An Early Childhood Chapter Ten (One)


Continuation from the end of Chapter 9

An Early Childhood by Paddy Flanagan is a mock, surreal autobiography by a fictional Irish literary figurehead, champion bodhrán player and broadcaster.

                When I say that I didn’t really take part in the Easter Rising, I was exaggerating. I’m not one for jumping on the bandwagon at the last minute, and I never did so when it came to taking part in the Rising. So I did take part in it. I was in Dublin at the time, working on my first collection of short stories called The Troglodytic Herbivore and Other Stories, and I was also co-writing a surreal, modernist, well-made play with the feminist Henry Gibson entitled Toast at the Odeon which we hoped would be produced at the Odeon because it would have made the title that bit more self-referential.
                I had a cousin named Barney who had served in a tedious conflict in South Africa around the turn of the century and he was living in Little Londingbridge Street in Sandymount in Dublin. The houses were all semi-detached, terraced and free-standing to allow for comfort and ease of movement. Barney lived in something of a shabby room at the back of number 113. He was a member of the Irish Volunteers, and his advice was often sought by his fellow Volunteers on matters pertaining to cookery, because he had been a chef when he served in the British Army. As well as military matters. His bedroom was beside that of a struggling artist, William Orpen, who would sit for hours at his window drawing sketches. Barney woke him up every morning, coming into his bedroom and shouting:
                “Orpen rise, Orpen rise!”
                It was a kind of a little joke between them, until William Orpen hit him and broke Barney’s nose one morning, and from then on, Barney let him lie in.
                Barney wasn’t allowed to keep any guns in his own little flat because he had served with the British Army and for a former soldier of Her Majesty (I speak now of course of Plump Victoria, rather than Liz Vindzor) to keep guns was frowned upon – whether he was an Irish Volunteer or not – but he let his artist drawing friend keep what little weaponry he had in his room. Being too old at this stage to take part in any action, Barney still retained a flare gun and a single flare in the top drawer of his little tenement’s neighbourly drawer’s chest of drawers underneath his drawers. Ultimately, Orpen headed off to do a bit of drawing with the British Army over in the trenches on the Continent.
                Barney had met revolutionary Padraig Pearse, as had I, and I felt Pearse - as a primary school teacher - was more than qualified and born to lead the Irish nation - as, of course, did Pearse himself.
                One man who disagreed was Professor Eoin MacNeill, leader of the Irish Volunteers. On Easter Saturday, while myself and Barney were eating our flame-grilled rats in his tenement apartment, a letter came under the door. Barney bent over to get the letter and did his back in and couldn’t get up again, so I gave him a fierce kick in the head and his body snapped back into its true vertical position. Barney thanked me while he sought his handkerchief in his dressing gown pocket to tend to the nose-bleed which had started out of him, and while doing so I opened the letter. It was from Eoin MacNeill, demanding that “all of your wonderful cookery be halted for the following week.
                “Signed Eoin Mac Neill.
                “Chief of Staff.”
                MacNeill had suspended all activities of the Irish Volunteers, including Barney’s cooking. We were rather glum, because we had heard rumours that there was to be an uprising. But with MacNeill suspending activities, any uprising must have been called off. Moreover, we could now not eat any of Barney’s fabulous meals for the following week, including the tasty flame grilled rats we’d just gone to the trouble of catching and cooking.
                Well, the following morning a second letter slipped over the threshold, and while myself and Barney were eating our chocolate eggs I reached out and snatched it up. Once again addressed to Cousin Barney, my ageing relative opened the letter and he perused its contents before solemnly handing it to me. It was a note from Padraig Pearse, countermanding MacNeill’s original order:
                “Happy Easter,
                Good Lookin’.
                I’d be very pleased if you would
                Keep cookin’.”
                Having read it, I looked gravely back into Cousin Barney’s eyes, walked soberly into the next, now empty bedroom to William Orpen’s chest of drawers, and I pulled the top drawer open. I withdrew the flare gun, loaded it with the single flare and cocked the hammer. There was to be an uprising after all.
                I was outside the GPO when Pearse made the Proclamation the next day. Commandant Pearse stood outside the post office on Sackville Street, watched by the group of Volunteers and Citizen Army soldiers who were inside the post office, as he began his exordium:
                “Irishmen and Irishwomen:
                “In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom…”

                Few people noticed him; passers-by did just that, passing by, ignoring him and not apprehending the significance of the event. As he continued, my heart began to glow with pride at being Irish and burn with rage against the English. I was angered by the apathy of the people passing by on their daily business, paying no notice to this great Irish primary schoolteacher.
                The Proclamation was supposed to be a bloodless demonstration of the Irish people’s right to self-government; I was having none of that, though, and as soon as Pearse finished I pointed the flare gun at the nearest truck with British markings and fired. It just so happened that the truck was full of ammunition and it exploded, and with that, Ireland was thrown into a veritable jihad for the rest of the week.
                The Rising had been supposed to be bloodless on account of the fact of the Great War keeping the British very busy and it wouldn’t have been fair to start a revolution at that time. My argument went that the Great War was a war of imperialism and there was nothing noble about it. It was all about great powers asserting themselves and millions dying into the bargain. So I thought some of those British soldiers deserved a bit of a holiday from the Western Front, and indeed some of them did end up in Ireland for Easter week, eating the very Catholic Easter eggs they were trying to break, for want of a better metaphor. And very Catholic they were, for they had a kind of a prima facie Humanae Vitae about them, which could be ignored once they were blessed, and could then be eaten.
                Well, myself and the rest of the Citizen Army and the Volunteers present went dashing into the General Post Office and I shouted at everyone:
                “Get out this instant!”
                Old women, young women and children picking up their King’s shillings on account of their husbands’ involvement in the Great War were busy lining up in the post office awaiting their payment. They looked up at me and the group of soldiers now surrounding them and they laughed.
                “What’ll you do if we don’t get out?” one of the young women asked.
                John Fisherman-O’Reilly, one of the Citizen Army, fired his rifle into the air and a big chunk of plaster fell from the roof and hit a two-year-old child on the head.
                “Oh Jesus!” John Fisherman-O’Reilly burst out of him and the little girl began to bawl crying. Everyone crowded around the toddler, who was overcome with the pain, and the blood pumping out of her skull.
                “She’ll need stitches,” one of the women said, “Is there a doctor in the building?”
                “I’m a doctor,” one of the Irish Volunteer boys, Eamonn Gorman sez, and everyone stood back to let the Volunteer tend to the child. Eamonn Gorman looked like a “reared”, so young was he. “Reareds” was the Hiberno-English word for teenagers. “Sure, you’re only a reared!” people would say if you bemoaned at them about the state of your life. 

              Young Eamonn moved forward, and from a Gladstone bag which he placed clinically on the floor he withdrew a thick textbook filled from beginning to end with philosophical writings. He began to read from David Hume’s Treatise on Human Understanding and over the course of the next five minutes the child was lulled into a wonderful sleep. Young Gorman was in fact a doctor of philosophy and had little or no medical knowledge. But slowly and surely, all of the women and children nodded off, and we abruptly carried them out onto the road and laid them end to end up Sackville Street, tying them to each other with ropes and handcuffs – binders and binders of women, lining the whole length of Dublin’s main thoroughfare – until they came to a few hours later, but by that stage the GPO was boarded up with our rifles peeping out through the now smashed windows.

                Then a strange thing happened while we were waiting for the British soldiers to arrive. We heard the jingling of bells in the distance and the braying of reindeer and the clomp clomp cloppety-clomp of hooves on concrete.

Continued in Chapter 10 Part 2.