THE RISING OF THE BARDS

The GPO 1916, by Thomas Ryan.

Out of the seven signatories to The Proclamation, five were Bardic artists. Pearse, Mcdonogh, Plunkett were poets of the bookish sort, Connolly wrote performance poems & ballads, Ceannt was a renowned on the Uillean Pipes – an instrument of poetic miltancy if ever there were one.

It is no wonder then that The Proclamation is an accomplished prose poem, with all the fluency, rhythm, melody & passionate impact of the greatest poetry & song, of sung poetry, no wonder that it relies entirely for its inspirational effect on the wily devices of poetry.

The contribution of Bards to The Rising is often mentioned, sometimes as a point of pride, sometimes to help paint an exotic or romantic picture of The Rising, or as part of the trivia of the rising -it’s standard fare in pub quizzes, & in the ink-deep newspaper columns of the routine annual memorializing.

All of which misses the point deliberately or out of ignorance. Nations, like all myths & religions, like culture itself, are invented by Bards – poets, musicians, balladeers, musicians, storytellers, those that are all of the above. The histories, traditions, values, legends, & symbolism of Ireland (& Poland, Russia, Japan, The Cherokee nation) are found in their original, concentrated, foundational form in songs & poems.

Were there no songs & poems about Ireland, there would be no Ireland to fight for. This was recognized by Queen Elizabeth, who ordered Bards executed on sight after The Battle of Kinsale, understanding that they were the source of the wisdom, knowledge, & inspiration that fuelled rebellion in Ireland.

DeValera, who in league with the Devil McQuaid set himself the task of murdering the vision of Ireland poeticised in The Proclamation, tried to neutralise the threat of seditious popular artistry with the DanceHall Act of 1935, which struck at the roots of popular, & therefore Bardic, culture in rural Ireland.

Poetry is the recruitment tool par excellence for rebel armies & uprisings. No-one ever joined any of the IRAs who didn’t get much of their idea of what the IRA was/is from poets & singers.

It will come as a surprise to some, poets among them, that poetry is one of the arts of war, as much as it is an art of peace, and always has been. That poetry is an art of Bloody Vengeance, as much as it is an art of reconciliation. The Red Army appointed poets to all its frontline battalions during the Great Patriotic War with Nazi Germany, & their job was to write poems and choruses encouraging merciless vengeance on not only the Wehrmacht, but on German citizenry as well.

Were the words of The Proclamation not so poetically inspiring, & what we mean by inspiration is the transfer of passion by way of the magical music of words, there would have been no Soloheadbeg, no 3rd West Cork Brigade, no hunger strike of 81 (led by Bardic Bobby Sands). And no Omagh, Enniskillen, or Birmingham atrocities either.

Poetry’s power of Inspiration is the power of Political Intoxication. It is down to poets that people will die & kill for beautiful visions like that expressed so powerfully in The Proclamation.

It is not so much then that The Bard influences Irish History, but that The Bard generates Irish History, the Bard is Irish History.