My freshman year of college an English literature professor exposed me to the details of Irish history. The professor was Irish and had a penchant for discussing the Church while smelling faintly of Jameson whiskey, which made for some of my fondest memories of that time. I particularly enjoyed the poems and stories he would read aloud to us, such as William Butler Yeats’s poem, Easter, 1916. With that in mind, I was eager to learn more about the Easter Uprising and see if this book, like the poem, would offer a contradictory point of view. (It’s important to remember that Anglo-centric versions dominate these arenas and the need for Scottish, Welsh, and Irish heroes is very real in the United Kingdom.)
Unfortunately, Gerry Hunt does not quite harness the medium to provide as engaging a story as he intends. So many historical and educational comics and graphic novels live or die by their ability to convey controversial, complex, or even boring events in a manner that is easily understood while contributing to the making of a good story. Certainly the number of pages and panels forces an author or artist to choose which events or stories to portray in the limited space, but that is no excuse for simplistic story lines that depict the Irish volunteers as brave and conscientious and the British officers as cruel and ignorant. With so many names and people involved, the black-and-white character profiles inside the cover do not aid the reader in keeping track of who’s who, since both sides of the conflict are drawn wearing the same green uniforms, which can be confusing.
However, this book does an excellent job of highlighting the role played by women on Easter Week. It also depicts a range of responses of inner city Dubliners to the events of the Rising – some actively aided the rebels, some abused and jeered them, others seized the opportunity for looting and other crimes, while others still kept a low profile and waited for the shooting and shelling to end. The book clearly depicts that volunteers, as well as British soldiers, who were involved in the senseless killing of civilians and both the main body of the text and the postscript make clear that ordinary Dubliners were the primary casualties of the Rising.
Those in search of a popular and dramatic account of Irish historical events could do worse than read Gerry Hunt’s Blood Upon the Rose, which offers a valuable counter to the British dominance in the war on history despite its shortcomings.
Blood Upon the Rose: Easter 1916: The Rebellion that Set Ireland Free
by Gerry Hunt
O’Brien Press, 2010