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Easter, 1916. Published in ‘Michael Robartes and the Dancer’ (1921). Background: AO4. At Easter 1916 1,000 Volunteers and 200 Citizen Army seize the GPO and other sites in Dublin, proclaiming an independent Republic with a provisional government led by Padraic Pearse .

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easter 1916

Easter, 1916

Published in ‘Michael Robartes and the Dancer’ (1921)

background ao4
Background: AO4
  • At Easter 1916 1,000 Volunteers and 200 Citizen Army seize the GPO and other sites in Dublin, proclaiming an independent Republic with a provisional government led by PadraicPearse.
  • The rebels surrendered after a week's fighting.
  • The Government's harsh response turned 16 rebel leaders into Nationalist martyrs and created powerful myths which would sustain future conflicts.
the foundation of a myth a terrible beauty is born
The foundation of a myth: ‘ a terrible beauty is born’
  • Yeats notes at the end of this poem, ‘all are changed, changed utterly,/ A terrible beauty is born.’
  • This clip from 1934, which shows the commemoration of this event, illustrates how prescient Yeats’ prediction was:


literature as a revenge
Literature as a revenge

Oscar Wilde: “The Saxon took our lands from us and made us destitute . . . but we took their language and added new beauties to it.”

“That a country with the population of Alabama or Kentucky, a place occupied for over 800 years with its indigenous language, history, and culture almost eradicated should produce writers who have dominated English and world literature is nothing short of miraculous. It is Ireland’s ultimate revenge on the British: co-opting their language and affixing and Irish accent on English literary culture.” (from Litchfield talks)


Timeline of Irish History

1167 Arrival of the Norman Warlords at the invitation of King of Leinster, Dermot McMurrogh who had petitioned King Henry II for assistance.

1690 Defeat of Catholic forces of James II by William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne.

1695 First of the Penal Laws instituted against Catholics in Ireland that banned Catholic worship and restricted education and property.

1782 Grattan Parliament establishes legislative independence.

1798 United Irish Rebellion

1800 The Act of Union – dissolves Irish parliament in Dublin and transfers legislative control to Westminster, effectively ending self-rule.

1829 Catholic Emancipation gained largely from the efforts of Daniel O’Connell.

1845 - 1848 Great Famine

1847Fenian Rebellion suppressed.

1875 - 1889 Home Rule effort led by Charles Stewart Parnell.

1916 - Easter Rising

1919 - 1921 War of Independence

1922 Treaty creating the Irish Free State and partitioning Ireland.

1922- 1923 Irish Civil War

1949 Irish Republic established

recap yeats role to re claiming irishness
Recap – Yeats’ role to re-claiming Irishness
  • Revival of pre-Christian beliefs, folk tales, myths and legends, and ennobling of the spirituality of Irish peasants, which had once been dismissed as primitive superstitions.
  • Dramatisation of Irish identity through the Abbey Theatre (the first Irish National Theatre of its kind)
easter 1916 things to consider
Easter 1916 – things to consider
  • Merging of public and private
  • Maud Gonne married Irish nationlist John Macbride who abused her but became a national hero through his role in Easter Uprising
  • ‘September 1913’ vocalises disappointment that is both personal and public: failure in love and disillusion with Irish attitudes and values
  • Arguably, the Easter Uprising forces Yeats to revive and reconsider beliefs he thought were ‘dead and gone’.
yeats on the writing of the poem
Yeats on the writing of the poem

‘I am trying to write a poem on the men executed – ‘a terrible beauty has been born again’.. I had no idea that any public event could so deeply move me- and I am very despondent about the future. At the moment I feel that all the work of years has been overturned, all the bringing together of classes, all the freeing of Irish literature and criticism from politics.’

(in a letter to Maud Gonne)

a poem of contradictions
A poem of contradictions?
  • The rebels had achieved dignity and martyrdom but at what cost?
  • They had transformed the present but what would the future be?
  • Now Macbride was dead, would Maud Gonne accept his final proposal?
interpretations which do you most agree with
Interpretations – which do you most agree with?
  • A eulogy to fallen heroes
  • A quarrel between the public and private
  • A poet speaking with two voices; an ‘antithetical vision’