Current Affairs History Military Politics

The Fantasy History Of The 1916 Easter Rising

John Redmond urges his supporters to aid the British Forces in crushing the 1916 Easter Rising
John Redmond urges his supporters to aid the British Forces in crushing the 1916 Easter Rising. New York Times, April 30th 1916

Liam Kennedy is a professor of economic and social history at Queen’s University Belfast, which is somewhat shocking given that he seems to have, at best, a passing familiarity with the latter half of his chosen speciality. Here he is in the Irish Independent, salami-slicing Irish history to suit his particular tastes. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and you end up with a dog’s dinner of a historical analysis:

“A small, unrepresentative bunch of fanatical nationalists, none of whom had been elected, presumed to speak on behalf of the Irish people and plunge them, without so much as a by-your-leave, into the most terrible of all states, that of war and its associated terrors.”

Nope, he’s not referring to John Redmond, the head of the Irish Parliamentary Party and the self-proclaimed “leader of nationalist Ireland” in 1916, who cajoled, heckled and bullied tens of thousands of Irish men into the service of the fanatically nationalistic British Empire, knowing that many of them would be doomed to lie torn and dismembered beneath the battlefields of Europe, Asia and Africa.

“It was the plain people of inner-city Dublin who died in their hundreds to satisfy the blood-drenched fantasies of less-than-impressive poets and marginal figures on the Irish political scene.”

Those “marginal figures” of Irish politics were responsible for the deaths of less than 500 “plain people” in 1916. In contrast, the mainstream figures of Irish politics were responsible for the deaths of at least 15,000 “plain people” in 1916. The supposed nationalist, Redmond, and his ideological rival, the unionist demagogue Edward Carson, contrived between them to bring about the deaths – the industrial-scale murder – of some 35,000 khaki-clad men and boys from Ireland. Both did so while proclaiming their loyalty to a “blood-drenched” imperium ruled from London, Redmond condemning those who declined to fight as, “…running away in the hour of their Empire’s need.

“Easter 1916 was a pivotal moment in Irish history. It copper-fastened Partition and deformed Irish politics. How could fellow Irish people of a unionist persuasion, who made up a quarter of the population, even think of an all-Ireland state after an insurrection that proudly proclaimed its alliance with the armies of the German Kaiser?”

The partition of Ireland was copper-fastened when the British separatist minority in the country, the unionists in the north-east under the malign tutelage of Carson, took up arms in 1912 against UK legislation to enact limited “home rule”. When they adopted terrorism and the threat of terrorism in pursuit of their rebellion, Ireland’s deformation was complete. And who armed the would-be insurrectionists? The German Kaiser. And who declared that the rule of “…Germany and the German Emperor would be preferred to the rule of John Redmond, Patrick Ford and the Molly Maguires“? None other than Edward Carson, leader and founder of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Ulster Volunteer Force.

John Redmond MP presents a regimental flag to a unit of the Irish National Volunteers, the paramilitary wing of the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, April 1915
John Redmond MP presents a regimental flag to a unit of the Irish National Volunteers, the paramilitary wing of the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, April 1915

Kennedy’s counter-factual fantasies are echoed in those of conservative politician-turned-presenter, Ivan Yates, also writing for the British apologist rag that is the Irish Independent:

“Constitutional nationalism is discommoded by self-appointed violent Republicans, who sought no electoral mandate from voters. Redmondites and pacifist traditions still maintain we’d have won freedom from British imperialism without taking up arms.”

From at least 1902 the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), the “Redmondites“, had an acknowledged army of street and parish thugs, which it used to beat its opponents into the ground. This was the Ancient Order of Hibernians, or AOH, an extremist force grown so ferocious that the two general elections held in 1910 were widely regarded as the bloodiest in living memory. AOH men openly displayed firearms at hustings and rallies, appeared with cudgels and batons during parades and demonstrations, raided or broke up rival meetings, including those of the All-for-Ireland League and the politically incipient Sinn Féin. By 1914 John Redmond had added an actual army, the Irish National Volunteers (INV), to his “baton men”. The IPP now had a military wing, the INV, with Redmond as the supreme leader of both, while his cohorts worked as gun-smugglers to arm the new Redmondite legion.

So who is more reprehensible on the scales of historical judgement? Patrick Pearse, a progressive militant who sought a modern democratic republic, a sovereign and independent Ireland where all of the children of the nation would be cherished equally, or John Redmond, a conservative militant who was ready to accept a devolved, partitioned Ireland within the United Kingdom, a province committed to the onward march of the UK’s imperial hegemony over the peoples of the Earth?


15 comments on “The Fantasy History Of The 1916 Easter Rising

  1. Love the avenue to your point at the end . Shoneenism seems a bit more abundant than numbers of people who know meaning of same A fellow called Bruton swears again lately that that entire lark in 1916 was a bit daft and there was no need for those dreamy poets and pipers to go embarressing us with that silly blood sacrifice Before he has any major damage done with his less than accurate he has already pigeonholed men who were evolved , erudite travelled multi skilled and connected Of those who are often seen through their publications and writings by others it’s evident that many different threads formed the complex tapestries that were their enlightened and brave short lives

    • He has a point. That blood sacrifice was for nothing, because what you’ve all created after that is a mini-England.

  2. have you noticed the bias in the Irish newspapers regarding the Rising. A one sided pro-unionist interpretation of events in article after article can only be described as relentless propaganda. Ireland was not part of the UK in 1916 because of democracy. Britain had no legitimate right to rule Ireland. The British army had no right to engage the Irish men who declared a Republic in 1916. The rising leaders had exercised the right of the irish people to self determination. What right had the birtish government to deny ireland its own state. The british authorities could have negotiated with the rising leaders for an orderly withdrawal of all british forces from ireland. isntead they decided to use artillery on dublin city and shoot civilians (north king street, etc.). all this stuff about the rising leaders not having a mandate presupposes that british rule in ireland was legitimate. Britain ruled ireland because of centuries of violent conquest and oppression. Britain had no justifiable authority in this country. their authority had always been exercised through military force, not consent. redmond demeaned the irish nation by pleading with the british government for a type of county council parliament in dublin. what right the the british army have to murder the rising leaders. will fine gael think of this when they have their commemorations of the british soldiers that died at the battle of the somme. i’d prefer if as a country we could respectfully commemorated those brave men of the rising and those who died in france fighting for britain (including a great uncle of mine), even if we don’t agree with their choices. unfortunately, the propagandists of the irish times and the irish independent are intent of vilification and boorish insults.

    • You have brilliantly articulated points rarely. addressed

    • ar an sliabh

      ..and yet they still exercise their power over the fourth green field, still without any legitimate right to rule, That right to rule still denied on the basis of that democratic decision in 1916. The basis for the denial of Irish self-determination then, before then, and now is pure voluntary oppression; any votes by a majority of settled invaders are null and void. It has been 100 years and still our island is separated into state and colony. To add insult injury, this occupation is upheld in the midst of a “progressive” Europe, with the same militant, stubborn fervor as the welcoming of the invasion that will wipe it from the face of the earth.

  3. well, northern ireland has been agreed to by popular vote now. the situation isn’t the same as 100 years ago. And, the British government has agreed to adhering to the wishes of the majority on the constitutional status of northern ireland. i believe their bona fides on this one. i don’t even see them involving themselves in persuading the electorate to vote to stay within the UK like happened in Scotland a couple of years ago.
    its probably also true that britain had almost evolved to a state in which ireland could have remained even in 1916, but they needed to listen to the will of the majority. there had to be Home Rule but they failed to stand up to loyalist threats and so the irish patiots were obliged to stand up for the irish nation. Although, in defense of the british government, after the curragh mutiny they couldn’t rely on the army to enforce the will of parliament so maybe they felt they had no choice other than to drop home rule.
    Incidently, i think it was a tragedy that the rising took place. so many good men and women died that could have made a huge contribution to ireland. With their help maybe we would have avoided the darkness of domination by the catholic church for 70 years post independence, though ireland probably wouldn’t have achieved self determination without the rising. ireland lost some of its best during the rising and it proper that we commemorate them as the idealists and heros they were.

    • ar an sliabh

      There is much we can agree on, on a few things we certainly can’t. In my opinion, in my lifetime England will never develop into a state Ireland can be part of and has never even been close, no matter how conciliatory a view one may hold. For that, too many of our children starved to death, too much of our blood has soaked our hillsides, and too many were forced to leave (just imagine the contributions these people would have made to Ireland). For way too many English even today, an Irish person is as much a colonial as anyone else they used to “own.” We simply have been their slaves too long to ever be viewed as fully emancipated human beings, No eager appreciation or desperate embrace of their culture and way of life will change that point of view. Nor will the abandoning of our history, culture or language. We are best off simply being our own country, being who we really are, and celebrating our unique heritage (which is much older than England), and not wander off and disappear into someone else’s identity. Any votes held for a British Northern Ireland restricted to the six counties only are complete bunk, as the settlers outnumber the indigenous, and get to vote as well. They are certainly not going to vote for leaving the homeland, especially considering some of the troubled past. I expect England’s position on influencing votes to change as soon as there is a realistic risk of losing. Very similar to the last Scottish referendum. Yes, losing many of our best and brightest in 1916 was a shame. Ireland has lost their best and brightest continually over hundreds of years in the attempt to gain freedom from its oppression and gain freedom and independence which also was a shame. It was certainly not our shame, however, What is our shame is that we reward these sacrifices with the eradication of the very basis therefore, namely our culture and language. Making it worse is that we do so mostly for mere convenience and nothing else.

      • Both Ireland and England are members of the EU and the Common Travel Area. Both share the same first language – English. And British citizens unlike citizens of other countries can vote in Irish elections. Your politicians also like to pass more or less the same laws that the UK passes. You also modelled your legal and political system after the UK with bicameral parliament and common law. You also drive on the same side of the road as them 😀

        Was it worth to spill all that blood in order to create a mini-England?
        That’s how this country feels to me after I’ve spent 3 years living and working here. As an ordinary member of the Anglosphere – as something between the USA and the UK. All English speakers seem like members of the same nation to me.

        • ar an sliabh

          My point exactly. Isn’t it a shame? It is as if Latvians had gone through all their toils and troubles just to become a mini Russia.

  4. “an independent Ireland where all of the children of the nation would be cherished equally”

    Yeah, right. What happened to that idea then?

    • The political inheritors of the Redmondites executed or imprisoned the progressives and created a state in his image.

      • You sound like Ireland was/is a ruthless dictatorship instead of a civilised and democratic country.
        If a “Redmondite Ireland” is what the majority wants then what’s the problem? It’s not like this country executes and imprisons people who express those “progressive ideas”.

      • “The political inheritors of the Redmondites executed or imprisoned the progressives and created a state in his image.”

        In which case you might have been better off staying in the UK, especially if you could have succeeded in peacefully gaining independence (or extensive home rule) prior to Thatcherism and the wholesale shift to the right.

        It beats me how taking on the whole might of the British Empire when it was still near its height (the Brits hung on to India for another 30 years after all) and engaged in one of the most bloody wars ever, could be considered anything by outright suicidal. Indeed the whole ‘blood sacrifice’ concept seems dangerously close to the creed of the suicide bomber. You may not free Ireland, but in the act, so the narrative goes, you at least free yourself. “For slavery fled our glorious dead …” If your life has been made completely intolerable by oppression then I can see the point, but I doubt that was the case in 1916 Ireland.

        Poetry is a dangerous drug. There’s a line from the Gododdin, a series of elegies to another ‘glorious’ military disaster, poetically translated as, “Their high courage cost them their lives”, which a lecturer once more prosaically rendered as, “They had more guts than sense”!

        • The problem with staying in the UK would be that we’d probably be lumped in with the Northerners … and if the crowd down here was bad for conservatism and social repression …

  5. i think you’re being a bit hard on Redmond. It was Carson et al that caused partition. Also, Britain behaved badly again when partitioning ireland. instead of only including areas that had a majority unionist populations they took majority nationalist areas too so long as their overall gerrymander was maintained. Basically they they grabbed as much territory as they could regardless of the wishes of the local population. hardly democratic. basically british involvement in ireland has been disastrous for centuries.

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