1916: Ireland's Revolutionary Tradition

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Kieran Allen’s new book is an essential and unparalleled joy to read. I grew up in Derry during the troubles, witnessed the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and watched the rise and fall of the Celtic tiger; I have now witnessed the movement against the water charges and felt the joy of the Yes vote for gay marriage. At times you can almost feel the hand of history on your shoulder… and to think that all these events have been shaped by the 1916 Easter rising.

On the 24th April 1916 Patrick Pearse stepped outside Dublin’s occupied General Post Office and read aloud the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, declaring a strike for Irish Freedom against the world’s greatest imperial power.

This event and the six days of intense fighting that followed set the course for the next 100 years of Irish history. This fascinating book weaves through Ireland’s revolutionary tradition showing us its uneasy marriage of socialism and republicanism.

What began as an armed uprising on this day in this small corner of the empire started a revolution that was to play out over the next decade concluding in the counter-revolution that has shaped Irish society since.

What makes this book so important is that it firmly places the 1916 rising within the revolutionary tradition and takes on the revisionist approach of the Irish establishment.

Given the backdrop of the water charges movement the ruling elite of Ireland aren’t that keen to commemorate a day in which the main players involved — James Connolly and Pearse — would have been leading the charge against them if alive today.

Connolly is an important part of the socialist tradition and the author goes some way to firmly explain why this is the case and offer an alternative history of this giant within our movement.

Connolly so prophetically predicted the effects of partition before it happened by stating:

Such a scheme — the betrayal of the national democracy of Industrial Ulster, would mean a carnival of reaction both North and South, would set back the wheels of progress, would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements while it lasted.

And it is this betrayal today that socialists in Ireland are fighting to overturn.

It’s a testimony to Kieran Allen that he is able to stand on the shoulder of the giant Connolly and in my opinion carry on expertly where Connolly’s “Labour In Irish History” finishes.

1916 provides a historical critique of one of the architects of the rising by supplying a much-needed and class-orientated critique of Irish republicanism.