Easter, 1916


Currently in Ireland they are celebrating the centennial of the Easter Rising.  On Easter Monday, 1916 a group of Irish patriots seized, by force, multiple sites around the City of Dublin. From the steps of the General Post Office, Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders, read aloud what is now known as the Easter Proclamation.  In doing, these rebels declared an Irish Republic.


While the Rising ultimately failed, this is seen by many as the beginning of the the Anglo-Irish War that led, eventually, to partition and eventually a 26 county Republic in the South.  The 6 Counties of the North are still under British Rule, leaving the dream of Pease, Connolly and Thomas Clarke, a 32 County Republic, as yet unfulfilled.

Later that year, the poet W.B. Yeats, who had known personally many of the executed leaders of the rising, penned the poem “Easter, 1916.”  It ranks as one of my favorite pieces of poetry.


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)


The flags the one that was hoisted over the GPO on Easter Monday morning, 1916 when the combined force of Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen’s Army seized the building on O’Connell Street, making it the first HQ of the Irish Republic.

Note that the Proclamation was addressed to both “Irishmen and Irishwomen.”  In fact, women served, in uniform and in combat, during the rising.  Also, note Pearse’s initials: P.H.  His full name was Patrick Henry Pease, his mother naming him after the American Revolutionary figure and Patriot.

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