Below is the trailer for the adaptation of the book directed by Neil Pearson
FOR me it began in far-off Mesopotamia, now called Iraq, that land of Biblical names and history, of vast deserts and date groves, scorching suns and hot winds, the land of Babylon, Baghdad and the Garden of Eden, where the rushing Euphrates and the mighty Tigris converge and flow down to the Persian Gulf.
It was there, in that land of the Arabs, then a battleground for the two contending imperialistic armies of Britain and Turkey, that I awoke to the echoes of guns being fired in the capital of my own country, Ireland. It was a rude awakening, guns being fired at the people of my own race by soldiers of the same army with which I was serving. The echo of these guns in Dublin was to drown into insignificance the clamour of all other guns during the remaining two and a half years of war.
This rude awakening came in the month of May 1916, when I was serving with the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. After futile and costly attempts to break through the tough ring of Turkish-German steel which encircled the British General Townshend and his thirty thousand beleaguered troops at Kut el Amara, our unit had been withdrawn to rest at a point twelve miles back. We were sheltering in a nullah out of view and range.
One evening I strolled down to the orderly tent outside which war communiqués were displayed. These one usually scanned in a casual manner, for even then war news was accepted in a most sceptical way. But this evening there was a ‘Special’ communiqué headed ‘REBELLION IN DUBLIN’. It told of the shelling of the Dublin GPO and Liberty Hall, of hundreds of rebels killed, thousands arrested and leaders being executed. The communiqué covered a period of several weeks and contained news which up to then had been suppressed from overseas troops. I read this notice three or four times and now, thirty-two years later, I can recall it almost word for word.
Walking down the nullah my mind was torn with questionings. What was this Republic of which I now heard for the first time? Who were these leaders the British had executed after taking them prisoners: Tom Clarke, Padraic Pearse, James Connolly and all the others, none of whose names I had ever heard? What did it all mean?
In June 1915, in my seventeenth year, I had decided to see what this Great War was like. I cannot plead I went on the advice of John Redmond or any other politician, that if we fought for the British we would secure Home Rule for Ireland, nor can I say I understood what Home Rule meant. I was not influenced by the lurid appeal to fight to save Belgium or small nations. I knew nothing about nations, large or small. I went to the war for no other reason than that I wanted to see what war was like, to get a gun, to see new countries and to feel a grown man. Above all I went because I knew no Irish history and had no national consciousness. I had never been told of Wolfe Tone or Robert Emmet, though I did know all about the kings of England and when they had come to the British throne. I had never heard of the victory over the Sassenach at Benburb, but I could tell the dates of Waterloo and Trafalgar. I did not know of the spread of Christianity throughout Europe by Irish missionaries and scholars, but did I not know of the blessings of civilisation which Clive and the East India Company had brought to dark and heathen India? Thus, through the blood sacrifices of the men of 1916, had one Irish youth of eighteen been awakened to Irish nationality. Let it also be recorded that those sacrifices were equally necessary to awaken the minds of ninety per cent of the Irish people.
The Great War dragged on. Nineteen-seventeen saw a return from the borders of Asiatic Russia to Egypt, Palestine, Italy, France and, in 1919, to England. Back to Ireland after nearly four years’ absence, I reached Cork in February 1919. In West Cork I read avidly the stories of past Irish history: of Eoghan Ruadh, Patrick Sarsfield, John Mitchel, Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet and the other Irish patriots who strove to end the British conquest. I read the history of the corpses of the Famine, of the killings of Irishmen without mercy, the burnings, lootings and the repeated attempts at the complete destruction of a weaker people. In all history there had never been so tragic a fate as that which Ireland had suffered at the hands of the English for those seven centuries. I also read the daily papers, weekly papers, periodicals and every available Republican sheet. Past numbers told the story of 1916, of the ruthless suppression of the Rising, of the executed, the dead, the jailed. Those of 1917 shadowed the gloom of the year after military defeat, while the 1918 issues mirrored rising morale, the coming together of the nation to defeat the conscription of Irishmen to fight for Britain and the overwhelming victory at the polls for the Republicans, who had pledged themselves to set up a parliament and government of an independent Irish Republic.
The 1916 Proclamation appeared to me to be a brief history in itself. In it were the call to arms, the Declaration of Rights, the history of the nation and of the six previous risings, the establishment of a provisional government, the call for discipline and the appeal to the Most High for His Blessing.
POBLACHT NA HEIREANN.
THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT
OF THE IRISH REPUBLIC
TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND.
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN:
In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government,
THOMAS J. CLARKE
SEAN Mac DIARMADA
P. H. PEARSE
Promulgated on Easter Sunday, 23rd April 1916, at Liberty Hall, Dublin.
The beauty of those words enthralled me. Lincoln at Gettysburg does not surpass it, nor does any other recorded proclamation of history. Through it shines the grandeur and greatness of those signatories who were about to die with their pride, their glory and their faith in their long-conquered people.
Obviously, of all the events since the Rising of 1916, by far the most important was that which naturally followed the Republican victory at the general election of 1918, the Proclamation of Dáil Éireann setting up the government of the Irish Republic as the de facto government of Ireland in January 1919. The Rising of 1916 was a challenge in arms by a minority. This was a challenge by a lawfully established government elected by a great majority of the people. The national and the alien governments could not function side by side and one had to be destroyed. All history has proved that, in her dealings with Ireland, England had never allowed morality to govern her conduct. Force would be used to destroy the government of the Republic and to coerce the people into the old submission. There could be no doubt it would succeed unless the Irish people threw up a fighting force to counter it.
About the middle of 1919, whispers came of the Volunteers again secretly drilling and reorganising. Names leaked through of local leaders and eventually I approached Seán Buckley of Bandon, telling him who I was and that I wanted to join the IRA. Buckley told me to return again, and at a later meeting asked me not to parade as yet with the local company, but to act as an intelligence officer against the British military and their supporters in the Bandon area. So began my connection with the IRA.