The burning of Louvain resonated across the world press as an outrage.Encapsulated in a bubble from which the air of democracy had been systematically sucked, the voice of protest in Ireland held little sway. Even the Catholic Church remained muted in its objection to war and recruitment. Redmond included an appeal to religion in his Woodenbridge address [1] and the Nationalist press made much of the burning of Louvain and the allegations of German atrocities in the rape of ‘Catholic’ Belgium. [2] The conference of Catholic Bishops at Maynooth in October 1914 gave great consideration to the need for Catholic chaplains, [3] but they had no power to appoint them to the British Army. There was no sense of episcopal unanimity. Though most Bishops approved of Redmond’s actions, neither Cardinal Logue in Armagh or Archbishop Walsh in Dublin were wholeheartedly supportive. [4] Indeed, the Archbishop objected to Redmond’s recruitment campaign citing it as the inevitable product of his subservience to the Liberal Party. [5] That said, no religious objection was expressed against Catholics in Ireland taking arms against Catholics in Germany. The Church offered little solace to the voice of protest.

Yet it was there in small pockets. Amongst socialist and trade unionists, some Gaelic League branch members, the leadership of the secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the Irish Citizen Army, created by the radical socialist, James Connolly and some nationalists, dismayed by Redmond’s capitulation to an imperial war, common ground was found, based on complete mistrust of ‘England’s’ intentions. [6] The Irish Neutrality League, which was active between September and early December 1914, tried to gather together influential opponents to the war at an open public meeting in Dublin on 12 October. Its purpose was to ‘define Ireland’s present attitude towards the Anglo-German War as one of neutrality’ in order to protect Irish interests and prevent employers from coercing men to enlist. The Neutrality League sought to promote the view that true patriotism required Irishmen to stay at home, taking steps to preserve the food supplies for the people of Ireland. [7] By any measure of optimism, success in opposing recruitment was limited. Redmond’s colleague, John Dillon had pontificated that ‘ the man who calls himself a neutral is either an enemy or a coward’. [8] The great danger of such sophistry is that it can backfire. Ultimately, many from this disparate collection of idealists mutated into a hard core of revolutionaries determined to make a stance against British rule in Ireland.

The event itself, the rising, was dramatic and bloody, and appeared to take the British State completely by surprise. That convenient assertion will be considered more fully later.

Irish-Citizen Army outside original Liberty Hall in Dublin.

Briefly.

During the Dublin Lock-Out of 1913, a Citizen Army had been formed by the Trades Unionists under James Connolly to defend and protect strikers from the police. [9] The 130 men, boys and a handful of women were allowed to parade in public as were the Ulster Volunteers in the North. At the outbreak of war, a second different group, the Irish Volunteers, split into two unequal sections, the majority of whom stayed true to John Redmond and over 30,000 joined the British Army. The remaining 13,000 Irish volunteers, remained committed to the vow that they would stand firm until Home Rule was fully enacted. The Citizen Army and National Volunteers together represented a minimal armed militia compared with the forces of the Empire, and no action was taken to stop their ‘activities’.

The rising was planned in secret by a coterie of senior members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) who formed a Military Council to plan and oversee the rebellion. Their names, now legends in Ireland, were, Tom Clarke, Sean McDermott, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Eamon Ceannt and James Connolly from the Citizen Army. The details were kept secret for fear of disclosure by a loose tongue or well-placed police spies. Even high-ranking members of the Volunteers, including its leader, Eoin MacNeill, did not know what they planned to achieve that weekend. [10]

Through negotiations led by Sir Roger Casement, [11] a large cache of weapons was to have been landed from Germany on Good Friday April 21st, to arm the rebels. Thanks to the British Admiralty Intelligence, the ship was tracked by the Royal Navy, arrested off the coast of Kerry and was scuttled off Queenstown. Some say it was deliberately sunk. There would be no arms to support a sizeable rising. At the last minute, the plans were revealed to Eoin MacNeill who issued a ‘countermanding order’, to call off the ‘manoeuvres’ for Easter 1916. Though he approved an armed insurrection, he withdrew his agreement when he heard that the weapons had been captured and Casement arrested. ‘I’ll stop this damned nonsense’ he vowed and posted an instruction to all Irish Volunteers in the Sunday Independent, rescinding parades, marches and movements planned for Easter Sunday. [12]

Street-fighting in Dublin, Easter 1916

Too late. The organisers had gone too far to contemplate a stand-down, and on Easter Monday, the assault on Dublin began in earnest. The Rebels marched through the streets into the centre of Dublin and occupied the General Post Office (GPO), the Four Courts, the South Dublin Union, Boland’s Mill, Stephen’s Green and Jacobs’ biscuit factory. Their targets then  strategic are now iconic; their message proclaimed a Republic with Patrick Pearse as President and Commander in Chief. [13]

Over the following week, mayhem ensued in central Dublin. The British state eventually deployed over 16,000 troops, artillery and a naval gunboat on the River Liffey to suppress the rising. In that week of bitter fighting, around 450 people were killed and over 2,000 wounded. Bare in mind, we are talking about insurrection in one of the great capital cities of Great Britain and Ireland  at the heart of the Empire.

The fiercest battles took place around Mount Street Bridge. Early on Wednesday April 26th 1916, the newly arrived British troops assembled on the quayside in Kingstown. Some of these regiments comprised young men from Nottingham and Derbyshire, known as the Sherwood Foresters. They were inexperienced soldiers who had only had six weeks of basic training. Many had never fired a rifle. Official British casualties amounted to four officers and 216 other ranks killed or wounded during the Mount Street engagement. Around twenty civilians were killed or wounded as they attempted to assist the stricken Foresters on the bridge. In truth, there were more civilian casualties in the 1916 Rising than there were military casualties. [14]

Sackville Street looking towards the GPO in the aftermath of the Easter Rising

The rebels’ headquarters at the GPO was bombarded into eventual surrender on 28 April on the instructions of Patrick Pearse. The Rebellion of Easter 1916 came to an inglorious end in Dublin, but the consequences extended beyond all expectations.

Who was most at fault for this exceptional rejection of the Empire’s war, apart, that is, from the rebels who planned and executed the uprising? Looker deeper and further than the named participants.

You may want to accuse Sir Edward Carson for the eventual Rising in Dublin over Easter Week 1916. He after all epitomised the virtues of illegality over the democratic process, though as we have shown, he was more of a figure-head-agent of the Secret Elite than independent leader. He is quoted at the end of his days as realising too late that he had been used, as Ireland had been used, to protect the imperialist dream; ‘I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster and so was Ireland, in the political game to get the Conservative Party into power.’ [15]

Lord Alfred Milner, leader and most influential member of the Secret Elite.

Their ambition extended well beyond the limitations of one political party, but the Secret Elite most certainly viewed Ireland as a second-class colony to be exploited as required. How had Lord Milner expressed his disdain in 1913? He saw it as their mission to protect a ‘white settler colony of superior British stock [Ulster] from submersion in a sea of inferior Celts [by which he meant nationalist Ireland.’ [16] Inside that kernel of arrogance the British establishment assumed that Ireland was still their colonial property. Their careful manipulation of the parliamentary process had succeeded. By May 1915 an internal coup of enormous historical significance had effectively replaced the elected majority government of 1910, supported by Liberal – Home Rule MPs. Asquith’s new Coalition cabinet was an entirely different administration, deeply hostile to an all-Ireland government. [17]

You might blame John Redmond and his puppy-dog roll-over to support the British Imperial ambitions in their war against Germany and blame his naivety. By urging the Irish Volunteers to enlist in the British Army and throw themselves against Germany, Austria and the Ottoman Turks, he committed the Irish nation to a course of action against which there could be no democratic protest. [18] But Redmond probably acted in good faith, encouraged by the Asquiths and the promises of a Home Rule Act that lay in a coma on the Statute Book. If Redmond thought himself prime minister of Ireland-in-waiting he had taken several steps beyond a presumption of authority. He was, more than Carson, a puppet. That neither saw themselves as such at the time, underlines the secrecy and deception of those who controlled the direction of British foreign policy during the war.

What of Sir Rodger Casement? He was the Dublin-born Anglo-Irish diplomat who exposed the atrocities in the Congo, where he clashed with Emile Francqui, later the head of the Society Generale, the immensely powerful bank in Belgium. [19] His reports on the inhumane treatment of the native population of Putumayo Indians in Peru [20] earned him international recognition as a human-rights activist long before the term had been coined. Casement’s disillusion with British imperialism grew from 1904 onwards, and he withdrew from the British consular service in 1913. He was a moving spirit in the founding of the Volunteers, and helped organise gun-running for them in July 1914. [21]

Sir Roger Casement. His return to Ireland in 1916 was not to lead the uprising but to stop it.

Roger Casement had tried to use his international standing to influence American opinion, but like his effort to recruit Irish prisoners in Germany to fight for the liberation of Ireland in 1915, he met with little success. [22] He tried to persuade the Germans that an Irish uprising backed by their support in terms of men and munitions would successfully destabilise the Empire, [23] but in 1916, Casement was arrested after he landed from a German U-boat in County Kerry.   How convenient for the British State.

You might argue that without Casement’s  promise that a large shipment of German arms would be landed at Limerick, later changed to Fenit, greater caution might have been taken. The expectation was that a provincial Rising spurred on by success in Dublin would create a national reaction against British rule. [24] Even when defeat stared the Rebel leaders in the face towards the end of Easter Week, the hope that the Germans would send help, lingered. What they did not know was that Casement’s relations with the Germans had deteriorated to the extent that he ‘was filled with almost paranoid suspicion’ that he and Ireland was being used to his host’s selfish ends. He knew that a rebellion without military assistance would be hopeless. [25] He was essentially correct on both counts and, as we will later show, that was the very reason he returned to Ireland.

It is not our purpose to give great detail on the events of Easter Week 1916 or expand on the backgrounds and qualities of the men who defied the British Army and led what has become known as the Easter Rising. [26] Their actions speak for themselves. They defied the Empire and paid with their lives. What else could the British Imperialists have allowed? These men were traitors to the crown, friends of Germany, from whom they were supplied with weapons, military protagonists and anti-democratic interventionists. So far that might describe Ulster from 1912-1914; an irony that was never acknowledged. In 1916, the difference was that the Empire was at war, as were hundreds of thousands of fellow Irishmen, and the State they sought to overthrow had already begun to back-track on Home Rule.

In the muddied waters of imperialist history, official blame for the Easter Rising in 1916 has been pinned on the Dublin executive which had been considerably relaxed about armed volunteers, on Sir Edward Carson and his Unionist cabal for giving leadership to a private armed force in Ulster, on John Redmond for his blind acceptance of Asquith’s promises on Home Rule, on Sir Roger Casement for his agitation against the Crown by attempting to involve Germany directly in an armed uprising, and on the treasonous rebels who attempted to overthrown the rightful government. Officially, the Secrete Elite found it convenient to centre blame on The Chief Secretary for Ireland, and by association, prime minister Asquith.

But as we will reveal in the weeks to come, there were darker forces close to the heart of the Secret Elite who knew what was about to happen, and chose not to stop it.

[1] K Jeffries, Ireland and the Great War, p.13.
[2] Church of Ireland Gazette, 18 September 1914. Cited in John Martin Brennan’s thesis, Irish Chaplains in the First World War, p. 11. http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/3413/1/Brennan12MPhil.pdf
[3] Liam Kenny, Maynooth Goes to War, http://www.kildare.ie/ehistory/index.php/maynooth-goes-to-war/
[4] John Martin Brennan’s thesis, Irish Chaplains in the First World War, p.11.
[5] Ibid., pp 11-12.
[6] Michael Foy and Brian Barton, The Easter Rising, p. 1.
[7] Roger Cole et al, The Irish Neutrality League and the Imperialist War 1914-1918, p. 7.
[8] Stephen Lucius Gwynn, John Redmond’s Last Years, p.165. http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/John_Redmonds_Last_Years_1000438731/171
[9] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes, p. 444.
[10] John Dorney, The Easter Rising – A Brief Overview, http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/04/22/the-easter-rising-–-a-brief-overview/#.Vn-9RITPyi4
[11] Sir Roger Casement played a pivotal role before and during the war in outspoken attacks against British Imperialism. He had first hand experience of the vulgarity and inhumanity of European imperialism in his roles with the diplomatic and colonial service before disavowing it all in his books The Crime against Europe and The Crime Against Ireland. Casement worked to promote Irish independence in America and travelled to Germany in an attempt to garner German support in the form of men and arms for an uprising in Ireland. His role will be explained more fully in future blogs.
[12] Bardon, A History, p. 444.
[13] Foy and Barton, The Easter Rising, p. 195.
[14] Paul O’Brien, The Battle of Mount Street Bridge. http://www.paulobrienauthor.ie/the-battle-of-mount-street-bridge-1916/
[15] Brian P Murphy, Patrick Pearse and the Lost Republican Ideal, p. 61.
[16] Milner letter to Carson, 9 December 1913, Gollin, Proconsul in Politics, p. 183.
[17] Pat Walsh, The Great Fraud of 1914-1918, p. 27.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Fintan O’Toole, The Multiple Hero, in New Republic, 2 August 2012.
[20] HMSO, Cmnd. 6266, July 1912.
[21] Brendan Clifford, Roger Casement: The Crime Against Europe with The Crime Against Ireland and other writings, p. 5.
[22] Foy and Barton,The Easter Rising, p. 21.
[23] The Ireland Report by Casement and Plunkett was a 32 page document NLI MS5244.
[24] Foy and Barton,The Easter Rising, p. 39.
[25] Ibid., p. 64.
[26] There are several current books covering the Easter Rising, but the one which we would recommend for its combination of clear analysis, good writing and thorough research is Michael Foy and Brian Barton, The Easter Rising. (first published 1999.)