The struggle for Irish nationalism is aptly captured in “The Guests of the Nation” and “The Rising of the Moon”. The two pieces of literary work offer a brief account of the Irish struggle to break free from the cruel British and French dominion. The most prominent public rebellion in Ireland history started in 1798 when thousands of Irishmen came together under the banner United Irishmen to fight for freedom.
The Rising of The moon is an Irish play written by John Keegan Casey I the mid 19th century. It recounts the battle between the United Irishmen and the British Army during the Irish rebellion in the late 18th century. The play conveys hope and optimism that are quickly dissipated when the rebellion is crushed by the British Army: “pikes must be together at the rising of the moon”.
The play uses symbolism to bring out several themes. For instance, the playwright uses ‘moon’ and ‘lantern’ to symbolize hope while darkness is used to represent oppression and despair. The ‘moon’ and ‘lantern’ represent liberty, equality and fraternity, the novel ideals that the Irish rebellion aimed to achieve. (Flood 1).
Moreover, the uprising needed visionary men to take the lead. In the play, the “ragged man” is identified as one of the underground leaders of the Irish uprising. The British authority promises a reward of hundred pounds for his arrest.
The importance of the rugged man in the struggle is clearly manifested by the placards posted all over the seaport town with the portrait of the ragged man. The influence of such men in the Struggle is clearly evident when in the late 19th century, thousands of people congregated in Dublin to honor the statute of Wolf Tone, their rebel leader and other radical members of the rebellion (Flood 3).
In the play, the ‘ragged man’ sings a song about the ‘old woman’ which is a traditional personification of the Irish country. In the song, the ‘ragged man’ moans about the harsh treatment the “old woman” experience under the British rule. In essence, the woman in the song symbolizes the predicament of the United Irishmen under the British dominion. For example from late 18th century, the British government terrorized the United Irishmen in an effort to thwart their struggle for freedom.
Flood Andrew states that the country’s constitution was in effect deferred and the British Army ordered to use ‘any means necessary’ to quell the uprising ( 20). In the play, the ragged man sings about the “hands and feet of the old woman being bound by iron bands”. This symbolizes the brutal force the British army used against the Irish. Members of the United Irish were arrested and commuted to long prison sentences without formal trials or were simply executed (Flood 20).
Terrorism is another major theme highlighted in the play “Rising of the Moon”. The “ragged man” talks about poverty and how the world is against the poor. In the play, the “world” represents the British rule while the “poor” epitomize the Irish population. The “world” uses poverty to suppress the Irish uprising. Crops were destroyed, houses set ablaze and foodstuffs confiscated to starve the masses (Flood 20).
Thus, the brutal torture in the hand of the British army disorganized, horrified and disarmed a good number of the United Irishmen (Flood 22). On the other hand, unity amongst the United Irishmen is an important theme that cannot be ignored.
In the play “The Rising of the Moon” the boat personifies a unity of purpose in the revolution. A plot is hatched by Irish rebels to protect the ragged man from arrest. According to Flood Andrew, it is this sense of unity that led to the rise of United Irishmen and mass mobilization against the British rule (3).
The Guests of the Nation is a well-known short story written by Frank O’Connor. It was published in early 1930s; a couple of years after the O’Connor had served in the IRA, battling the British Army during the Irish Civil War. The narrative is generally regarded as an expression of disgust against the war, a human declaration that there are no valid reasons, irrespective of how you look at it, to justify murder (Korner 1).
Undoubtedly, the narrative conveys horror, dealing with the hostility it portrays in a non- heroic, realistic approach that captures the attention of the reader. The title of the narrative is overwhelmingly ironic. The term “guests” represent British fighters, who eventually are held hostage by the Irish Republic Army during the Irish Civil War. The two gentlemen, Belcher and Hawkins are held as prisoner in reaction to the decision of the British government to imprison Irish soldiers (Korner 3).
The narrative by Frank O’Connor depicts a human bond of companionship that grows between captives and their captors. This assertion is clearly evident when they engage in political and religious discourses as they play cards. Belcher is huge, polite and silent whereas Hawkins is confrontational and articulate arguing continuously- against capitalism and spiritual obfuscation- clashing with Noble, who is a religious man. Although these argument are sometimes ferocious, they are however comradely.
The anxiety is manifested only when Donovan, in charge of the prisoners, notifies Bonaparte- an untested, immature Irish fighter- of their impending execution: “The enemy has prisoners belonging to us and now they’re talking of shooting them… if they shoot our prisoners, we’ll shoot theirs” (Korner 6).
Donovan later conveys the news of the execution of the Irish hostages and that now Hawkins and Belcher must be executed to return the favor. The complexity of retreating to being adversaries after a short stint of friendship is emphasized when Donovan explains the circumstances to the British men. Hawkins declines to believe the new developments until Donovan requests Bonaparte to corroborate the news:
“I mean it, chum,” I said.
“You don’t sound as if you meant it”
“If he doesn’t mean it, I do,” said Donovan, working himself up.
“What have you got against me, Jeremiah Donovan?”
“I never said I had anything against you. But why did your people take out four
Of your prisoners and shoot them in cold blood?” (Korner 9).
Although the conversation above offers a ray of hope that the new-found friendship among the captives and their captor might work, our optimism is swiftly wiped out by the statement of Bonaparte: “We knew there was no way out” (Korner 11). Donovan lifts his gun and shoot Hawkins as Bonaparte watch. After the two Englishmen are killed, Noble is troubled by the sight of lifeless bodies that a moment ago belonged to his friends and retreats into prayers. However, the effect is different for Bonaparte:
…but with me, it was as if the patch of bog where the bodies of the Englishmen were was a million miles away, and even Noble and the old woman, mumbling away behind me and the birds and the bloody stars were far away, and it was somehow very small and lost and lonely like a child astray in the snow.
Bonaparte sees himself as an alienated minute being in the universe, a reminiscent of Adam thrown out of Eden- of which we witnessed a bond of friendship between the captors and the captives before the executions began (Korner 12).
Frank O’Connor’s story brings forth an ostensibly ridiculous situation- made all too authentic by the overabundance of everyday detail- and leads us to wonder why a compromise could not be reached to avoid meaningless executions. Hawkins is unaware of the underlying issue when he inquires why Noble wants to kill him. His understanding is limited at personal level.
We comprehend that although both the Irish captors and their British prisoners have humans feelings, they are however part of the history. The British prisoners are eventually killed in retaliation to the execution of Irish prisoners held by British Army (Korner 13).
Bonaparte’s voiceless approval that there subsist chronological forces superior than entities does not diminish the gust for him. He declines to hide behind patriotism, as Donovan is able to. He justifies his decision to execute the British captives and implies that we live in a world where impossible decisions have to be made. Belcher seems to understand this position.
He pardons his killers and accepts his impeding fate in a manner that Noble and Hawkins do not, and understand how difficult it is for them. “I don’t mind”, he states and continues later “… I think you’re all good lads, if that’s what you mean. I’m not complaining.” Like Bonaparte, he confronts death head-on: “you don’t want to say a prayer?” asked Donovan. “No, chum,” he stated “I don’t think it would help. I’m ready, and you boys want to get it over” (Korner 14).
Thus, the story depicted in the Guest of the State and The Rising of the Moon is not a manifestation of regret for the United Irishmen’s’ civil war against British Army. Neither does the story refute the terrible human cost of the civil war. Both narratives depict the Irish armed struggle against British Army renouncing revolutionary romanticism, at the same time taking responsibility for their actions. The weight of carrying history on one’s shoulder is revealed to be intensely hard and human (Korner 14).
Flood, Andrew N. “An analysis of the development of the left, Irish republican and working Class struggles 1780-1798 & 1880-1923.” The rising of the moon. Web.
Korner, Simon. “People and Culture”. Frank O’Connor’s ‘Guest of the Nation’. Web.