The Story of the Irish
by Elizabeth Willoughby
When eight-year-old Frank Fitzpatrick was staying with his grandfather during a school holiday, he asked his Grandda Smyth why the 1916 Easter uprising was so important. He knew his grandfather had been an Irish rebel, but he never spoke about it and little Frank wanted to know more.
Mick Smyth gave the boy a knowing look and began rearranging items on the kitchen table into a map of important points in Dublin – the sugar bowl, milk jug, butter dish and shakers were set about to represent buildings such as the General Post Office (GPO), Dublin Castle, St. Stephen's Green, Jacobs Factory, and other key rebel positions during the week of war that started on Easter Monday.
He explained the goal of the uprising to the boy – freedom from British rule, but also social justice for the Irish as laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which was read aloud at the GPO to launch the rebellion. Even though the rebels had been training for this day, there was a lot of confusion as to whether or not the rebellion would even take place, since it was originally planned for Sunday, not Monday, but when a shipment of weapons was discovered by the British, some rebel leaders wanted to call it off. When word finally spread through Dublin streets for rebels to take their positions, many thought it was just another practice run - until the shooting began.
During the six day battle, 1,600 Irish volunteers confronted 20,000 British soldiers. Though the rebels were unsuccessful, afterwards, something extraordinary happened, particularly after the execution of 16 rebel leaders: Irish opinion began to turn into widespread support for the independence movement. Nearly 30 years later, in 1949, an independent Republic of Ireland was achieved.
Frank's eyes smile as he reflects on that afternoon with Mick Smyth and his unexpected eagerness to tell the tale: "My grandda put his hand on my head and said, 'Remember, Frankie, we had no idea how it would turn out. We didn't know we were going to win this thing, but we got our courage from the ancient spirit of the Irish,'" and a seed was planted in little Frankie's head.
Once semi-retired, Frank, a qualified historian through Trinity College, decided to explore what his grandfather meant by the 'ancient Irish spirit'. He began his research to find the source of the Irish spirit beginning with the very first settlers in Ireland, circa 8000 BC, illuminating a path of discovery right up to present day. The insight Frank gained during this journey into the past inspired him to write and direct an hour-long piece of theatrical cinema, Story of the Irish, which encapsulates a 10,000 year journey of Irishness. Live actors present the story of the Irish people in a dynamic and emotive way by fusing traditional stage craft with recorded cinema in this innovative production.
Story of the Irish began playing in August 2015 at Haymarket off Smithfield Square, a choice location in downtown Dublin. The production includes a fabled Crannog character as a live guide, who describes events to the audience and converses flawlessly with actors on 14 separate cinema screens across six theatre rooms in the purpose-built building. Rotating through the rooms, 10 minutes in each, the audience is introduced to six periods of the island's history, which include the island's geographic separation and how this reflected on genetics and culture, a walk through Ireland's brightness during Europe's Dark Ages, Ireland's defeat of the Vikings, major wars, the Great Famine, the Easter Rising and the War of Independence.
Frank was able to secure the venue for year round playing of the interactive production. A portrait of Mick Smyth takes pride of place on one of the reception room walls, along with other Celtic illustrations. Frank's next plans are to add a souvenir shop with less kitsch items than the usual finds in Dublin's gift stores. He is also working on getting the production onto DVD to share with audiences across the world.
"The 1916 Easter Rising represented the birth of the modern Irish nation," says Frank, "but it took the incredible spirit handed down from their ancient ancestors to face an empire and win." Mick Smyth understood this. Frank wants the Irish diaspora to know this too. It is, after all, in their DNA.
Images ©Frank Fitzpatrick, article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2016
This article was published at Examiner.com 2016
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