Two April TV Shows to Grapple with the Easter Rebellion

By Brendan Clay

Come Easter, America will be joining Ireland and the rest of the global Irish diaspora in commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Ireland’s Easter Rebellion, when the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) led an armed occupation in Dublin on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916 before surrendering on April 29th.

As our readers well know, Patrick Pearse’s reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic during the occupation and his execution by the British Army along with fourteen other IRB leaders is seen as the symbolic starting point of the 20th century Irish independence movement.

But what are the philosophical roots of that movement? And what did the rest of the world make of the Irish striving for independence? Finally, what did the Irish people living at the time make of it? Two very different productions will try to answer some of those questions on American TV this April.

The first is 1916 The Irish Rebellion, a three-part documentary produced by the University of Notre Dame’s Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. 1916, which was written and produced by Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, who is the Thomas J. and Kathleen M. O’Donnell Chair of Irish Language and Literature at Notre Dame, takes the long view of the rebellion while also concerning itself with the stories of survivors who recount their perspective in archival interviews, according to the film’s website.

Liam Neeson narrates this exploration of Irish Republicanism from its growth out of European political ideas, to the harrowing experience of the five days of the Easter Rising itself, to ways Irish Americans contributed to the movement. Nic Dhiarmada stated in a press release that 1916 would also talk about the influence the Irish battle for independence had on other anti-colonialist movements like those in India.

“We are bringing history, at its most human, to people around the world. Ken Burns’ Civil War brought that conflict new understanding,” she added. “The Easter Rising is also an event with huge international impact. We are pleased to finally bring this history to worldwide audiences.”

In addition to the documentary, the Keough-Naughton Institute is publishing a companion book also called 1916 The Irish Rebellion that is available from University of Notre Dame Press. The book includes a narrative of events similar to the one in the film along with historical photographs and illustrations.

1916’s website says the institute will hold events screening the documentary at select universities and museums around the world accompanied by expert panels. There are currently no Philadelphia screenings announced, but information on other North American events can be found at

1916 The Irish Rebellion will be airing in three parts on WHYY-TV on April 10, 17, and 24 at 1 p.m. Please consult for any changes in scheduling as the air date approaches.

The second production addressing the Easter Rising is a drama airing on SundanceTV in a five-part miniseries event from Sunday, April 24 to Tuesday, April 26. Rebellion will tell the tale of the Rising in the form of a historical drama, according to press materials.

The script is a product of Colin Teevan, a playwright and screenwriter who was born in Dublin and who most recently penned the script for Charlie, an acclaimed drama about the deceased controversy-plagued Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

In addition to the revolutionary perspective of the IRB, expect Rebellion to detail the initial ambivalence of the general Irish populace and the resistant attitude of those who saw themselves as British subjects. Rebellion stars Ruth Bradley, Sarah Greene, Charlie Murphy, Brian Gleeson and Barry Ward as protagonists created for the show.

Historical figures like Patrick Pearse, Constance Markievicz, and James Connolly are present, but as background characters only. Teevan indicated in a SundanceTV announcement that the original female characters are to carry the bulk of the narrative weight.

“Stories about the struggle for Irish independence have typically been told from a male and Nationalist point-of-view, so we’re excited to explore this pivotal time from multiple and largely female perspectives,” he said.

Partial reviews of both these programs will be published in May’s issue of Irish Edition pending the availability of review materials at press time.