Sean O'Casey and Ireland's Easter Rising

James Moran (Downing College, University of Cambridge, UK)

In the newly independent Ireland of 1926 the national theatre staged The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey. The play offered a satirical depiction of the foundational event of the Irish state, the Easter Rising of 1916, and brought about scenes not witnessed in Dublin since the Playboy riots nineteen years earlier.

The audience's main objection was to the portrayal of Pádraic Pearse. Pearse was the martyred leader of the Rising, and a man whose name had adopted a quasi-religious significance in the new state. The Plough forced the audience to reassess the accepted Pearse myth. O'Casey's Pearse appears only in darkness. In forcing the audience to confront the shadow side of Pearse he was forcing them to confront thoughts which had been repressed by the past ten years of nationalist mythologizing, and which would be repressed for the following forty years by Fianna Fail government policy.

However, O'Casey, who was once secretary of the Irish Citizen Army, also seems to have shown guilt towards his portrayal of Pearse. He made nervous revisions to the character before the play was staged and later in his life he presented an utterly different portrayal of the man in his autobiography.

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Last modified: 7 May 2001