Rising interviews reveal truth behind the fiction

RTÉ releases 50 audio and visual recordings from its archives for 1916 centenary

The RTÉ drama Rebellion is noteworthy for its portrayal of women as being front and centre of the fighting during the Easter Rising, but the real women who took part told a different story.

In 1916, Louise Gavan Duffy was a middle-class student studying for an MA when she heard about the planned rebellion.

A founder member of Cumann na mBan, she resolved to help with the revolt, but knew nothing of the Rising until she heard the volunteers had taken the GPO on Easter Monday.

She made her way to the GPO and asked to be allowed in to speak to Patrick Pearse.

“I had the temerity to tell him that I thought the rebellion was very wrong as it would certainly fail, but that I wished to be there if there was anything doing,” she recalled.

Gavan Duffy spent the week in the GPO but not in the frontline.

“[Pearse] sent me to the top floor of the house where the kitchen room was and I spent the week there serving meals and washing up.”

She said her time in the GPO was “untroubled” and that there was plenty of food, which had been requisitioned from neighbouring shops.

Desmond FitzGerald, the father of former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, was in charge of the kitchen area.

Gavan Duffy described FitzGerald as a man “entirely without fear, physical or moral, and also without self-pity.

“His humour and gaiety never deserted us through that week.”

Gavan Duffy’s testimony is one of 50 audio and visual recordings that RTÉ has released from its archives to coincide with the centenary of the Rising.

The original recordings were done for its 50th anniversary in 1966.

Min Ryan

Another woman involved in the Rising whose voice was recorded was Josephine “Min” Ryan, who was in a relationship with Proclamation signatory Seán Mac Diarmada.

Min and her sister Phyllis carried dispatches to and from the GPO during Easter week, 1916.

She recalled their last meeting with Mac Diarmada as he awaited execution in Kilmainham Jail.

“He put his arms around the two of us and talked to us in a way that was no way sad.

“We kept off the evil moment of asking him about anything that was going to happen.

“It was ridiculous in a way because there was no sign of mourning.

“We had to hold up when he held up.”

Finally, it was time to leave. “He kissed me and he just said, ‘We never thought that this would be the end’, though he knew that this would be the end for him.”

Proclamation printer

A video interview with one of the printers of the Proclamation is also part of the collection.

In the video, the printer, Christopher Brady, described how the Proclamation was printed on Easter Sunday.

The printers had run out of the letter E, so Brady had to improvise.

He went to Eden Quay and got a tube of ceiling wax. He used a penny candle to melt the wax and then smeared it over the F on the press, creating an E.

Thomas MacDonagh asked them for a decision as to whether or not they were going to print the Proclamation.

Brady told him: “As the son of a Dublin printer, I consider it a great honour to do that work, to be entrusted with such a job.”

Others interviewed include Helena Maloney, who witnessed the death of Sean Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, the first rebel to die in the Rising.

Roddy Connolly, the son of James Connolly, also speaks about the last time he saw his father.

An interview with Tom Devine, who witnessed the death of The O'Rahilly, is also included in the collection.

The interviews can be accessed online.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times