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Princeton Professor, Ireland Native Speaks on Easter Rising, Irish Art

Anyone who walks into Devlin 108 between Feb. 6 and June 5 will find an artistic representation of the 1916 Easter Rising.

The Boston College McMullen Museum of Art presents an exhibit called, The Arts and Crafts Movement: Making it Irish. The display contains a collection of medieval-influenced metalwork, textiles, stained glass, furniture, and more. As a whole, the accumulation of artistic works creates a visual representation of the Irish revolution.

The exhibit commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising. The connection between the displayed pieces and Ireland’s transition to an independent nation was further recognized in an event on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Fintan O’Toole, a Princeton professor, columnist, editor, and author, spoke that afternoon on the subject. His talk was titled, “Culture and Society in Ireland, 1916: Contexts for the Arts and Crafts Movement.”

“It is a preservationist idea. But it is a preservationist idea that comes under an enormous force of pressure.”


O’Toole was born in Dublin, and attended University College Dublin before moving to the United States.

“I feel a slight twinge of jealousy, being from Ireland, that there are national treasures here,” O’Toole said. “Irish national treasures.”

He explained his desire to illuminate how the exhibit speaks to the broader expectations that accompany the Irish identity. He began his presentation by giving some background on the uprising of nationalists.

O’Toole discussed how the British rounded up these nationalists, and held them in prison camps in which the revolutionary movement was born. He read a passage that was written by Joseph O’Connor, an Irish novelist, about what this experience would have been like for a prisoner. According to O’Connor, some of the men would spend their time playing sports, while others partook in “arts and crafts.” Essentially, the men were attempting to recreate ancient Irish artwork. It was at this time that O’Toole recognized their lack of sophisticated tools made it more difficult to complete the task, however it served to more deeply connect them to the realistic experience of how these Celtic creations were originally constructed.

O’Toole spoke more about the specific differences between Ireland and England prior to the revolution, and the issues that arose from them. He also discussed, however, the problem of Ireland and England’s being too similar in certain ways. O’Toole expressed his understanding that the causes of revolution generally involve religion, land, and poverty. Yet, by the time of the revolution, it would appear that these were no longer prevalent issues.

Catholicism was being successfully integrated into society, the number of laborers who owned the land they worked on was increasing, and the poor were disappearing. The problem, he explained, was not the result of any of these common factors.

“So then, what’s your revolutionary force?” O’Toole asked, posing the question to the audience.

He waited a moment, then answered it himself, revealing that the force was culture. He discussed how Ireland and England were becoming so similar that the revolutionaries felt the need to establish the differences between Irish and English culture.

“It is a preservationist idea,” O’Toole said. “But it is a preservationist idea that comes under an enormous force of pressure.”

After finishing his brief history of the Easter Rising, he presented the crowd with pictures of several pieces, like the Ardagh Chalice, a silver, two-handled cup. He used it as an example of how certain aesthetic features influenced the future replications and cultural associations. He also recognized the sophistication of technique that exists in the chalice.

“If you talk to contemporary goldsmiths, they will tell you, ‘I don’t know how to do this,” O’Toole said.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

February 28, 2016