The leaders of the 1916 rising and aspects of the ethics and aesthetics of contrast in poems by Máirtín Ó Direáin

Marie Whelton


This paper examines three poems by Máirtín Ó Direáin in which he discusses the leaders of 1916. The poems in question are: ‘Séamus Ó Conghaile’ (Aiséirighe 1941, Coinnle Geala 1942); ‘Ár Laochra’ (Feasta, 1960; Ár Ré Dhearóil 1962) and ‘Éire ina bhFuil Romhainn’ (Deirdre 1958; Ár Ré Dhearóil 1962). It is argued that contrast, as a literary technique, has a central place in the poems and that they are being directed, in particular, by the contrast between two traditional poetic duties (praise and satire). In each of the poems, Ó Direáin brings both praise and satire together. At the most simplistic level, he praises the leaders of 1916 and censures the leaders of his own era. At a deeper level, though, Ó Direáin uses contrast to present the leaders of 1916 as figures about whose significance his own contemporaries are not in agreement, and he succeeds in taking a strong assured stance in their favour against indifference and forgetting. Even though the modern leaders are scapegoated, the poems demonstrate a confidence in Ireland’s ability to fulfil the vision of the 1916 leaders in relation to social justice. By situating the poetic analysis within a discussion on the functions of contrast and commemoration, this article posits, that it is Ó Direáin’s confidence in Ireland’s ability to accomplish the justice and equality goals of the 1916 leaders which saves the poems from the worst effects of satirical despair, and, which increases their overall ethical and aesthetic import.

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© Comhar Teoranta, 2020.
ISSN: 2009-8626