Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

The Easter Rising of 1916

Despite the poor weather, the room at Christ Church Cathedral was full when I arrived for the discussion about the Easter Rising of 1916. Unfortunately, Dr. Dermot Keogh couldn’t be in attendance due to a family health matter, but his son Neil stepped in and did a fantastic job. What followed was an engaging look into the Easter Rising and its place in history 100 years later.

To start off, Neil Wilson made an introductory speech before introducing Mr. Keogh. He remarked on the Easter Rising’s importance, not just in Ireland, but here in Canada as well. He noted its impact on our own country and how it fuelled an increased hope for Canadian autonomy from the British empire.

Neil Keogh then began his talk with an unexpected but welcome reference to Blackadder, and promised to fill his father’s shoes to the best of his ability. He took the audience through a broad overview of the history of the Easter Rising and its aftermath. According to his analysis, the rising itself was a total failure but the British overreaction swayed public opinion in favour of Irish independence. He painted a clear picture of the conditions of the time that led to the rising, and eventually, Ireland’s independence. Being at a Writers Festival, he spoke on the fact that most of the signatories of the proclamation and those involved in the Rising were in fact writers and poets.

After Keogh spoke, the session turned over to discussion and questions from the audience. Someone asked for his thoughts on the decision in Ireland to commemorate all the deaths in the Easter Rising and not just those of the rebels. I thought the answer he gave was the most interesting one of the night, and definitely, the most thought provoking.

Immediately, he said it was “about time”. Paraphrasing his response, Keogh said that it showed Ireland’s maturity as a nation state. They are now in a place to step back and examine the “complexities and contradictions” of the Easter Rising from an objective standpoint. As Neil pointed out, forty of the one hundred British soldiers who were killed were actually Irish, and the forty children who died in the Rising had never been memorialised before. To me, this highlighted the human loss of the Easter Rising, which, as Keogh observe, wasn’t possible on its 50th or 75th anniversary.

It was an engrossing discussion that could have easily gone three hours instead of just one. Neil Keogh was knowledgeable and charismatic. He held the attention of the audience from start to finish. In summation, it was an interesting look into the politics, history, and literary aspects of the Easter Rising.