Easter Rising, Dublin, 1916

This research guide is a companion to the exhibition The Irish Rising: 'A terrible beauty is born' at State Library Victoria, 17 March–31 July 2016

Gaelic Literary Revival

The ‘Gaelic Revival’ was a cultural expression of Irish political nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in which artists and authors celebrated their heritage in songs, stories and language. The revival flourished alongside the Home Rule movement as led by Charles Parnell and brothers John and Willie Redmond, as artists of all kinds emphasised Ireland's cultural distinctiveness and its separateness from England. 

Gaelic language

Great efforts were made to restore the importance and use of the Gaelic (Irish) language, which had gradually been replaced by English over the centuries. The Gaelic League was formed in 1893 by Eoin MacNeill (who would go on to found the Irish Volunteers in 1913) to promote the Gaelic language and though intended as an apolitical organisation, quickly became a meeting place for nationalists with political ambition. Members of the League argued that the enforced use of English in schools and universities was a form of cultural imperialism, indoctrinating British identity in Ireland's youth. 

Seachtmhain na Gaedhilge [Irish Week]

Frances Georgiana Chenevix Trench, Seachtmhain na Gaedhilge [Irish Week]: language collection now on: on which side are you?, National Library of Ireland, EPHG11

Read some Gaelic League pamphlets about the politics of language:

The Rising and poetry

The Gaelic Revival was crucial to the making of the Rising; of the seven (executed) signatories of the Proclamation, three were published poets: Padraig Pearse, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Thomas MacDonagh. All were friends and together were members of both the Irish Volunteers and the Gaelic League. 

Visit the website of the Century Ireland 1913-1923 project hosted by Boston College Ireland to explore the links between the Gaelic League and the Rising. 

Padraig Pearse's writings

Joseph Mary Plunkett's writings

Thomas MacDonagh's writings

Further reading

The articles listed are available in the Library and can be accessed offsite by registered Victorian users.

W B Yeats' poem 'Easter 1916'

W.B. Yeats portrait 1900 by his father JohnWilliam Butler Yeats, author of the most famous poem about the Easter Rising, was a key figure in the Gaelic Revival of the late 19th century. He wrote some of the movement's most well-known poetry, celebrating the myths and legends of ancient Ireland in works such as The song of Wandering Aengus (1899).

Though born into the Protestant establishment, he embraced nationalism culturally and politically.

In both, he was influenced by his muse, Maude Gonne, an Anglo-Irish suffragette and republican whose husband, John MacBride, was executed for his part in the Rising. Gonne was a member of the female republican militia Cumann na mBan, alongside Countess Constance Markievicz and other revolutionary women.

Yeats wrote Easter 1916 in the September following the Rising, but withheld its wide publication until 1920, perhaps fearful of reprisals in the immediate aftermath of the violence.

The poem reflects on the blood sacrifice of the executed leaders with some ambivalence: Yeats wonders did 'an excess of love' fuel 'needless death'? In the poem's famous refrain, he observes that whether needless or not, the ‘terrible beauty’ of their deaths created an Ireland ‘all changed, changed utterly’.

The articles listed are available in the Library and can be accessed offsite by registered Victorian users.

Irish Rising Exhibition

Exhibition at State Library Victoria

17 March 2016 to 31 July 2016

Padraig Pearse

Padraig Pearse, undated photo c. 1916 source Wikipedia

Padraig Pearse (1879-1916)

Joseph Mary Plunkett

Joseph Mary Plunkett, undated photo, source Wikipedia

Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916)

Thomas MacDonagh

Thomas MacDonagh, source Wikipedia

Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916)