Sydney commemorates the Easter Rising: Outside Mitchell Library during a break in the screening of films on the Rising (Mike O’Flynn)
Under grey skies, reminiscent of weather in Dublin, a crowd of more than 300 gathered outside the GPO in Martin Place at 10 am on Easter Monday to hear Irish-Australian actor Maeliosa Stafford read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, first read 100 years ago outside the GPO in Dublin. The reading was part of a day of commemoration organised by the Aisling Society of Sydney to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
Before the proceedings began Kevin O’Connor kept the growing numbers entertained by playing Irish tunes on his fiddle. Once the GPO clock had finished striking the hour, I gave a short address on the significance of the Easter Rising for Ireland and Australia. (A longer version can be read by clicking here.) This was followed by the reading of the Proclamation, after which those fortunate enough to have secured tickets moved to the Mitchell Library for the screening of three films on the Rising: excerpts from Ireland Will Be Free (1920); the docu-drama A Terrible Beauty (2013); and the feature film Irish Destiny (1926).
In the Dixon Room of the library Indigenous elder Ken Canning gave an acknowledgement to country before Irish Consul General Jane Connolly formally opened the film screening. In between films members of the audience came forward to relate personal stories of their family’s involvement with the Rising.
Organiser of the event Tony Earls is to be congratulated on what turned out to be a very successful and enjoyable day of commemoration. The event was funded by a grant from the Irish government’s 1916-2016 Centenary Programme.
Maeliosa Stafford reading the Proclamation. On his left is Tony Earls (Mike O’Flynn)
Photographs of the day’s proceedings taken by Mike O’Flynn can be seen by clicking here. A video of the reading of the Proclamation can be seen on YouTube.
On Sunday 6 March 2016 I gave an address at the Battle of Vinegar Hill Monument, Castlebrook Memorial Park, Rouse Hill on the occasion of the 212th anniversary of the convict rebellion there in 1804. In the address I reflected on the relationship between that event and the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, the centenary of which we commemorate this year. In the address I observed, “In both cases, the plans though bold were ill-conceived, poorly executed and destined to fail. As the Americans say, ‘You can’t fight City Hall’. And yet in both cases, Irishmen were prepared to risk their lives in a reckless endeavour against overwhelming odds.” I then went on to ask and consider the following question: “So, what is it that drove the Irish convicts of 1804 and the Volunteers of 1916, to answer the call to rise up and to rush, lemming like, towards the ramparts of the ruler, only to plunge to inevitable defeat and in many cases certain death?” To read the address click here.
Next year the centenary of the Easter Rising will be marked by many commemorative events and the publication of articles and books on numerous aspects of this significant event in the history of modern Ireland. A book recently published depicts the life of a little known participant in the rising on the British side, Captain John Bowen-Colthurst, who was responsible for the murder of innocent civilians, including the well-known newspaper editor and Dublin eccentric Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. A Terrible Duty: The Madness of Captain Bowen-Colthurst (Thena Press, 2015) by Bryan Bacon is available online from Amazon. Bowen-Colthurst’s story has significance for Australians as some of his crimes were witnessed by an Australian soldier, who was in Dublin on leave when the rising broke out and who had reported for duty at Portobello Barracks, Rathmines. The soldier wrote a letter home describing his participation in a patrol led by Bowen-Colthurst during which an innocent young man was shot in the street and a number of civilians, including two journalists, were arrested and taken back to the barracks. The next morning Bowen-Colthurst ordered that Sheehy-Skeffington and the two journalists be shot by firing squad. The Australian soldier’s letter was published in the Age newspaper causing a scandal, particularly amongst the Irish-Catholic community in Australia. I tell the story of the Australian soldier’s involvement in these events in Anzacs and Ireland (pp. 68-72). Ultimately, Bowen-Colthurst was court-martialled and found guilty of murder but because he was also found to be insane he was sent to Broadmoor Asylum. Released in 1918, he travelled to Canada in 1921 where he lived a long life, dying in 1965. A Terrible Duty provides a valuable insight into Bowen-Colthurst’s life and character.