David Granville reviews The Story of Easter Week 1916 (RTÉ 273CD). Bar code: 5099386273219. Price £13.99
AN AVID devotee of the vinyl record, one of my prize possessions, acquired for a mere bagatelle in an Oxfam shop in Sheffield in the days before they got internet savvy, is a BBC Home Service production entitled The Easter Rising 1916.
Featuring the voices of several prominent 1916 veterans, with narration by Robin Holmes and additional readings by Michael Mac Liammóir, the album was released in Britain on the Fontana label to coincide with 50th anniversary of the Rising.
Both the BBC and Fontana were undoubtedly hoping that the album would appeal to the large numbers of Irish living in Britain, while generating strong 'overseas' sales on both sides of the border in Ireland.
Whatever the marketing strategy, the importance of the commemoration in Ireland and the historic contributions from Bulmer Hobson, Piaras Beaslai, Desmond Ryan, Cathal O'Shannon, Helena Moloney, Major Florence O'Donoghue Sean T. O'Kelly and others, ensured that the album had widespread appeal.
Some of the veterans heard on the Fontana album, Beaslai, who saw action in Church street, Desmond Ryan (GPO), who went on to write an account of the rebellion and a biography of James Connolly, and Liam O'Briain (College of Surgeons), also featured in a series of eight radio programmes broadcast in Ireland by RTÉ, during Easter 1966.
Superbly narrated by the writer, broadcaster and Irish language activist Proinsias Mac Aonghusa, the programmes are now available as The Sory of Easter Week 1916, with additional presentation by Peter Woods. Covering events from each day of the Rising, the programmes were to be a significant part of the Irish state broadcaster's contribution to the 50th anniversary commemorations.
In addition to the three veterans mentioned above, the programmes also featured the voices of James Connolly's daughter Nora, Simon Donnelly (Boland's Mill), Paddy Buttner (St Stephen's Green), Tom Walsh (Clanwilliam House), Jim Ryan (medical officer GPO), Cormac Turner (O'Connell Street)
As if to emphasis the proximity of this momentous event in modern Irish history, Bernard O'Conlon, the father of one of the programmes' producers, Proinsias O Conluain, was one of the volunteers who met Nora Connolly in Coalisland, Co.Tyrone on Easter Monday. The episode is retold by the great Irish revolutionary's daughter early on in the CD.
The programmes were not an attempt to provide a definitive history of the Rising and offered no judgements. The programmes did, however, allow some of the participants of Easter Week to tell their own story in their own words. They did so movingly and with tremendous dignity.
Their tales are periodically punctuated by the haunting uilleann piping of Neillidh Mulligan, whose rendition of The Foggy Dew is as striking, memorable and moving as the words of the veterans themselves.
Originally released in Ireland in 2006 to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the Rising, The Story of Easter Week 1916 has recently become available in Britain through the auspices of the ever-excellent Copperplate Distribution service.
The album is a valuable and fascinating audio documentary, whose wider availability outside of Ireland should be welcomed by anyone with an interest in modern Irish history.
The Story of Easter Week 1916 is available in the UK from Copperplate Distribution
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2009 David Granville