The Actors Of 1916
The Abbey Theatre was a prominent sign of the revival of Gaelic culture in the early part of the twentieth century. While not inherently nationalistic, there was an emphasis and importance placed on the creation of an Irish identity, the need to retain a distinct cultural makeup. Founded by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904, the Abbey would become the first state subsidised theatre in the world, under the Irish Free State in 1922. The theatre’s dedication to promoting the works of Irish playwrights and actors was not the only link to the struggle for an independent Ireland. During the 1916 Rising a number of the Abbey’s actors and crew fought and played pivotal roles in the fighting which took place in Dublin.
The actors of 1916 were an eclectic group of people, who had widely different hopes, dreams and influences. While they were linked by both their work and their call to arms during the Easter Rising, the paths they subsequently took could not have been more divergent. Motivated by the call of the US and roles in film and television, Arthur Shields could be considered the most successful of the lot. While his acting career was to be overshadowed by that of his brothers, he escaped the fate of obscurity that awaited the female fighting actors, who were to be soon overlooked for lead roles in productions. Helena Moloney’s commitment to her political causes absorbed her life’s work and her ferocity and tenacity for the leftist cause unfortunately sidelined her from the political mainstream in Ireland. While Arthur Shields is the most well-known of the 1916 actors, Sean Connolly is the man best remembered for his role in the Rising. He won the unfortunate title of being the first Irish rebel fatality during Easter Week and his role in the attack on Dublin Castle is well remembered.