in staging an insurrection that inevitably resulted in heavy civilian casualties.

They were particularly shaken by a replay of Aoibhinn McGinnity’s portrayal of Catherine Foster in episode one who told the court how her two year old son was shot dead in his pram.

As the resident historian, Professor Geoghegan provided a rather chilling observation that at the time the authorities would not have been concerned about civilian deaths. They would have been more concerned about any collusion with Germany.

As the contemporary jury reviewed evidence by Nick Lee’s Bulmer Hobson that the Rising actually contravened the constitution of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was effectively the work of a junta, it led to a discussion about the legitimacy of republican armed groups including during the Troubles 53 years later.

In a reference to Hobson’s claim, Oisin McConville noted splits had been a way of life in republicanism including contemporary republicanism.

He went on to articulate that from a modern republican perspective later atrocities like Enniskillen and Omagh could not be justified.

Michael Nugent and Una Mullaly clashed over whether the leaders of the Rising, like the Provisional IRA and Real IRA in his view, were wrong to act as they did because they were a minority within a minority.

Referring to the Rising, Mullaly countered: “Just because someone’s a minority within a minority doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”

As the sole Englishman on the panel, Nick Leeson said there was no doubt his fellow countrymen had oppressed many nations and it was not something to be proud of.

Professor Geoghegan gave another insight into the British military mindset at the time, saying the soldiers who arrived in Dublin saw the Rising as an extension of the First World War and they very much viewed the events that were taking place as a part of the Empire “stabbing a home nation in the back”.

As they reviewed Pearse’s case for the defence, many of the jurors accepted as credible the claim by John Cronin’s Joseph Mary Plunkett that the rebels were well armed when they surrendered but laid down their arms because of the civilian deaths from gunfire and British shelling.

Colm O’Gorman observed the rebels did not expect the British military to unleash the kind of violence they did on the civilian population. What they did would today be regarded as a war crime.

Professor Geoghegan noted one of the leaders of the Rising, Tom Clarke wanted a fight to the death.

He mused if they had fought on, Ireland would have lost the next generation of leaders – Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, William T Cosgrave.

This led to another fascinating exchange of views on the romanticism around James Connolly as opposed to Pearse.

Justine McCarthy argued it is easier to identify with Connolly than Pearse who was more intellectual and aloof.

“I think a whole good cop, bad cop narrative has developed around Connolly and Pearse,” she claimed.

Emma Dabiri explained the whole modern day attraction to Connolly was that he wanted to reorganise society and this led to a conversation about the 1916 Proclamation.

Nearly everyone agreed it was a radical document, with Colm O’Gorman claiming what it said about equality was very much a challenge to the theocracy of the Catholic Church which is why the Church hierarchy opposed the rebels.

Justine McCarthy commented: “If Dev had been executed..as a woman I think it might not have been such a bad thing”

As Pat Kenny pushed the contemporary jury for a verdict, the dilemna they were facing was if they convicted Pearse of treason they would be sending him to his death and giving him the blood sacrifice he wanted but if they didn’t, there would be no way of knowing where Ireland would have ended up as a result.

While it was clear the majority of the panel would acquit Pearse, there were dissenting voices.

Damien Dempsey asked after three centuries of British colonialism around the world with slavery, genocide, starvation: “where was their trial?”

Justine McCarthy confessed to finding it impossible to be objective “as I am the beneficiary of what Pearse and the other Rising leaders fought for..We have a republic.. It is an inclusive model we are all a part of..Our destiny is our own.”

Pat Kenny was also put on the spot and admitted in hindsight, he would have acquitted Pearse with reservations.

The broadcaster said he would have seen the rebel leader as an idealist, if a little deluded, and he would have felt uneasy about the loss of civilian life inflicted by the rebels.

As the TV3 jury left the studio with their verdicts placed on the table, it emerged nine had decided Pearse was not guilty and three thought he was.

Given the year that is in it, TV3 took an imaginative approach to dramatising the Easter Rising and wisely did not try to compete with RTE’s ambitious but flawed five part drama ‘Rebellion’.

Working within the confines of a tight budget and over just two episodes, Travers’ drama felt a little rushed and stagey but it undoubtedly had moments of power.

Not every performance was strong but the decision to cast Vaughan-Lawlor was wise and he definitely shook off memories of Nidge in the RTE gangland drama ‘Love Hate’.

The contemporary discussion about 1916 in the third episode, while gimmicky, was also a smart move and it was fascinating to watch the panel struggle with the reality of what Dublin must have been like in 1916.

One hundred years on, the past really is a different country and they certainly did things differently there.

(Dan McGinn is the resident film critic on Belfast 89FM’s ‘Saturday Bites’ programme and has a film and TV blog, They’ll Love It In Pomona – http://loveitinpomona.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1)

  • Lee

    C’mon lad, the only drama tonight was Leicester City winning the league!

  • “For the most part, the discussion was understandably conducted through a 2016 lens.”

    It could hardly have been otherwise.

    “The foreman of the jury was the broadcaster Pat Kenny.

    The other jury members were the singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey, the human rights activist Colm O’Gorman, the comedian Eleanor Tiernan, the writer and broadcaster Emma Dabiri, the journalists Justine McCarthy and Una Mullaly, the playwright Michael Nugent, former investmemt banker Nick Leeson, Senator and student leader Lynn Ruane, All-Ireland winning Armagh Gaelic Footballer Oisin McConville and the historian Professor Patrick Geoghegan.”

    A jury of his peers?

    “Pat Kenny was also put on the spot and admitted in hindsight, he would have acquitted Pearse with reservations.

    The broadcaster said he would have seen the rebel leader as an idealist, if a little deluded, and he would have felt uneasy about the loss of civilian life inflicted by the rebels.” [added emphasis]

    It’s that last line that’s the most telling.

  • True. I used to live a couple of streets away, in Brazil Street, from the Leicester City ground when they played at Filbert Street.

  • Dan

    A quick tip.

    These posts are quickly lost into the ether once they slip off the front page of Slugger.

    You’ve diligently covered each night’s broadcast of the “Trial of the Century”.

    But without internal links they are isolated forever in the Slugger archive.

    I’d suggest you edit this one, at least, to include links to your previous two posts on the series.

    The first,

    “THIS ISN’T PERSONAL. IT’S POLITICAL.”

    And the second being,

    “AN IDEA WORTH REMEMBERING”

    Although I’d ease back on the use of capitals in titles…

  • Croiteir

    Are you suggesting that the improvement in their fortunes are related to your leaving the area

  • Kevin Breslin

    It was a minority within a minority within a majority in Ireland.

    The rebels split from two strands of Irish nationalists, splintering from John Redmond first, and Eoin MacNeill secondly. There are two narratives I think describe who was more responsible for the events of 1917 and the democratic rise of Sinn Féin.

    One … it was the “heros of the Rising” or Rebellion if you prefer, bravely sacrificing their lives and limbs to achieve the cause of Irish self-determination free from British rule.

    Two … it was a massive series of British government “own goals”, most prominently the executions of the prisoners, maybe the disproportionate use of force with gunboats used against a building.

    In some regard neither of these narratives are absolutes, certainly they would not be absolutes even in the minds of Sinn Féin voters then or now.

    Too me it’s the space between these interpretations, the fuzzy extradition of the evidence that provides the most interesting histories we see.

  • doopa

    Please kill the caps.

  • Esmee Phillips

    The belief that a small minority of fanatical, nostalgic putschists possesses a divine right to dictate the polity of a nation to the other 99.9% is the original sin of ‘Irish republicanism’- which was not a historic aspiration but an invention of the late 18th century. Traditionally Ireland was ruled by chiefs and kings.

    All the miserable failures and evils that have turned the Irish Republic into a beggarly joke since 1922 flow from this original sin.

    Decades of theocracy, corruption, internecine hatred and vapid politics based on it, the abject moral failure of WW2 neutrality, the collapse of the Protestant culture which had lately given the world Shaw, Synge, Yeats and Wilde, the endless show of being formally ‘independent’ while exporting people and whoring for British or European subsidy, the loss of talent and enterprise through emigration (Eire’s ulcer), the wretched conditions of those who stayed on the Ould Sod, the failure to join one square inch of NI to their dream state… all the product of those sadistic romantics of Easter Week. They murderously diverted Ireland from the natural course of ‘freedom to achieve freedom’ envisaged by the 1915 act.

    When the putschists surrendered, the Dublin shawlies stoned them. Had it not been for the British military, the martyrs of Easter Week would have dangled from Corporation lamp posts, without benefit of court martial and the Last Rites. Madame Markievicz would have paid the price of murdering an innocent copper, instead of being allowed to whine at her trial ‘You can’t shoot a woman’. (Tell that to Edith Cavell.)

    If the Rising has been called off, Ireland today might comprise 32 counties in a healthy liaison with the Commonwealth like Canada or Australia. Instead it became a bankrupt joke of a statelet-cum-EU province. Dev, the coward of ’16, and the grisly crooks and incompetents who followed him have made the 32 counties a German bankers’ colony. So the plotters’ idea of hooking up with England’s enemy was consummated after all- up the rear end.

  • Starviking

    Why on earth would they have Nick Leeson on the show? A convienent Englishman who would offer mea culpas for his whole nation?

    And Prof. Geoghegan seems out of his area of expertise: Anglo-Irish relations in the late 18th and the 19th Century. It would have been good to have another historian in the stable, one with some knowledge of military affairs. Prof Geoghegan’s comments seem to be more for playing to old stereotypes, rather than illuminating

    As the resident historian, Professor Geoghegan provided a rather chilling observation that at the time the authorities would not have been concerned about civilian deaths. They would have been more concerned about any collusion with Germany.

    I think the authorities would have been concerned about rebellion spreading, seriously affecting the ability of the UK and her Allies to fight the Central Powers.

    Civilian deaths may have been seen as one of those things that little could be done about in a fight fought with the weapons of the day.

    Professor Geoghegan gave another insight into the British military mindset at the time, saying the soldiers who arrived in Dublin saw the Rising as an extension of the First World War and they very much viewed the events that were taking place as a part of the Empire “stabbing a home nation in the back”.

    This hardly qualifies as an insight, and possibly shows how little thought is given to the Rising beyond the mythologizing of its main actors, and the denigration of its opponents.

  • John Collins

    All a rant
    Under the Union our population dropped by 20%, while GBs increased by about 160%, Catholic Irelands population actually dropped by about 60% from 1841 to 1911. Since independence our population has increased at the same rate as GB. In 1916 we had the highest level of child mortality in Europe, slums worse than Calcutta in Dublin and massive emigration for the past century. You really should read Dr Robert Ambrose’s MP’s ‘Plea for the Industrial Regeneration of Ireland’ 1909.
    We need only compare how Limerick and Derry have fared since partition to see how ‘fairly’ Catholic Ireland would be treated treated under your esteemed British Rule. There are 27,500 third level students in Limerick; there are a miserly 3,000 in Derry/Londonderry.
    The opportunity existed to develop a proper transatlantic airport in Derry. After all it was the most westerly city in the UK and ruled by the then richest country in the World, but it was left to your coward De Velera to wipe GBs eye and develop Shannon, which has been a tremendous boost to the business life of the Mid-West. By contrast, when a mini airport was eventually was eventually granted to LD the only who had the guts to provide a service to and from was Michael O’Leary. The Protestant and Loyalist community had not among them one entrepreneur to put money into maintaining a service there.
    There are motorways into Limerick from Galway and Dublin and one to Cork is in the course of construction, yet no such facility connects Derry, the second city in the North, to anywhere.
    The harnessing of the River Shannon for electrical power was first mooted by a Professor Kane in Trinity in 1843 but SFA was done about it for the next eighty years, until the Irish Government took over in 1922. Within seven years the Ardnacrusha Plant was put in motion. It was the largest facility of its type in the World at the time and was only surpassed in size in 1935, by the Hoover Dam development in the USA, completed in 1935. We would probably be still waiting for it under GB Rule, if the experience of Derry is anything to go by.
    As regards our recent difficulties; we are paying our debts and our economy is one of the fastest growing in Europe, much and all as that might sicken the likes of you.You might also look at your own country’s fiscal situation where the national debt is growing at £5,000 a second. And remember that Jim Callaghan ran with a begging bowl, in his sweaty little hands, to Europe in 1976 when GB was in trouble. And your government were part of a group that wrote off vast amounts of German debt in 1953, after they had waged three massive wars against in the eighty odd years.
    Overall we had our problems but we are well shut of GB rule. Long may it stay so. Slan Abaile
    PS. Madame Marchevicz never used the words you ascribe to her, as proved when the records of her trial were released recently. It was just that the Brits had not got the balls to hang a woman.

  • pablito

    Well Esmee I don’t think you’ll win many friends here with that, but I have rarely read a better description of 20th century Irish history. The only achievement of 1916 was to bring the gun into Irish politics for almost a century. All of which could have been spared by pursuing the 1914 Home Rule Act.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Leeson was featured only because he fell victim to the fickleness of futures trading – if only there hadn’t been the Kobe earthquake. Not having watched it I don’t know if his experience coloured his input.

  • Esmee Phillips

    I don’t agree. The Slugger community (and the site as a whole) seems to me refreshingly ready to reappraise the course of Irish history and the idea that gunmen have some mystical apostolic succession to impose their perverted ideas of republican virtue on the other 99%.

    Of course the hopeless condition of the economy by 2009 concentrated minds, leading some to look back at the roots of gombeeinism. These revisionists asked why the Free State caved to Dev’s pastoral reactionary dream of a state. Collins , who had worked in finance in London, put forward some good ideas for invigorating the economy in the post-Treaty election- when he wasn’t having to argue about the exact words of an oath and other more vital matters. But in typical fashion his reward was a bullet by a guy firing from behind a tree. ‘Ireland, the old sow that eats her own farrow’ as Joyce put it- and he wanted nothing to do with the new statelet either.

    Instead Ireland got FF and by the 1950s, while America was revelling in consumerism and Macmillan was telling the British they had never had it so good, Whitaker was warning Lemass that the Republic was on the verge of going bust. That produced a partial retreat to sanity, but by the late 1970s Ireland was back to trembling on the brink.

    All this time politicians who should have been busting a gut trying to modernise the country and stem the terrible loss of talent caused by emigration were dancing to Archbishop McQuaid’s tune and blaming poverty on perfidious Albion.

    Let’s hope the demise of the Celtic Tiger will be a more permanent wake-up call. The tone of the 1916 commemorations was hopeful: much more sober and nuanced than n 1966, when the illusory, temporary prosperity of the Lemass years was under way. At last a generation is coming into power which has broken the mould of the Treaty parties’ division, but it will take more than not going to Mass and voting for ‘gay marriage’ to shake off the pernicious mythology of the Troubles.

  • Esmee Phillips

    “The account was given by then 2nd Lt William Wylie, the prosecutor. He
    was one of Ireland’s foremost lawyers, a barrister and KC at the time of
    the Courts Martial, a judge in later life. What’s more, he was
    commended by the rebels themselves for his scrupulous fairness, and made
    it his business to ensure that all evidence that would help their
    defence was properly aired. There is no reason not to take his account
    at face value, and I would be interested to know the names of the
    “serious historians” who consider it a fabrication. I can name at least
    one (Neil Richardson) who evidently does not.” (Ruth Dudley Edwards)

  • Esmee Phillips

    I agree that since throwing off the shibboleths of republicanism, the 32 counties have made some progress in turning themselves into a halfway-solvent offshore province of the European Union. Just as well now there are so many other members handing out the begging bowl.

    The next step is to join the Commonwealth, after the EU cracks up.

  • John Collins

    Esmee
    The man’s credibility and attitude to women in general has since been questioned and when the said records were exposed there is not a whit of evidence to back that statement. Kevin Myers made these allegations before. but when challenged failed to respond, which casts serious doubts over your argument.
    The character of the Countess is ably shown by the fact that when she was dying in 1927 she was offered private hospital care. However she declined and died in Sir Patrick Dunnes’ Hospital, among the poor of Dublin.
    Esmee I will do some research and get back to you regarding my comments on Mr Wylie.

  • John Collins

    So there was nothing wrong with the way Ireland was managed during the Act of Union. It was all peace and prosperity. And violence had nothing to do with the achievement of Catholic Emancipation, the ending of the Tithes, the Disestablishment of the Established Church and the enactment of the Land Acts. Do you also assume that those concessions were willingly or graciously conceded by each British Government.
    Well if you think that just bang on to Hansards and retrieve a speech made by the mentioned above Dr Ambrose on the 24 Feb (or Jan 1902) in the HOC. In it, and this is a mere 14 years before the Rising, he quotes several prominent Nineteenth Century Politicians, among then Pitt, Disraeli and even Gladstone, who state categorically that none these of concessions would have been acceded to, without violence or the threat of it. To a man they also say that they should not have given, and they would not have agreed to those changes, but for the said threat of violence. To say the gun only entered Irish politics, apart at all from the fact that Loyalists imported about ten times more guns than the Nationalists and before they ever did, is risible
    We also see where O’Connell got with peaceful protest in 1843 and how the promises of Catholic Emancipation was so graciously put into place AS PROMISED immediately after the Act of Union.
    You go on and on about hot poverty stricken we were under native government, but would we have been any better off under GB Rule. Well the experience of the Act of Union hardly supports that assertion. By their fruit ye shall know them.
    As Michael McDowell said Home Rule was merely permission to have a petty little government with very limited powers. Admittedly the first fifty years of native rule were difficult, but it is never easy to bank down a new state, and the great depression and WW2 took place in that period. However there have been achievements since about 1960, which should be acknowledged. Does anybody, with a scintilla of their senses, believe that the foreign investment that was brought into this country, would have been attracted under GB Rule. Just remember that under the terms of the Home there would be about 35 Home Rule Members in a HOC of over seven hundred members. The Conservatives and GB Labour Parties would have no elected members in what is now the 28 counties and thus there would be no benefit for them in promoting the cause of Nationalist Ireland. My Limerick and Derry analogy above comes to mind. Would the 12% Corporation Tax or initiatives life the FSC in Dublin or grant Aided Foreign Investment have come into the ROI, like it has since the 1970s under GB Rule., I sure do not think so.
    For all your ridicule of the ROI, OAPS in the South are receiving £60 a week more than than their NI counterparts with an equivalent disparity in unemployment benefits.
    To those who say we would now have a 32 county united independent state if 1916 never happened I say horse crap. If Scotland, a country with a long history of innovation, industry, military distinctions, and great philosophers, among other many sterling qualities could be cowed in to thinking they were unable to stand on their two feet., do I need to say any more.
    PS Silly me. I forgot to mention oil fields among Scottish National Resources.

  • John Collins

    I refer you to
    https;//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constnace_Markievicz
    With special reference to citations 24,25 and 27.
    I also would request you to look at what Sean O’Casey, no friend of 1916ers, wrote about her at the end of the piece.

  • John Collins

    Ruth Dudley’s sheer antagonism towards anything to do with the rising would hardly endorse as an objective observer of anything to do with the it,especially where rebels were concerned.
    As regards the fairness of the tribunal is concerned, the fact that they ordered the execution of John McBride and Willie Pearse, who both played only peripheral roles in the rising, and allowed Michael Collins, De Velera and the Countess go free tells us al we need to know about the fairness of the tribunal.
    We all know about the integrity of Her Majesty’s QCs. After all one of them said that if the Birmingham Six had been hanged there would be no talk or uproar about their convictions. The fact that those men were innocent did not matter a whit to His Lordship.