If ever a sign were needed of how — in the words of WB Yeats — all had “changed utterly” after the final week of April 1916, these images could fit the bill perfectly.
The Coliseum Theatre on Dublin’s Henry St only opened on Easter Monday, 1915. But by the end of the week following Easter 1916, it lay in ruins, never to open again.
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a line-up of comedy and music acts were on the bill for 6.45pm and 9pm shows. The nearby GPO was occupied by armed rebels by lunchtime that day, marking the beginning of the Rising; the show did not, in this case, go on.
But the Rising would eventually prove the catalyst for more widespread nationalistic feeling that would eventually lead to Irish independence.
However, it is the months and years before the Rising that the Irish Examiner will be telling readers about between now and the end of April.
Every Monday over the next 16 weeks, readers can learn from experts on their subjects — including contributors from University College of Cork’s School of History — about the factors that influenced Irish women and men to take up arms against British rule. But also to appreciate the much more complicated political, social, and cultural ingredients that fed into the melting pot.
The war that had been ravaging Europe for almost two years before Easter 1916 was a major influence on life in Ireland, affecting not just the homes of those whose sons and husbands enlisted. The impacts on farming and on prices of everyday goods were felt in every corner of Ireland, in good and bad ways.
Through the pages of the Cork Examiner in 1916, each week readers will have an opportunity to get just a small taste of life in Ireland a century ago: Qhat was being performed in theatres just like Dublin’s Coliseum; what kind of offences were being prosecuted in courts; how Irish soldiers were reporting their experiences of war back home; and what was being heard of the nationalist rumblings of a growing minority.
For while January 1916 saw congratulatory remarks for the Irish Parliamentary Party and its leader John Redmond when Irish men were excluded (for now) from plans to introduce conscription into the British army, growing numbers were at this stage joining up to the ranks for the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, and young women were also offering their services to Cumann na mBan.
Through the files of important historical holdings like the National Archives of Ireland and the Military Archives, and the work of historical researchers, you can read about what was happening in the background.
Behind the headlines, and practically under the eyes of Irish police and administrators, a secret plot was gathering pace for a revolution and the landing of tens of thousands of German-supplied guns to fuel it.
Those who were hatching those plans were among the 16 men executed in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, all of whom will be profiled in a weekly series of mini-biographies written by the authors of the 16 Lives biography series published by O’Brien Press. They will shine a light on the backgrounds of the men whose names have become synonymous with Easter 1916 — and on others whose stories have remained peripheral despite their lives being taken.
The ordinary lives too, and the ordinary events that went on in 1916 — before, during and after the Rising — will also feature in these pages through artefacts, letters, and documents like the Coliseum Theatre poster. They stand as a reminder that 1916 was about more than just those who died, but also affected all those whose lives were about to change forever.
The rise and fall of the Coliseum Theatre feature in A History of the Easter Rising in 50 Objects by John Gibney, out soon from Mercier Press
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