Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 24 hours (or live outside of this emerald isle) you could hardly be unaware of the release of thousands of documents from the Department of Defence’s Military Archives relating to pension applications by those who participated in the 1916-23 Revolution. The first tranche of heretofore secret files has been made available online in Phase 1 of the Military Service Pensions Collection (MSPC) release, specifically relating to those who were active during the Easter Rising of 1916. The 3200 documents are fully searchable though expect delays and crashes. The site has been inundated with users from around the world since its launch seeking out the revolutionary records of their relatives. The collection’s homepage is here or you can skip straight to the search options here. The archives are a treasure trove of information, from the dramatic to the mundane, and shed a light on the less than glorious aftermath of every revolution no matter how great or how small.
The always fascinating Dublin history and culture blog Come Here To Me has another excellent article on the capital’s recent past, this time an overview of the most prominent members of the city’s Jewish community who fought in or supported the Irish revolution of 1916-1923. Included in the list is Michael Noyk, the leading Sinn Féin lawyer of the period, and Bob Briscoe TD, officer of the Irish Republican Army and later Lord Mayor of Dublin. Also worthy of mention is Estella Solomons, the noted portrait and landscape artist who was active with the Cumann na mBan (CnamB) throughout the War of Independence and beyond.
You can read more on this subject here, “Brothers In Arms? Ireland And Israel“.
From the Irish Times:
“Campaigners have called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to take urgent steps to save the buildings that housed the last headquarters of the Provisional Government established in the 1916 Rising.
Relatives of the signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic expressed their shock and anger today at the condition of the buildings on Dublin’s Moore Street following a visit to the site.
James Connolly-Heron, great grandson of Citizen Army leader James Connolly, Helen Litton, great niece of the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Tom Clarke and Lucille Redmond, grand-daughter of The Irish Volunteer’s Thomas McDonough visited each of the buildings at 14-16 Moore Street this morning. It was the first time the campaigners were given permission to enter the buildings which have been closed to the public since 2008.
The buildings, which date back to 1763, were designated national monuments in 2007 but now face an uncertain future after development company Chartered Land, was granted permission for an 800,000sq ft development on the nearby 2.7-hectare site of the old Carlton Cinema on O’Connell Street in 2010.
A special advisory committee of Dublin City Council recommended recently that Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan withhold the ministerial consent required for development of the site.
Speaking after this morning’s extensive tour James Connolly-Heron expressed his outrage at the “shameful” and “shocking” condition of the buildings.
“I am staggered, I am shocked, I am appalled,” he said.
“These buildings have been abandoned. A cursory glance from the outside would tell you that. But if you walk through them they are in a shocking condition. It’s actually shameful at this stage how they have been allowed to deteriorate.”
Number 16, which he described as “the most important house in the terrace,” is in the “worst condition imaginable”.
Calling on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to intervene, Mr Connolly-Heron said securing the future of the historic buildings is now “a political decision”.
“We’ve been now waiting for two years for a meeting with the taoiseach about this and that meeting is now imperative.”
“It’s imperative that we meet the taoiseach. It’s imperative that Minister Deenihan takes action. And that action needs to be immediate action. There can no longer be any delay in this – it’s too important.”
Proinsias Ó Rathaille, grandson of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly (The O’Rahilly) who died on a street adjacent Moore St after leading a sortie from the GPO in an attempt to break free said he was “horrified” at the condition of the buildings.”
Given the neo-colonial impulses of the Irish political establishment I fully expect ordinary Irish citizens to go on being “horrified” at the deliberate destruction of our non-British heritage. In fact those impulses are perfectly summed up by one of the Comments left beneath the article:
”Noel Walsh: The G.P.O. is memorial enough for any number of republican insurrections.
[a better memorial would be] … a pluralistic democracy with freedom and equality for all in accordance with the basis our Christian traditions and in peace with our siblings on these British Isles. Our culture would blend with our Anglo Irish heritage in the languages and traditions of Ireland augmented by the status of our Irish nationhood.
What did we get? Rome Rule, Irish Aristocracy (self appointed ones lacking the good manners of their colonial forebears), and random self appointed elites…”
As opposed to the old Anglo-Irish colonial elites chosen by bloodline and the barrel of a gun? Sometimes one wonders if this is 21st century Ireland or 19th century? Honestly, the twisted world-view of the British Apologists on this island-nation never cease to amaze. For more information on the campaign to save the 1916 Battlefield Quarter you can listen to some audio interviews by Newstalk radio.
As an Irish Republican I believe in the historic right of the people of Ireland, as a whole or individually, to resist (where no other means exist) the British Colonial Occupation of our island-nation or any part of that nation through force of arms. However it is my firm belief that with such a right comes inescapable moral responsibilities and obligations. These beliefs are best summed up in the words of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic issued by the Provisional Government on the 24th of April 1916:
“We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty…
…and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine.”
Unfortunately that strict admonition was not always adhered to by those who claimed to serve the cause of Irish freedom in the years following the 1916 Revolution. In the last decade of the Northern War, as I came into adulthood, there were times when I was deeply ashamed to share the title of Republican with some of those who chose to engage in armed resistance to the oppressive remnant of the British Occupation in the north-east of our country but whose actions or beliefs were personally abhorrent to me (and to many others). Over the thirty years of the conflict many Irish Republicans have had their own moments of shame and each have their own individual tales of despair. While some think of the headline-grabbing events that still spark bitter debate my thoughts go instead to events of a smaller scale, which were nonetheless still dreadful to me and even more so to those directly affected by them. The name of Patsy Gillespie looms heavy in my mind.
The Irish writer and blogger Mick Fealty has a very important post over on the news and current affairs site Slugger O’Toole that should serve as a reminder of the grim and terrible realities of a historic war that was at times fought without restraint or morality. It should also remind those who appropriate to themselves the mantle of revolutionary Irish Republicanism that the excuse of “this is war” is no excuse at all. The end never justifies the means. They merely serve to corrupt and tarnish it. Where arguably other means now exist to resist and undermine the fading vestige of the British Colony on the island of Ireland those who chose the military path must give a greater justification for their actions than mere continuity or necessity. And if they remain determined to pursue resistance and liberation through armed force while rejecting the words and even more so the spirit of the 1916 Proclamation then they are simply a mirror-image of that they claim to oppose. Or worse.
I’ve been meaning to write a review of the new biography of Pádraig Mac Piarais, “Patrick Pearse: the making of a revolutionary“ by the Dutch historian Joost Augusteijn, for several months but something has always got in the way. Now Philip Ferguson has penned an excellent examination of his own over on the Irish Revolution. The French blog Liberation Irlande carries a translation of the review in two parts, here and here.
Some of you might be interested to know that I’m working on a short study of the relationship between An Piarsach and his close friend and apparent object of affection, the Irish Republican and feminist writer Eibhlín Nic Niocaill, who died at the tragically early age of twenty-five during a visit to Na Blascaodaí (the Blasket Islands) off the west coast of Ireland. This should be posted in the coming weeks.
- Irish socialist republicanism, 1909 – 36 Adrian Grant (cedarlounge.wordpress.com)
Nobel prize-winner Mario Vargas Llosa has a short article in the Daily Telegraph (yes, I know, not my usual choice of newspaper) examining the County Antrim background of the Irish revolutionary Ruairí Mac Easmainn or Roger Casement, the subject of his acclaimed new novel, “The Dream of the Celt”:
“Galgorm Castle, in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, was built in the first half of the 17th century by Doctor Alexander Colville, not a doctor of medicine but a doctor of “divinities” – that is to say, theology – who became wealthy overnight and as a result was suspected by his contemporaries of having made a pact with the devil, and of practising the dark arts. A portrait of Colville still hangs in the entrance hall of the castle and the place’s current owner, Christopher Brooke, says that no one has brought themselves to remove it because, according to an age-old belief, whoever dares to do so will die in the process.
Galgorm Castle has been in Christopher’s family, the Youngs, since the mid-nineteenth century, and one of the current owner’s most illustrious ancestors was Rose Maud Young, who, despite coming from a staunchly Unionist family – protestant and pro-British – was one of a handful of Antrim ladies who had a very active part, towards the end of the nineteenth century, in the renaissance of Gaelic language and culture, an endeavour that brought them closer to their traditional adversary, Irish nationalism. In addition to writing a detailed diary, Rose Young published three volumes of poetry, legends and songs in Gaelic which had been preserved orally and which she collected herself among fishermen and peasants in the old hamlets of Antrim. As well as being beautiful, cultured and liberal, Rose Maud Young – whose gatherings united Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics – was a friend and protector of Roger Casement (1864- 1916), the fascinating character in whose footsteps I have ventured to follow throughout these parts of Ireland.
As an adolescent, at the end of the nineteenth century, Casement studied at Ballymena Academy for three years, and spent many weekends at Galgorm Castle, as recorded in Rose Maud Young’s scrupulous diaries. It was here, perhaps, that he read the memoirs of great English explorers such as Livingstone and Stanley, who gave him an appetite for travel, and for Africa. Although he was born in Sandycove, Dublin (very near Martello Tower, where Joyce’s Ulysses begins), his family came from here and he spent a large part of his childhood and adolescence in Antrim. As an adult he returned to this land as often as he could, to cure his nostalgia and calm his spirit after the great torments that visited him in the course of a life as intense, as adventurous and as full of risk as that of a knight in an epic novel. He devoted a large part of that to denouncing the exploitation of indigenous communities in Africa and in the Amazon, and similarly – especially in his later years – to fighting for Irish independence.
Roger Casement had good reason to want to be buried in Murlogh Bay: it is the most beautiful place in Ireland, Europe, and possibly the world. It is the culmination of one of the loveliest glens in Antrim, those valleys or gorges that, between mountains of every shade of green, streams, waterfalls and sheer cliffs, descend to meet a raging sea that crashes against sculptural rocks. Hordes of birds swoop through the sky and when the days are as bright and cloudless as those the Celtic gods have granted me, you can make out, very close by, the mass of Rathlin Island, in whose villages Rose Maud Young gathered many of the poems and stories of ancient Ireland. The landscape seems to be uninhabited by humans, nature in its purest, most virginal, most edenic state.”
From the Irish Examiner.
“Campaigners have renewed calls for state intervention to stop the “disrespectful” demolition of the area surrounding the historic 1916 Rising battlefield site.
As Sinn Féin gears up to appeal for support from Government TDs to save and restore the monument in the Dáil today, James Connolly’s great-grandson said it was a modest demand.
James Connolly Heron, who has been fighting for the restoration of the Moore Street site for the last 10 years, said Nama-funded plans to tear down surrounding buildings to make way for a shopping centre need to be blocked.
“People are waking up to the fact that we have four years until the centenary,” said Mr Connolly Heron.
“We need something to show the Gathering in 2016. Are we going to show people a monument to the rising, or are we going to show them a shopping centre that is a monument to the Celtic Tiger?”
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has got behind the Moore Street campaign, which aims to restore the row of houses from 14 to 17 – where the rebel leaders met for the last time – and turn the area into “a cultural educational centre of excellence”.
Deputy Adams has secured backing from some Fianna Fáil and Independent TDs, while Labour has previously gone on the record in support of the initiative.
But Mr Connolly Heron warned the mission must not be eclipsed by political point-scoring.
“That would be dishonouring the people we are trying to honour,” he went on. “It doesn’t belong to any party, it belongs to the people.”
Sinn Féin will propose a Dáil motion during private members’ time tonight and tomorrow night.
The motion, which was drafted by descendants of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, including Mr Connolly Heron, already has the support of over 50 opposition TDs.
It asks for the Government to support the proposition to ensure the site is protected and preserved, and that the surrounding buildings, streets and laneways are retained with a view to developing the area as a historic and cultural quarter.
Sinn Féin will need the support from more than 30 additional TDs to gain a majority in the Dáil to pass the motion.”
- Éamon Ó Cuív – Republican Dissident? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Easter Rebellion should be Remembered.. (spartcus.wordpress.com)
- Deenihan to make decision on Moore St site ‘as soon as possible’ (thejournal.ie)
Moronic statement of the week? Step forward the Irish Times and this piece from today’s newspaper:
“The introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill by Liberal Party prime minister Herbert Asquith on this day 100 years ago, in exchange for Irish nationalist support for the 1911 Parliament Act’s curtailing of the House of Lords’ powers, was for John Redmond an extraordinary moment of triumph.
Today we look back on the Third Home Rule Bill as a landmark in our history, the curtain-raiser and necessary prequel to the revolutionary upheavals that would follow. A moment that heralded a temporary breach in the tradition of democratic constitutionalism whose line the founders, and spirit, of the new State would reconnect with a decade later.”
I’m sorry? Can I have that again? The failure of the British Third Home Rule bill and the subsequent Irish Revolution was a “moment that heralded a temporary breach in the tradition of democratic constitutionalism”?
And how exactly does one have “democratic constitutionalism” in a state that didn’t have a constitution? Did the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”, an artificial entity held together by the violence and the threat of violence emanating from one part of it, have a written constitution? No, of course it didn’t. Nor does the rump UK have it now.
And democracy? Excuse me for asking the bleedin’ obvious here, but what does “democracy” mean in a nation held captive under foreign colonial rule? Ireland was invaded, occupied, annexed and colonised by the British. I don’t remember too many ballot boxes being involved in that exercise of territorial greed and expansionism by our nearest neighbour.
Our nation existed under a system of colonial administration from the medieval period onwards. British governors and British civil servants, later augmented by some locals, native and imported, ruled over the Irish people for eight centuries. That’s eight hundred years of unlawful rule. Rule through violence and terror. Forget Stalin. Forget Pol Pot. The British showed all the wannabe imperatores how to well and truly make and rule an empire. And they did it to us!
That “tradition of democratic constitutionalism” didn’t do too much for the one million Irish men, women and children left to starve in fields and ditches across the island of Ireland in the 1840s and ‘50s. Oooops. Sorry. Did I say something unpleasant there? You don’t want to be reminded of that sort of thing, now, do you?
You’d prefer to remember the days of the Big House, the Irish R.M. and nanny in the nursery reading to the children (Kipling, of course, not that treasonous white nigger Lady Gregory). Ah, remember the days when one could smear a few bogtrotters with blood and then hunt them with the hounds o’er field and dale for the delectation of your cousins visiting from England? That is how one truly treats the peasants. In Ireland they still did it old school. None of that Chartist or Fabian nonsense here!
The dear oul sod in 1911. What a wonderful place it was. Oh yes, you still had the violent echoes of the Land War, midnight burnings and roadside assassinations, collective punishments and destitute families ejected from their homes. Of course there was an enormous, heavily armed, infantry-trained paramilitary police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary, housed in fortified barracks across the country, with a British administrated system of justice (and judges and clerks or their bastard Anglo-Irish off-spring) ferried hither and thither by armed escorts. But what is wrong with that?
No matter that people were still dying of malnutrition and disease on a massive scale, that “mini-famines” were the norm in the West, that millions lacked the ability to read or write, that the prisons were full to overcrowding. Ignore (if you can) the seditious press, the frequent rioting in cities and villages, the acts of vandalism against British symbols and the agents of British power in Ireland.
Put to one side the whole apparatus of a colonial police state, replete with its hordes of paid informers and spies and double-agents which would put any tin-pot Middle East dictator to shame. Forget the later KGB, my friends; the RIC made them look like amateurs! So what if people we imprisoned, tortured, expelled, banned, exiled. Put aside censorship and the suppression of a free press. Or books (you think the Nazis were the only book burners? Think again).
No. This was the heyday of empire. The British Empire. The time when Ireland celebrated its “democratic constitutionalism” in the British system of imperial and colonial government imposed on our small, oppressed and terrorised island – or as the Irish Times would have it, an island that was actually basking in the warm and welcoming glow of the Pax Britannica. Thus we witness the moment of triumph for John Redmond, that will only be slightly eclipsed by an even greater triumph several years later when he will express his support and great satisfaction at the image of young Irish men being placed up against a wall in front of British Army firing squads while thousands of other young Irishmen succumbed to his haranguing cries and fed themselves into the war machine of an empire in its death throes.
John Redmond. What a man. What a willing servant for those with the biggest king’s schilling ready to drop oh so heavily into his greedy, avaricious hand.
Hmmm. Actually, maybe he does represent the tradition of mainstream Irish democracy, after all?
Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Greens… the true inheritors of the Irish Parliamentary Party?
Just like the Irish Times.
- The Myths Of Easter 1916 – And The Truth (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Ireland – A Western Province Of The British Isles (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The Empire Strike Back! (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Guns For Hire – From RIC To RUC (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Enclaves And Exclaves. Why A Europe With Borders Is (Sometimes) More Fun (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Young Fine Gael – The Irony Is In The Name (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Lets Speak The Truth: Those Who Hate Irish Speakers Do So Because They Are Racists… (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Meanwhile In Ireland, Another Form Of Censorship… (ansionnachfionn.com)
- 100 Years ago today: The third Home Rule Bill… (sluggerotoole.com)
The annual commemoration of Éirí Amach na Cásca or the Easter Rising is upon us yet again. Some ninety-six years ago on Easter Monday, 1916, members of several Irish Republican organisations came together to unite in a general insurrection against British rule across the island of Ireland. Orchestrated by the secret revolutionary movement of Bráithreachas Phoblacht na hÉireann or the Irish Republican Brotherhood (popularly known as Na Fíníní or the Fenians) the organisations which took to the streets of the capital city and a number of other towns and districts around the country were to shape Irish history for decades to come. They included:
Óglaigh na hÉireann (ÓnaÉ) “Irish Volunteers (IV)”
Arm Cathartha na hÉireann (ACnaÉ) “Irish Citizen Army (ICA)”
Cumann na mBan (CnamB)
Na Fianna Éireann (NFÉ)
The Hibernian Rifles (HR)
Together these groups comprised the new Arm Poblachtach na hÉireann (APnaÉ), that is the Army of the Irish Republic or Irish Republican Army (IRA) whose purpose was to defend the Irish Republic and the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic proclaimed on the steps of General Post Office or GPO in Dublin. Unfortunately confusion about the timing and nature of the uprising meant a national insurrection failed to materialise and instead a number of isolated risings took place across the nation (largely in Dublin city and county but with smaller actions in Waterford, Wexford, Meath, Louth, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Galway). After several days of fighting during which much of the main thoroughfares of the capital city were destroyed by British ground and naval artillery, the Forces of the Irish Republic in Dublin surrendered to the British Forces. Within days fighting around the rest of the island came to a halt as well (though in fact skirmishes both in Dublin and elsewhere continued for some time, principally through sniping and isolated attacks).
How People Viewed The Rising
The reaction of the general public in Dublin, the centre of British rule in Ireland for 800 years and the most thoroughly colonised region of the island-nation outside of the north-east was mixed. Within the large local British Unionist population (Protestants and Roman Catholics who viewed themselves as Irish and British or exclusively British) the feeling was of hostility to the “Rebels” and support for the British state in Ireland. Since this community was closely invested in the continuance of British rule to protect its privileged political, social, economic and cultural standing it was the one that was the most vocal it its expressions of loyalty to Britain and calls for “retribution” against the “Rebels”, their supporters, families and communities. Indeed when captured or surrendered Irish Republican revolutionaries were paraded by the British Forces through Unionist areas of the city they came under verbal and physical assault from crowds of mainly working-class and some middle-class British loyalists publicly mixing together in ways that hadn’t been seen since the last visit of a British head of state to the island. Earlier during the actual fighting stage of the insurrection crowds of Unionists had also lined the streets to cheer passing British reinforcements in the more middle-class southern suburbs of the city after the soldiers had disembarked from transport-ships arriving from Britain.
On the other hand the reaction of the Irish Nationalist community in Dublin, the majority one in the region, was much more complex. Living under absolute and virtually unbroken British rule for centuries had inculcated in it the idea of the absolute might and mastery of the British Empire: not just in Ireland but across the globe (a belief encouraged by the British state itself through every aspect of intellectual life, from education to literature). The belief that Irish people could successfully rise up against the British in Ireland seemed like madness to many ordinary Dubliners. Most men and women simply couldn’t conceive of such a thing happening (however much they may have desired it). Living in the “police state” created by British colonial rule where the conspicuous presence of the paramilitary police force of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and dozens of British military garrisons around the island was a daily reminder of who the true rulers of the Irish were, very few could imagine anything else. Just as importantly generations of Irish people had been made to believe, through centuries of propaganda, that the Irish as a race were “unfit” to govern themselves: too uneducated, unintelligent, uncivilized.
Fearing the reaction of the British to the “Rebellion” (and with good reason given the traditional savagery of British responses in the past) many in the Nationalist community adopted a wait-and-see approach to the would-be revolution. If it failed, as most fully expected, then they did not want to be seen to be on the wrong side – by the British. The Irish people knew through long and bitter experience that those perceived by the colonial authorities as being “traitors” or “treasonous” in their attitudes would have found themselves at the very least forced into unemployment, perhaps homelessness and impoverishment too (and this in a city where institutional discrimination against the Irish Nationalist community remained commonplace and malnutrition, starvation and disease was rampant in the Nationalist inner-city ghettos). Worse they could have been arrested or interned without trial and possibly “deported” or exiled from the country by British diktat. And, the greatest fear of all, they could have simply been rounded up and executed by the British Forces in a series of mass retributions or communal punishments from which there would be no escape.
Yet the history of the Easter Rising is replete with accounts of civilian men, women and children risking their lives to help the revolutionaries throughout the capital city and county. What’s more remarkable is the breadth of people who lent aid and succour to the insurrectionists, a breadth that seemed to cut across class divisions and boundaries. From washerwomen to businessmen, dockers to doctors, barmen to teachers, hundreds of people, both during the fighting and after the surrender did what they could when they could to aid the cause of the Irish Republic. And this at a time when the first British retributions had already taken place: when buildings in the city-centre and neighbouring working-class districts were being pounded by British artillery and machine-gun fire, killing involved and uninvolved alike; when civilians had been murdered in different parts of the city by British Forces, some of them tortured before hand; when some captured “rebels” or suspected “rebels” were simply being executed on the spot by British officers and soldiers infuriated by the temerity of the Irish to rise up against nearly a thousand years of “ordained” and “lawful” British rule in Ireland.
In contrast to the affluent and often “ethnically British” southern suburbs of Dublin in the mainly Irish Nationalist areas of the inner city and northern reaches the long lines of captured “rebels” were applauded and cheered by crowds who refused to be cowed by the threatening British troops and watchful RIC policemen. Here and there groups of women and girls would suddenly rush forward pushing little parcels of food and clothes into the hands of the bewildered prisoners, and just as suddenly withdrawing as the British bayonets would dash towards them. Frequently a wounded man or a teenage boy would be dragged or carried away by a surging crowd to disappear into the warren of back streets and alleyways to the fury of the British escorts. Across the city dozens of revolutionaries relied on the sanctuary offered by local people who hid them in cellars and attics, sheds and outhouses, as the British and their willing RIC servants went from home to home, street to street, seeking them out.
Even as the British reinforcements had entered the city proper during the latter days of the Rising in many areas they had met a sullen, uncooperative population (something already experienced by some locally raised soldiers in the so-called “Irish” regiments) and a marked hostility in some districts that puzzled or angered them. It was soon to become clear that the majority of the capital’s population were resentful of the Rising’s failure (even if many never though it would succeed in the first place), paradoxically proud that it had taken place at all, angry at the destruction of so much of the city’s heart by the British Occupation Forces and already aware of the accounts of massacres and outrages carried out by its troops.
Outside of Dublin, in those rural areas where the British writ did not run so firmly, the civilian population was much more vocal in its support. In Galway and Wexford, in small villages and parishes the scattered revolutionaries were greeted as an army of liberation while the handful of local RIC officers who enforced British rule with such iron determination barricaded themselves into their fortified police barracks or fled to the nearest military garrisons. Only when the news of the surrender by the Provisional Government in Dublin reached them did local people in country districts retreat into their customary guise of silence and withdrawal so as not to be singled out for retribution by the British state and its many, many servants. Yet, even here, more “rebels” found a willing and helpful hand than not, and many young men simply discarded their weapons and equipment, returning home to their families and communities who closed ranks around them.
The Myths of 1916
The great myth of the Easter Rising is the claim that the decision by the British to execute the members of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic and other principal figures who had participated in the insurrection led to the turning of public opinion in Ireland in favour of the revolution. The implication is that before the retributive deaths by British firing squads the Irish people as a whole were opposed to the “Rebels” and were accepting of the need to put down the “Rebellion”. However as we have seen nothing further could be from the truth.
The great failure of the British was not that they ignored the wishes of the Irish people and executed Pádraig Mac Piarais, President of the Provisional Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Irish Republic, and all the other signatories to the Proclamation. Their failure was that they did listen to the wishes of the Irish people and their demands for violent retribution. Unfortunately it was the wrong Irish people. British military commanders and politicians already convinced of the need for a public show of force through the killing of the leaders of the Rising needed simply enough public encouragement and momentum to go through with it. In Britain there was plenty with demands for blood from across the political spectrum. But they also found it in Ireland. Not from Irish Ireland: but from British Ireland. Amongst the British Unionist population who dominated the locally raised British military and paramilitary forces, the judiciary, the colonial civil service and administration, the business classes and landed aristocracy, and above all the media elite of the time: journalists, editors and newspaper owners.
The British population of Ireland demanded that the British Empire seek retribution upon its and their enemies. By baying for the blood of the “Rebels” the Unionists expressed their loyalty to the existing order while protecting and securing their own place in it. Many believed that in the aftermath of the executions Ireland’s position in the so-called “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” would be secured forever. To some the insurrection had been a blessing in disguise and now the people of Britain would see the deceit and untrustworthiness of the “native, Catholic, Gaelic Irish” and that the limited reforms of previous decades could be undone. Most expected the British to impose military conscription upon Ireland in order to force tens of thousands of men into the ranks of the British Armed Forces to fight in the trenches of World War I and that the Nationalist politicians of Ireland would be rendered mute and even more ineffective than normal.
However as we know history took quite a different turn. The British soon realised their mistake in listening to the advice of their “West British” co-nationals in Ireland and within eight years the Unionist population in four-fifths of Ireland was abandoned to its own fate as the British colony on the island-nation was reduced to a bloody rump centred in the north-eastern corner of the country where the single greatest concentration of an “ethnically” British population lived as a local majority. But that, as they say, is another story.
If you want to learn more about the Easter Rising of 1916, the National Library of Ireland maintains a permanent online exhibition, The 1916 Rising: Personalities and Perspectives. You can view the flash-site or view individual guides in PDF format here.
Some more interesting sites are:
- One Man’s Terrorist – You Know The Rest… (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The SNP, Scotland And The Ireland Scenario (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Horrible Histories With The Sunday Independent (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Dissent In The Ranks? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The North Of Ireland: Roman Catholics 40% Of Population, 61% Of Unemployed (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The Partition Of Scotland? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Irish Troubles – Or “The Get Roy Greenslade” Campaign (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Fantasy Troubles Part III – Britain’s Superspies! (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Alice Milligan – An Fíorghael (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Is it time for unionists to make peace with Ireland’s Patriot Dead? (sluggerotoole.com)
- The “Irish Republic” flag was made by Mary Shannon at the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army in Liberty Hall with the words reputedly painted by Countess Markievicz . Captured by British troops, it was returned to Ireland by the British Government in (seachranaidhe1.wordpress.com)
- Easter 1916 Commemorations (awakenlongford.wordpress.com)