I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Lost Leaders

Thomas Fitzgerald
Thomas MacDonagh: 16 Lives, by Shane Kenna, O’Brien Press, 304 pp, €12.99, ISBN: 978-1847173362 Eamonn Ceannt: 16 Lives, by Mary Gallagher, O’Brien Press, 400 pp, €12.99, ISBN: 978-1847172716 In April 1916 a small group of Irish republicans staged a rebellion in Dublin whose suppression left much of the inner city destroyed, hundreds dead and maimed and led to the execution of the men who had planned it. The leaders included a schoolteacher and poet, a wealthy eccentric, two Fenians, a militant socialist, an academic and a member of Dublin Corporation. The actions of these men created a sea change in Irish political, cultural and even emotional life. Writer Frank O’Connor recalled that “a revolution had begun in Ireland, but it was nothing compared to the revolution that had begun in me”. Thomas MacDonagh, the academic, and Eamonn Ceannt, the member of Dublin of Corporation and Uileann pipes player, are the leaders whose lives are explored in these two new biographies. MacDonagh, a lecturer in English literature and a poet, was energetic and charming though prone to melancholy, had a stable career in front of him and was happily married with two children in 1916. Eamonn Ceannt was a less bohemian character, more meticulous and less dramatic. He had a desk job and spent his free time playing and researching Irish music and working for the Gaelic League. Like MacDonagh he was happily married with a young son and had a good if not particularly fulfilling job. Interestingly both men had close links with Britain and the British administration in Ireland. MacDonagh, like Pearse, had an English parent while Eamonn Ceannt’s father was a head constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary, a force against which Ceannt’s successors in the IRA would wage a guerrilla war between 1919 and 1921. His brother William Kent would also die, but in a British uniform on the Western Front in 1917. If anything these links perhaps tell us the extent to which Ireland had become tied in with Britain in the early twentieth century. This process is perhaps best seen in the leader of mainstream nationalist Ireland John Redmond being offered a position as a cabinet minister in 1915. Ireland’s future for many in 1916 would have seemed inextricably linked with that of Britain and Ireland not having some position within the empire would have appeared unthinkable. Between 1916 and 1923 a small group of…

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