I had the good fortune to spend much of this week in Edinburgh, a city which has a great sense of history, and which is home to many great bookshops, both big and small. I always make sure to drop into the bookshops around Grassmarkets while there, and I was fortunate this time to find this beautiful edition of The Insurrection in Dublin, which I thought was worth picking up for the cover alone.
The 1978 edition of the book shows Dublin’s historic coat-of-arms ablaze, and the city motto (which roughly translates to ‘The happiness of a city depends upon the obedience of its citizens’) is burning too. I also love the cowboy western style font of the title.
This was one of the first books published on the Easter Rising, released originally only months after the fighting. As an eyewitness account, it is one of the finest we have of that chaotic week in Dublin. Stephens was a novelist and poet, as well as an Irish nationalist who was familiar personally with some of the participants in the fighting. He was not a participant in the Rising himself however, but an observer who did get out onto the streets in the search for information. Brian Hughes has noted that:
James Stephens (d. 1950), was part of [Thomas] MacDonagh’s close circle of friends and collaborators in literary Dublin having co-founded the Irish Review with him. He contributed articles to Arthur Griffith’s journal United Irishman and his first book of poems appeared in 1909 entitled Insurrections. Over the following years he continued to publish poetry, contribute to journals and was appointed registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland after returning to Dublin in 1915.
George Russell, reviewing this book at the time of its release, heaped praiseon Stephens, writing that “he has the most vivid senses of any Irishman now writing. He kept a journal day by day,writing down what he saw with those keen eyes of his.”