Nations often need a founding myth, and for the Republic of Ireland the events of 1916 provide that with poetic exactitude. Here was a rising led by a dissonant group of poets, dreamers, visionaries, hardened old Fenians, driven communists and patriotic rebels who had little chance against the might of the British Empire and duly met their deaths by execution.
In the midst of the mass slaughter occurring on the Western Front, the execution of fifteen (subsequently sixteen, when Roger Casement was hanged for treason) men was not numerically significant. But symbols and founding myths aren’t about numbers: they are about the stories that we tell ourselves over and over again so that they become woven into a collective identity.
The executions of the Easter Rising rebels ensured that the founding myth became embedded. The images of James Connolly, too wounded to stand, facing a firing squad strapped to a chair, of Joseph Plunkett, the consumptive poet with a face like St