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A masterful history of Ireland’s Easter Rising told through the lives of ordinary people who forged a revolutionary generation.

On Easter Monday, 1916, Irish rebels poured into Dublin’s streets to proclaim an independent republic. Ireland’s long struggle for self-government had suddenly become a radical and bloody fight for independence from Great Britain. Irish nationalists mounted a week-long insurrection, occupying public buildings and creating mayhem before the British army regained control. The Easter Rising provided the spark for the Irish revolution, a turning point in the violent history of Irish independence.

In this highly original history, acclaimed scholar R. F. Foster explores the human dimension of this pivotal event. He focuses on the ordinary men and women, Yeats’s “vivid faces,” who rose “from counter or desk among grey / Eighteenth-century houses” and took to the streets. A generation made, not born, they rejected the inherited ways of the Church, their bourgeois families, and British rule. They found inspiration in the ideals of socialism and feminism, in new approaches to love, art, and belief.

Drawing on fresh sources, including personal letters and diaries, Foster summons his characters to life. We meet Rosamond Jacob, who escaped provincial Waterford for bustling Dublin. On a jaunt through the city she might visit a modern art gallery, buy cigarettes, or read a radical feminist newspaper. She could practice the Irish language, attend a lecture on Freud, or flirt with a man who would later be executed for his radical activity. These became the roots of a rich life of activism in Irish and women’s causes.

Vivid Faces shows how Rosamond and her peers were galvanized to action by a vertiginous sense of transformation: as one confided to his diary, “I am changing and things around me change.” Politics had fused with the intimacies of love and belief, making the Rising an event not only of the streets but also of the hearts and minds of a generation.

Review

"Brilliantly and vigorously reveals the personal histories that shaped the Irish revolutionary moment of the early 20th century."
Hermione Lee, Wall Street Journal

"[Foster] is well equipped to investigate the cultural context of the revolution. Drawing on a marvelous range of sources, he has succeeded in delineating this generation in half a dozen elegant thematic chapters."
Keith Jeffery, Wall Street Journal

"A deep, intricate portrait of the generation leading up to the Easter Uprising… fascinating."
Publishers Weekly

"[An] incisive history."
The New Yorker

"A fascinating, moving, but often sad account… Foster views [the nationalists] with sympathy, affection, but also with a critical eye… an outstanding tableau."
Jay Freeman, Booklist

"Telling details repeatedly inform Foster''s Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923, giving texture and depth to the many people filling his large canvas―while scraping away the layers of post-revolution varnish that still makes it so hard to separate mythology from history whenever discussing Ireland."
Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

" Vivid Faces is an ingenious and original account of the generation of men and women who created the conditions for revolution in Ireland in the early years of the twentieth century. By looking at social and sexual life, at private diaries, at marriages and friendships, by examining literary as well as military activity, using his brilliant historian’s intelligence, Foster has reinterpreted the 1916 Rebellion in Dublin. The result is the study of a generation who sought not only political but personal freedom, and in doing so, set about reimagining an entire nation."
Colm Toíbín, author of The Testament of Mary

"There will be many more books to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, but none, I suspect, more stimulating and important than this one."
Ben Macintyre, Times

About the Author

Born in Waterford, Ireland, R. F. Foster is the Carroll Builders Professor of Irish History at Hertford College, Oxford. He is the author of Modern Ireland, the standard history, and an acclaimed biography of Yeats.

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4.4 out of 54.4 out of 5
75 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Boche
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not so Vivid
Reviewed in the United States on April 26, 2015
I was a bit disappointed. Many too many names in too many contexts. More of an anatomy of the Irish Revolution. It was probably my fault since I was looking for a historical view than an intellectual view.
3 people found this helpful
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maolchoin
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very thorough well written story of the men and women ...
Reviewed in the United States on April 21, 2016
Very thorough well written story of the men and women (especially the women who have not received so much attention in the past) who were the Irish revolutionaries of 1916 and what happened after the uprising. Detail may overwhelm some.
2 people found this helpful
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Dilettante
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A new view of Irish history – a must read
Reviewed in the United States on November 4, 2016
As an Irishman I was amazed at this view of Irish history prior to the "revolution". Amazingly well written and researched
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Peggo
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Just started reading. Well written. A bit heavy ...
Reviewed in the United States on July 12, 2015
Just started reading. Well written. A bit heavy for summer. Have set aside to be a Fall read. Rating based on a skim.
One person found this helpful
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R. Cusack
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Smart Side of the Rebellion
Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2015
A bit laborious, but an excellent presentation of the intellectual side of the Rebels in an amazing period of Irish history.
One person found this helpful
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Barry P. Simmons, MD
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The text was overwhelmed w names and events that were ...
Reviewed in the United States on January 23, 2016
The text was overwhelmed w names and events that were confusing. It was hard to keep track of all the players.
One person found this helpful
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Janette Hamill
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Five Stars
Reviewed in the United States on February 4, 2016
Excellent read
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Niall Macdonagh
1.0 out of 5 stars
To be honest this is based on reading an extract - but it contains serious errors
Reviewed in the United States on May 5, 2020
In the extract he refers to "the four Gifford sister". As it happens one, Muriel, was my grandmother and of course the other FIVE (total of six) were my grandaunts. One of those he omitted was Ada who emigrated to the US and was seldom heard from thereafter. The other... See more
In the extract he refers to "the four Gifford sister". As it happens one, Muriel, was my grandmother and of course the other FIVE (total of six) were my grandaunts. One of those he omitted was Ada who emigrated to the US and was seldom heard from thereafter. The other sister that he did not mention was Kate Gifford Wilson who, when I was a child regaled me with the story of how, when imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, she asked for a bible which was provided and which she then put in the jamb of her cell door and pulled it off her hinges. He also says that Helen (better known as Nell) never married. She did marry and her married name was Donnelly and she had a daughter Maeve. All of these errors were in a couple of paragraphs. Now the Gifford sisters were not obscure and there are a couple of books about them so it is not as though he did not have sources that he could have consulted.
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markb
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Essential reading.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 25, 2016
In this extremely informative work Foster describes the culture and attitudes of the "revolutionary generation" in Edwardian Ireland. This group included socialists, feminists, Ulster protestants, Irish language campaigners and more conservative nationalists. Many...See more
In this extremely informative work Foster describes the culture and attitudes of the "revolutionary generation" in Edwardian Ireland. This group included socialists, feminists, Ulster protestants, Irish language campaigners and more conservative nationalists. Many came from comfortable privileged backgrounds allowing them the money and leisure to campaign; perhaps by producing uplifting plays intended to inspire the public with their message. What they had in common was hostility to British rule and also often to the British as individuals. They rejected political routes to Irish independence in favour of violent physical force nationalism. Some, like Pearse, also believed in the redeeming power of self-sacrifice. Foster describes how the momentum developed leading to the Easter Rising, or revolution, of 1916, and then to the subsequent rebellion and civil war. British failure to challenge the arming of Unionist paramilitaries in Ulster in 1912 legitimised the armed Volunteer movement in the nationalist south. When the rebels took their chance at Easter 1916 their pro-German rhetoric inevitably meant they would face retribution as traitors from the British state, whilst nationalists would see them as martyrs for their cause. By the time World War 1 ended, the door had been closed on a peaceful solution to Irish independence. However when the British eventually withdrew from the south bitter civil war followed. The nationalistic introverted Irish state that came into being was not what had been dreamt of by many of the revolutionary generation. Foster''s account is informed by the views his subjects expressed at the time. He draws on a wide range of contemporary sources to tell his story allowing him to reach well-informed conclusions. He gives a balanced careful analysis of the life and times of his revolutionaries showing both their strengths and their contradictions. In the centenary year of the Easter Rising this lucid well written book should be essential reading for anyone interested in the roots of modern Ireland.
13 people found this helpful
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M. McClure
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent Account of a Revolutionary Generation
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 23, 2016
This is an attempt to recover the reality of the revolutionary Irish generation whose work and dreams helped to bring about the Easter Rising of 1916. As such, it is an excellent work of historical research. The revolutionaries of 1916 were far more radical, socialist,...See more
This is an attempt to recover the reality of the revolutionary Irish generation whose work and dreams helped to bring about the Easter Rising of 1916. As such, it is an excellent work of historical research. The revolutionaries of 1916 were far more radical, socialist, feminist, Protestant, sexually liberated, even vegetarian and lesbian than the smug piety of the subsequent Irish Free State and Republic would allow. True the revolutionaries included a fair number of Catholic mystics, fanatical promoters of Gaelic and Anglophobes but it was a much broader church than subsequent Irish nationalism later permitted. What developed in the mean, narrow, clerical state that most of Ireland later became made reconciliation with the Protestant North impossible, contrary to the aspirations of many of the revolutionaries. This book is an excellent essay in confounding myths and false piety.
4 people found this helpful
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James R. O'Callaghan
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Dark Outcome from Noble Ideas.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 23, 2015
This is not History with hindsight, where the outcome is preordained and the author explains why it should be so. This is History as it evolves. Using a treasure trove of contempory resources - letters,memoirs, drama, newspapers - the author, in story telling prose,...See more
This is not History with hindsight, where the outcome is preordained and the author explains why it should be so. This is History as it evolves. Using a treasure trove of contempory resources - letters,memoirs, drama, newspapers - the author, in story telling prose, organises this hotch-potch into a packet of influences : generational change, education, drama, journalism. Many possible different revolutionary outcomes were envisaged before 1916. In the five years 1916-21 they coalesced into an historically based nationalistic idea of revolution. The Treaty was poisoned by the Civil War,which gave rise to a nationalistic memory of even lower expection and less idealism.
5 people found this helpful
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paul callick
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
just wonderful
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 25, 2021
a marvellous book. It''s also a beautifully made hardback, with great photos etc. Very well posted, in perfect condition.
One person found this helpful
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Aaron Smith
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent, immersive book into the lives, loves and ideals of the most famous Irish generation. Would recommend highly.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 17, 2020
Excellent book, wonderful illustrations of the ideas and passions that moved a nation to revolution. Would recommend heartily to all my Irish brethren
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