A mini rebellion at the GPO: ‘Don’t laugh. You’re being shot at’
As the 100th anniversary of the Rising approaches, 5ft rebels storm the GPO with wooden rifles and funny moustaches. Spirits are so high, The O’Rahilly dances during lulls in the fighting
Patrick Pearse is reading the Proclamation of the Republic at the GPO. Well, against a green screen in a gym. Later, on film it will look like the GPO. He walks out of shot to where The O’Rahilly is waiting. They high-five one another casually. “Good job,” says The O’Rahilly to Pearse. Pearse makes guns with his fingers and shoots them triumphantly. They are 12 years old.
Half an hour later, a woman turns a corner in a nearby lane to find a number of 5ft-tall members of the Irish Volunteers engaged in a fire fight while The O’Rahilly is dying dramatically and penning a last letter to his wife. It’s quite a moving scene despite the fact one of the “dead” volunteers is casually leaning on his elbow and keeps lifting his head up to see the action.
“Oh my gosh!” says the woman. “I’ve stumbled into the Rising.”
Ringsend man Pat Larkin is a former drummer with the Blades and an enthusiastic creator of short films. Last year he initiated a film-making project at St Patrick’s National School in Ringsend, a school he once attended. Together with sixth class, he makes historical films with a Ringsend twist. The first they made was partly shot on the Jeannie Johnston and was all about the Ouzel Galley (a ship that left Ringsend in the late 17th century and went missing before turning up a few years later to the consternation of the remarried sailors’ wives – or so the story goes). This year the subject is Ringsend and the Rising.
“A lot of the kids live on streets and flats named after leaders of the Rising,” Larkin says. “So we’re telling the story from that perspective.”
“This is the second scene,” says sixth-class teacher Ian Lane. “In the first scene they were all sitting in a classroom doing a lesson about 1916 and talking about how all the flats around here are named after participants. One of them is staring at a picture of O’Rahilly, and they go back in time and then they’re in the past experiencing it.”
Today’s shoot is made up of a few components. First a few clips of two boy soldiers manning a British Vickers machine gun, then another of Pearse (Josh King) leading a squad of volunteers off to fight and then the aforementioned gunfight in the alley.
“It’s great,” says Lane. “They learn about the film process, which is something they wouldn’t really know about, and they also learn the history because they have to do a bit of research. The fact they’re making a movie about it makes it more fun for them. I put on the RTÉ documentary with Liam Neeson and normally you put on something like that and they have no interest, but they were glued to it because of this.”
The boys seem to concur. “It feels like we’re actually inside the story,” say an Irish Volunteer called Alex Egan.
In the school gym, Larkin explains where he got the props. There are 13 men’s army shirts that came from an army-surplus shop and a boy’s first World War British army uniform he got on the internet.
Isn’t that a strange thing to be able to buy? “Yeah, but isn’t it a great- looking uniform?” says Larkin. It doubles up as Patrick Pearse’s costume, he tells me.
There are a few small plastic replica handguns. “That one’s from China,” says Larkin, pointing at the most convincing one. The rifles are wooden, made by a local man called Richie Saunders who is involved with the local rowing club.
“Careful of those,” says Ian Lane as the children grab at them. “Some of them are loaded.”
Larkin himself cobbled together the Vickers machine gun from bits of plastic and cardboard.
“That’s what they looked like,” says Larkin, showing a picture of a real rebel on his phone to one of the boys.
“Some of the real Volunteers probably weren’t much older than these lads,” says Ian Lane.
“And this is who you have to look like,” says Larkin to Sean Ebbs, who is playing the O’Rahilly.
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“I’ll have to grow a moustache,” says Ebbs.
Luckily Larkin has a small selection of fake moustaches.
There’s a bit of a discussion about who gets these. One boy, it is decided, can’t have one because he has the beginnings of his own moustache.
“I look like a cowboy,” says another.
“Mine feels like a squirrel on my face,” says a third.
“I didn’t know Charlie Chaplin fought in the Rising,” says Lane.
The dancing O’Rahilly
Sean Ebbs lives in a block of flats called O’Rahilly House. He is convincing on screen as the O’Rahilly but he doesn’t go for a method approach. Off camera he sometimes break into a dance in a manner I don’t normally associate with the O’Rahilly of the history books. But what do I know, maybe the O’Rahilly was continuously busting a move when not in the heat of battle. Pearse, aka Josh King, prefers kung-fu moves (much like the real Pearse).
“Wassssuuuuup!” he says, while mimicking a sort of B-boy stance.
What does he know about Patrick Pearse? “Well,” says King, “he fought in the war and he was executed in Kilmainham Gaol with the other leaders and when that was done it changed public opinion.”
Shot in the ankle
Ian Lane tells me his own granduncle fought in the Rising. He was a runner for De Valera in Boland’s Mills and was shot in the ankle. Ever after he walked with a limp.
After the green-screen scenes, Larkin and Lane urge Pearse to march his men out to the alley for the O’Rahilly’s death scene. By coincidence, Lane tells me, King was also the boy who read the Proclamation when the army came to the school with the Irish flag a little while ago.
“Have you notified the Garda station in case they think there’s an insurrection?” Larkin asks Lane.
They march out to a lane by the school where they begin shooting the O’Rahilly’s death scene I recounted earlier. Six boys led by the O’Rahilly are pretending to face a hail of bullets. They keep touching their moustaches.
And don’t laugh!” says Pat Larkin, trying not to laugh himself. “You’re being shot at. You’re hardly laughing . . . Now, two of you, fall down dead.”
Two of them fall down dead.
“Agh, I fell on poo,” says a dying volunteer.
“I’ll have to quieten this lot down with a bit of long division after lunch,” says Lane.
A few days later I spy the same group of insurrectionists crossing O’Connell Street from the Abbey Street Luas stop. They’re here to storm the GPO. They gather in a line at the side entrance, and, for the purposes of Larkin’s camera, they repeatedly run into the building. This time they’re accompanied by the school principal, Robin Booth.
“We don’t know these children,” he jokes to some onlookers. In fact, he’s thrilled.
The children emerge again. “We said to the man, ‘Give me your money!’ ” says one boy cheerfully.
“That’s not what the Volunteers did,” says Booth in mock horror.
“When I was a kid I’d have loved this,” says an onlooker wistfully. His name is Thomas. He tells me he’s a recovering heroin addict. “In school the only thing I’d settle down for was art and for history. I loved history. I’d have loved this.”
Inside Pat Larkin gets the boys to line up and shoot out the window. “Up the Republic,” they say. A post master called Andy Kavanagh tries to lead them in a chant of “We serve neither king nor kaiser”.
“Aren’t they lovely?” says a woman called Mary Smith (“In America they think my name is an alias”) of these terrifying rebels as she passes through with her shopping bags.
“Sometimes when you’re teaching you just know you’re doing the right thing,” says Booth, watching the revolutionary mayhem. “It’s instinctive. This is the right thing.”
The cold Volunteer
After Pat has all the shots he needs, everyone goes outside for a scene at the front of the GPO.
“It’s freezing,” complains one Volunteer.
“Do you think they complained in 1916?” says Pat Larkin. He chuckles and whispers “I could never be a teacher”.
Thomas is still here, watching, looking delighted. He tells me about a book of short stories he contributed to when he was in prison. “Sometimes I think I’d like to go to college and study history, or maybe art,” he says.
A man from the post office gives the boys some key chains and postcards. He tells the O’Rahilly/Sean Ebbs that he has just missed the real grandson of the O’Rahilly, who was also in the building that day.
Sean Ebbs looks genuinely awed by this. He strokes his fake moustache thoughtfully. He has had a few days with it and he has grown quite attached. “The others call theirs ‘moustachio’,” he says, “but I call mine . . . ” He pauses for a beat. “Felix!”
The minor insurrection over, Booth herds the rebels out of the building. “It would hardly be fitting to take them off to McDonald’s,” he says and so marches them towards the Luas instead. Labour leader Jim Larkin looks down with approval.