We talked to historian and author Turtle Bunbury about some of the remarkable personalities behind the 1916 Rising. Turtle will be one of the panellists for The People of the 1916 Rising event.
Q: Your new book, Easter Dawn: The 1916 Rising (Mercier Press), examines many of the extraordinary characters who played some part in the Rising. Did any of the stories surprise you in any way? Were there people who we should know more about but have been lost to history somewhat?
I think the part that most surprised me was how creative the prime players on the Irish side were, as in nearly all of them had a penchant for poetry, music, acting or the arts. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised; revolutions are often spear-headed by intellects, but I think that aspect of the Rising nonetheless made a strong impression. As for neglected players, I reckon most people have received due credit one way or another by now although I think there should be more made of the surgeons and nurses from Sir Thomas Myles and John Lumsden to Ella Webb, John Francis Holman and the people on the ground.
Q: Is there a worry that, as the centenary of the Rising approaches, we are in danger of romanticising the events and people? How did you go about dealing with that concern when writing the book?
Of course. If one was to criticise any of the revolutionary leaders on, say, social media, there would be a welter of abuse showered upon you … at present it is as if the leaders are ‘untouchable’ but I actually anticipate a bit more cerebral debate about the differences between them in coming months. Had the 16 men not been executed, I wonder how well they would have got on afterwards. Presumably there would have been a blame game of sorts and revered icons such as Casement would have been chastised while the fight within the Volunteers would have been considerably more vocal.
Q: What would you like people to take away from reading your book?
With my books I try to explain the background to people, to show where they came from and what they were up to before events overtook them. The events of 1916 still very much effect Ireland today, so it’s important people have an understanding of where those who inspired the rebellion were coming from. I’d actually like to have included more about the British participants in my book than I did, but I ran out of time. I also sought to find that rarest of things in the Easter 1916 chronicles, namely humour. Not least because men like Tom Clarke, MacDonagh and MacDiarmada had a strong sense of humour.