The staging of a retrial in east Belfast for the leader of the 1916 Easter Rising has prompted sharp debate.
The Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School, in association with Newpoint Players Newry is staging a rehearsed reading of Anthony Russell’s new play The Trial of Padraig Pearse.
An interactive performance of the same play in August in Carlingford saw Pearse found innocent of charges of treason against the Irish people, 33 votes to 28.
The trial is to be staged in the Skainos Centre on October 25. Other communities in Montreal, Ottawa, Newry, Armagh, Omeath,Belfast and Dublin are also reported to have also offered to enlist a balanced jury for a retrial.
The format of the play facilitates a participative role for the audience enabling them to deliberate on the issues as presented by prosecution and defence, as well as voting on the final outcome.
Belfast-born historian Connal Parr, a research fellow at Northumbria University, praised the Skainos Centre for hosting the event.
He is a board member of east Belfast theatre group Etcetera, which aims to give a voice to working-class Protestants.
“Part of the problem with the otherwise impressively addressed centenary of Easter 1916 has been the lack of engagement with northern Protestant and loyalist perspectives; always the group most opposed to Home Rule and Irish independence,” he said.
“It’s therefore seemingly brave, and valuable, for the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School to stage an interactive play about Patrick Pearse, the chief leader of the Easter rebellion, in a part of Belfast which would not be regarded as a natural home for it.
“It will be interesting to see how relevant the details and myths of Patrick Pearse’s life are to this part of the society.”
But Dr Cillian McGrattan, lecturer in politics at the University of Ulster, said it seems “hardly credible” that we are still being offered retrials of Pearse.
He added: “Of course it [the Rising] was undemocratic and unnecessary – the Irish nationalist tradition, which Pearse and his comrades in arms usurped and replaced, had over the course of three decades influenced the state to embark on a wide-ranging process of reforms. Unionism and the Great War certainly delayed the process but the trajectory of peaceful change was clear.
“State repression undoubtedly made a bad situation worse, but in the context of the war with Germany it is difficult to see how credible alternatives to the trial and execution of the leaders would have been.
“It will be interesting to see just how the state is portrayed in this production. Likewise, it will be interesting to see how Pearse’s character is represented by the prosecution – a character which would make even Donald Trump blanch, certainly in terms of some of his portrayals of children in his poetry.”
He cites the poem ‘Little Lad of the Tricks’ where Pearse says that kissing a young boy on the mouth is better than kissing women.
Dr Gordon Lucy of the Ulster-Scots Community Network said he had no great sympathy for such exercises.
“It may have some merit as theatre but not as history,” he said.
“Patrick Pearse – the principal ideologue of the Easter rebellion and the Irish physical force political tradition – hijacked Easter a century ago,” he said.
“Pearse conflated Christian values and pagan values and Cuchulainnn and Christ.
“He believed that if he emulated Christ’s sacrifice on the cross he would redeem the Irish nation.
“For example, in his play, The Singer, he wrote: ‘One man can free a people as one Man redeemed the world. I will take no pike, I will go into the battle with bare hands. I will stand up before the Gall as Christ hung naked before men on the tree!’”
He added: “It is difficult not to regard Patrick Pearse as other than a very wicked man.”
• The event is free and takes place at the Skainos Centre on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast on Tuesday October 25. For details call 028 90 458560.