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These gorgeous cartoons will help you easily understand what happened in 1916

Artist Fergal McCarthy’s work is on show at the Little Museum of Dublin.

fergal 1916

YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN the story of the 1916 Rising told a couple of ways – none of them really differing massively from each other.

TV shows, books, and more books. If you were in any way confused by the Rising’s comings and goings, you might even have found yourself too embarrassed to admit it.

Now Irish artist Fergal McCarthy – who was also behind the desert island on the Liffey – has tackled the topic in a lighter, more accessible way, with a series of drawings that are aimed at everyone from kids to their grandparents. The result is 1916: A Country is Born, which is now on show at the Little Museum of Dublin.

“I thought it was done to death”

McCarthy is probably best poised to be the one to do this as he wasn’t someone who knew a huge amount about the Rising. He was asked by the Little Museum of Dublin to bring his trademark artwork to the event during the centenary year, but “it wasn’t a subject I knew an enormous amount about,” he told

Still, he jumped right into learning about it, and was surprised by what he discovered – not just about the event, but about himself.

“I spent about two months researching and two months drawing and writing, and I went from having little interest to suddenly having loads of interest,” he said. ”A person who knows what it’s like to be confused by it or not interested in it might be in a better place to pass on that [information]. ”

I had a tired vision of it, [that] it was a little bit done to death, but actually it was such an important story. Ireland had been decimated to such an extent that it didn’t really exist as a country. We don’t think about it these days. They were so aware of that.

A bit of levity

He tried to make his approach light, with a witty drawing and a few sentences describing what is happening.

“I tried to make it jokey where possible,” he said. “It’s not always possible – it’s a sensitive subject. I tried to divest it of the baggage it has gathered over the last century. A lot of the people have become mythologised and we have a skewed interpretation of some of them and I’ve tried to make the story very streamlined and simple.”

Source: Ireland 2016// Eire 2016 - Official Channel/YouTube

He began to get most invested in the story of the Rising once he began reading about the main players’ private lives. “Suddenly they felt like real people, rather than characters in a history book.”

He was particularly endeared with Countess Markiewicz.

I love [her]. She seemed quite batty in a way, but extraordinary and [had] incredible courage. The way they stood up for their ideals… by comparison, what will we stand up for 100 years later – I think we’ve become very passive by comparison. They were renaissance men and women.

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Despite the lighter touch, McCarthy said he has “been very respectful” to the events.

“They were still people, they weren’t necessarily heroes. Anybody is flawed, anybody has got light and shade and tone to them. I didn’t set out to be disrespectful to any of their legacies.”

I always try to have a sense of humour with my work. I always take a humorous tone – I’m not quite sure why. I like taking on potentially tricky subjects and making them somewhat easily understood.
I think anybody that would read it could not but have a smile on their face, and also a slight sigh of relief in that it’s not a 400-page heavy tome – not all of us have the time or the interest.

It’s a huge topic, so he “streamlined the story and avoided namecalling”. “I deliberately tried to make it a story you could follow easily without getting confused,” he said.

The series has also been made into a book, with 5000 copies given for free to schools on the new Luas line to Cabra. Copies are also available to buy at the Little Museum.

So far, McCarthy’s aim at making the 1916 Rising accessible to young and old appears to have worked.

“Some schoolchildren already got the book, and have been tweeting me, and sending on drawings of things,” he said proudly.

1916: A Country Is Born is at the Little Museum of Dublin until 24 April

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