Brendan O’Carroll believes the world has failed to learn the lessons of history from the Easter Rising in 1916.
A century after the uprising, which saw a bloody battle on the streets of Dublin as Irishmen and women fought for independence, the star and creator of Mrs Brown’s Boys has taken a personal journey to discover more about his own family’s connection to the conflict.
In a new programme, the Irish actor and author explores the story of his uncles Liam and Peadar, who took part in the rebellion – and finds that Liam once ordered the killing of a British solder and went on to radicalise others in a high-security prison camp.
He told the Press Association: “I was absolutely stunned at the idea that all those that were arrested over the rising, 2,000 plus of them, ended up in Frongoch prison camp, which was built really as a German prison camp for Germans – but they ended up there.
“So they radicalised. They put them all in one place, and they started running courses on how to build radios, they actually wrote chapters and courses and gave them to groups of men on how to use flying columns.
“We should have learned from that, b ut we didn’t, because we have places like Guantanamo Bay, where we get them all together and put them all in one place, and go: ‘Be good, okay? Don’t be teaching each other things’.”
He added: ” I think in many ways, we have continually repeated ourselves in parts of history.”
The Dublin-born comic actor said he had been struck by looking at old photos of schoolchildren in the Stoneybatter area of Dublin, where he was later a pupil.
He said: ” I look at pupils who are around that time in these old black and white photographs of them, sitting at the edge of their desks. And their feet are wrapped in canvas and tied with twine. Those that had anything on their feet.
“So if you put people in the situation where they’ve f*** all to lose, don’t be surprised if they come and give their lives in an effort to change things … You put people in a position where they have nothing to lose, and then they are very easy to radicalise. I think that’s what happened at that time.
“We talk about it like it’s a poetic rising, but actually we were just f******. We were just poor. Abject poor.”
In a 2014 edition of W ho Do You Think You Are?, O’Carroll had already learnt that his republican grandfather Peter had been assassinated by a British undercover agent, Major Jocelyn Lee Hardy, in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence.
Peter had refused to pass on information about two of his sons – O’Carroll’s uncles – who were in the IRA.
Reflecting on whether he would have let his family join the struggle for independence, O’Carroll said: ” My kids are the most precious things in the world to me, and my grandchildren. They are the most precious.
“I think I would have chained them to the bannisters and said, you’re not f****** going anywhere. When all this is over you can hate me and never talk to me again, but I don’t care, you’re going to be alive. I think.
“But that’s 21st century thinking. I don’t know what it would have been like at the time.
“I know my grandfather wasn’t a bad man. He let his sons walk out the door … But I know I would either have chained them to the bannisters, or I would have been down at the barricade with them, going: ‘No, you’re not doing this on your own. If you’re doing this I’ll do it with you’.”
:: Brendan O’Carroll: My Family At War airs on Wednesday March 16 on BBC Two at 9pm.