11 May 2016
By Bryan T. Smyth
What: Public lecture by Colbert Kearney, UCC Professor Emeritus of English
When: Today, 11 May 2016 at 6pm
Where: Ground Floor Lecture Theatre, Geology and Geography Building, Main UCC Campus
Entry: Free to attend, the lecture is part of the university’s ‘Reconsidering the Rising’ series.
Those familiar with the story of Peadar Kearney as author of the Irish anthem could not help regretting that such public recognition came so late, according to his grandson Colbert Kearney, Professor Emeritus of English at UCC.
In recent years, a ceremony has been held on Easter Sunday to honour Peadar Kearney, as author of the national anthem, and Edward Hollywood, as creator of the national flag. Leading the celebrations were members of the national army, government ministers and dignitaries including the British and French ambassadors.
“Those familiar with the story of Peadar Kearney, while welcoming this tribute, could not help regretting that such public recognition came so late. Having dedicated his early life to struggle for independence, Peadar Kearney spent the years after independence in relative poverty and ill-health. He received a paltry pension for his military contribution and had to campaign for almost ten years to have the de facto national anthem given de jure status in 1934,” commented Colbert Kearney, Professor Emeritus of English at UCC.
“A member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he sought to leave no trace of his subversive activities, avoiding publicity, uniforms and high rank. Despite this, there is sufficient evidence to show that he was close to Tom Clarke and Sean McDermott in the preparations for 1916 and to Michael Collins in the War of Independence. Unfortunately for him, most of his influential comrades were executed or died in action and Free State politicians were slow to come to his aid.”
According to Professor Kearney, there is little doubt that he was one of many veterans who were disappointed with the Free State government’s abandonment of republican ideals and suffered forms of depression.
“It seems that he never recovered the optimism and high spirits that fired many of his songs, such as ‘Whack-fol-the-Diddle’ and ‘Down by the Liffeyside’. He remained an IRB man to the end, encouraged by and encouraging young men, such as his nephew Brendan Behan, who rejected the compromises of the Free State and continued the armed struggle.”
Brendan Behan was merely one of his extended family and friends who idolised him as the perfect patriot poet, at peace with his books and enjoying a weekly trip into town for a pint and a chat with other veterans, Professor Kearney said.
There is evidence that his latter years were far from serene, but there was a tacit agreement among his admirers to suppress any suggestion of any failing that would detract from the reputation they believed he had deserved, he added.
Colbert Kearney, Professor Emeritus of English at UCC, is the author of The Writings of Brendan Behan, the Seán O’Casey study The Glamour of Grammar, and The Consequence.