March 14, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Patrick McKeating

Patrick is from Belfast and was educated at Rathmore Grammar School. In 2004 he moved to Dublin to study History in Trinity College. Six years ago he moved to England to teach and am currently Head of History in a London academy.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Patrick McKeating:
"I first learnt about the Easter Rising during a Christmas quiz in first year at Rathmore. I got a question on it wrong and my French teacher got quite angry. I actually felt quite ashamed because I knew about other aspects of Irish history so I began reading up on the events."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" PMcK: 
"They certainly used to but now I’m not so sure. Irish nationalism was woven into my childhood both culturally and politically. My mother’s childhood doctor was involved in the rising as a young man – well he was in the background of a newspaper photograph at the time. My granda used to say that the number of people who swore they were in the GPO would have filled Croke Park. 
As a teenager I became quite obsessed with the event. I suppose the romantic ‘terrible beauty’ combined with good old fashioned war appealed to me. Then when I moved to Dublin and met others who shared a similar interest, being an uppity northerner, I then began to argue that it was a huge mistake. Several years on my mind still isn’t made up."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" PMcK: 
"I first learn about the battle of the Somme through a series of uninterested second year history lessons at school and a brief trip to the Somme Centre. In retrospect it is bizarre that this was my first introduction to it. However it wasn’t until well into the noughties with the release of books such as Our War that Irish experiences in the two wars became a part of mainstream culture."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" PMcK: 
"Truthfully it never did although this has begun to change. Growing up I always felt Irish and any sense of being British or even Northern Irish was anathema to me. I followed the Republic of Ireland football team, watched Antrim habitually humiliated at Casement Park, holidayed in Donegal and, much to my frustration now, only became interested in rugby after several years of living in Dublin. Politically my family and friends were nationalist or republican – to be anything else was not something that was ever really considered. And the wearing of a poppy in November was not something I can recall ever being done at school or in our community."
BJS: "As an Irish person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" PMcK: 
"It certainly is but I’m not sure how.
The Rising itself can be regarded as a hugely selfish act at a time when tens of thousands of Irish men were fighting in the Great War for a range of reasons from a basic wage and pension to Home Rule. In addition it was totally undemocratic and set a dangerous precedent that the general populace don’t know what they want and need an armed group to make decisions for them. The subsequent swell of support points not to Pearse and co, but to the woefully thought through British response. 
Perhaps the most significant legacy though was a generation of young men who fought in a horrific war and needed strong support yet were shunned by society. On each side of my family are nameless relatives who were mentioned in hushed tones almost in a form of embarrassment or shame to the family. 
Although who cannot but be inspired by the statements of equality and freedom in the proclamation? Religious and civil liberty, equal rights and opportunity, happiness and prosperity are ideals which I happily support. 
Yet as with almost all historical uprisings, these ideals were conveniently forgotten when ‘Rome Rule’ came to pass. Look at the experience of Countess Markievicz – a member of the landed gentry who became infatuated with Irish freedom, ran a home for the disaffected male youth of Dublin, a suffragette and revolutionary, the first elected female MP yet she was neglected and pushed aside like so many others when Ireland ‘took her place among the nations of the earth’."
BJS: "As an Irish person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" PMcK: 
"Now it is but this wasn’t always the case. At home and school there was never a sense of this being a part of my culture or identity. This began to change through two experiences. 
The first was performing in ‘Oh! What A Lovely War’ in the Samuel Beckett theatre nine years ago. As a cast we really threw ourselves into the piece and rapidly began to appreciate the connections which we all had to the sacrifices of the First World War. Astonishingly this was the first ever production of the play in the Republic. 
The second has been teaching the Battle of the Somme to teenagers today. The majority of my students are second generation immigrants of whom a minority consider themselves British. So getting an empathetic reaction from a lot of them is like getting blood from a stone. I have found myself becoming more attached to these men and their experiences by sharing their stories and the tragedy of that first day of the battle."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" PMcK: 
"Because I live in Canterbury I will not be commemorating the Easter Rising. If I lived at home I’m sure I would go along to some events out of historical interest rather than a sense of patriotic duty. In July I will most likely attend some talks on the Somme and as a school we will host an event to commemorate men who fought in the battle from the local area."
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" PMcK: 
"I think that the Irish government has put on a range of events which appeal to different interpretations so all in all I am happy. It is certainly a lot more inclusive than the 50th commemorations which involved blowing up half of O’Connell Street in a darkly ironic act. 
Arlene Foster’s actions are disappointing yet predictable. An interesting move would be to attend an event and twist the proclamation phrase ‘fostered by an alien government’ into both a witty wordplay gag and a statement that for her said government are in Dublin and not London. What a waste."
BJS: "As a person from the island, are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" PMcK: 
"Yes I am. We have come such a long way when you consider the state of play twenty years ago. There is a considerable way to go yet but as Barak Obama argued on the WTF podcast, as long as you steer the ship a couple of degrees towards where you want to go then you are creating a better destination for the future. 
Of course you could argue that he is getting the excuses in early ahead of the impending obituaries of his presidency."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" PMcK: 
"From a selfish point of view it is to make it easier for emigrants to return. So much lip service is paid to getting us back yet the deck is rigged to keep us out. Almost 90% of my graduating class from Trinity have left with barely a trickle returning. 
To provide an example, a fantastic teacher from Dublin who I worked with for a few years wanted to return to teach at home. She had brilliantly educated children from really challenging backgrounds and worked alongside some amazing staff. Yet to ply her trade at home she had to fly back from London for two separate three hour exams on Saturday mornings in Maynooth not to mention the reams of paperwork she had to complete before she could even start to apply for jobs. Surely schools at home should have been begging her to return not building walls to keep her out. 
In an ideal world I would return home to live near family and friends in the country where I was raised yet unfortunately this won’t happen. 
Well maybe I would remain living in the lovely town of Canterbury with my fiancée but I would like the option to return at least!"

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