Ruined Dublin after the Easter RisingThe whole ‘miserable business’ (this dismissive phrase was first used by The Times on 26 April, 1916 ) that was the uprising in Dublin, could hardly have broken at a worst moment for prime minister Asquith’s Cabinet. With increased German naval activity around the east coast of England causing outrage in that area, it was the proposed introduction of compulsory conscription which was proving disturbingly contentious. Ironically perhaps, with their attention focused elsewhere, the disruption in Ireland caught them unaware. Parliament met in secret session on the night of 25 April to give vent to its anger at government proposals on conscription which many MPs thought unfair. [1] Important though it was, that anger hardly registered on the scale of incandescence which exploded from the Conservative and Unionist ranks over the following weeks on the subject dear to their hearts… Ireland.

The government was adept at managing the news through censorship. The British propaganda machine (which had been established at Wellington House in London from August 1914) ensured that journalists and newspapers across the world had strictly controlled access to the uprising in Ireland. News of the initial attacks in central Dublin at noon on Monday 24 April did not reach the London press in time for the morning editions on Tuesday 25th. But a war of words had already been declared. With a prescience which may even suggest pre-planning, The Times carried an Admiralty announcement about a German attempt to land guns and ammunition on the south coast of Ireland sometime between 20-21 April. Events in Ireland were also being monitored by other interested parties. Lord Midleton, a friend and close associate of Alfred Milner [2] and nominal leader of the Irish Unionist Party, was always one step ahead of the government. He was the first to question Lord Crewe in the House of Lords about ‘the grave disturbances in Dublin yesterday’ and was assured that the situation was ‘now well in hand’ [3] It was not. Midleton’s sources were far more reliable than the government’s and he, and those he represented, had their own deep-rooted agenda. They were passionately determined to have the Home Rule Act of 1914 permanently scrapped. [4]

One day later, on 26 April, newspaper headlines screamed ‘Rebel Irish Rising’ and Serious Disturbances linked to a ‘concentrated German plan’. [5] Reporters, removed as they were from first hand accounts, so dependent on government propaganda, stated that the Germans had always counted on insurrection in Ireland and events in Dublin followed a carefully concealed plot between ‘Irish traitors and their German confederates.’ [6] Reference was made to Sir Roger Casement’s involvement as ‘mere opera bouffe’, an insult, likening his involvement to a farcical French comic-opera. It was a theme soon picked up by an embarrassed John Redmond who alleged that ‘Germany plotted it, Germany paid for it … it is a German invasion of Ireland.’ [7]

Traveler Digital Camera

The second British tactic to manipulate the truth behind the events in Dublin, was to ignore the various political alliances which had coalesced in the rebellion, and dub the fighting as ‘The Sinn Fein Rising.’ [8] There was an immediate and determined effort to deny the integrity of those who had masterminded and executed the rebellion. Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant for Ireland, gave a typically patronising account to The Times on 1 May. He declared that he had seen the prisoners, ‘ all of whom seemed to belong to the so-called labouring classes.’ Of course. It would never have suited had the rebels been portrayed as educated men of some standing. His Lordship continued his condescending view, claiming that ‘the Proclamation indicates by its text that they rely on foreign aid and is signed by Jim Connolly, Jim Larkin’s lieutenant, J.T. Clarke, and old Fenian and ticket-of-leave man [ex-convict] who kept a tobacconist’s shop, a schoolmaster named Pearse, another man named McDermott and three others.’ [9] Wimborne was unlikely to approve of James Connolly as General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union or Patrick Pearce as a University educated lawyer who established an independent Irish-speaking school in Dublin or admit that Thomas Clarke was a naturalised American…though he was a dedicated and wily old Fenian. It was all part of the dismissive put-down with which the authorities wanted to minimise the impact of the rebel effrontery in daring to attack the authority of the Empire.

Managing how these events were translated to America was one of the triumphs of the British propaganda machine. John Masefield, the English poet, had been sent on a lecture tour of America in 1915 sponsored by Wellington House [10] He recommended that ‘some authoritative loyal Irish member [of Parliament], preferably a Catholic, should go over as soon as may be possible… to silence the Irish-American party, who exude poison from every pore.’ [11] Consequently, John Redmond and ‘ other Loyal Irishmen’ were persuaded to give interviews and write articles in defence of British reaction to the rebellion in the hope of tempering the virulence of the opposition from Irish-Americans. [12]

Redmond’s subsequent statement to the Associated Press, which was carried in full by the New York Times, was an unqualified condemnation of the uprising. He talked about his horror, discouragement, almost despair at the ‘insane movement’ and asked ‘whether Ireland, as so often before in her tragic history, was to dash the cup of liberty from her lips’ at the behest of an anti-patriotic cabal. He lambasted those responsible for trying to make Ireland a cats-paw of Germany. What’s more he took it very personally: ‘In all our long and successful struggle to obtain home rule, we have been thwarted and opposed by that same section. We have won home rule not through them, but in spite of them. This wicked move of theirs was their last blow at home rule. It was not held as much treason to the cause of the Allies as treason to the cause of home rule.’ [13] So desperate was he to achieve his life-time ambition, that Redmond was blind to the fact that Home Rule was thwarted not by the men who took part in the Easter Rising, but the men in London to whom he was pandering. It was their criminal war and they were playing him for a fool at every turn.

 

Redmond condemns the Rebels.

Redmond’s sentiments were reproduced in the Irish Independent. Under the banner ‘Criminal Madness’ the newspaper denounced ‘the insane and criminal rising’ and lamented that it would take ‘us many years to recover’. But the Irish Independent hailed as a shining light ‘the outpouring of Irish blood …. as expiation for the acts of unfilial ingrates who have besmirched the honour of their native land.’ With no sense of irony or reflection on the purpose of the Easter Rising, the article continued: ‘Were it not for the glory which has irradiated the Irish arms win the fields where the battle for human freedom is being fought, our heads might now hang low in shame for the misdeed of those who have been the willing dupes of Prussian intrigue.’ [14] In fairness, the article went on to allocate indirect responsibility for all that took place to Sir Edward Carson’s Ulster movement and the Chief Secretary to Ireland, Augustine Birrell, whom they blamed ‘for the state of affairs which led up to the events of last week.’ [15]

Michael MacDonagh 's book The Irish at the Front was sent to American newspaper editors was part of the propaganda drive AFTER the 1916 uprising.

This new found acknowledgement of the glories of the fighting Irishmen might have come as a surprise to those who previously noted the singular absence of such expression. Indeed on 1 May under the title ‘The Gallant Irish Division’ The Times applauded the bravery of the Inniskillings and the Dublin Fusiliers at a point on the western Front ‘near Hulluch’, commenting that the Germans, believing that their ‘treasonable medicine’ was working in Ireland, probably thought it a good time to teach the loyal Irish a lesson. ‘If so, they are probably sorry now.’ The propaganda assault was not particularly subtle. Within days of the uprising, the British press suddenly became fulsome in their praise of Irish soldiers at the Front, while the ‘treasonable medicine’, a clearly pointed barb suggesting German intrigue, aimed to deflect attention away from the internal dissatisfaction with Britain’s treatment of Irish citizens. Around the same time, the Chicago Herald noted that it had received a book on ‘The Irish At The Front’ with an introduction by Mr John Redmond, forwarded from Wellington House. [16]

Once the rebellion had been put down in Dublin, journalists had greater scope to write their version of the truth. And it was a sombre story. The battle between British troops and British subjects was reported as ragged, intermittent, unequal but always deadly. ‘The Traitors’ had paid dearly for their ‘mad enterprise’ but behind the pejorative phrases lay a description which must have chilled the Empire. There was an implied warning that rebellion would be dealt with severely no matter where it took place. ‘ Yesterday, a gun boat lying in the river … poured shell after shell into a large building a thousand yards away, over which flew the green flag of the rebels. Field guns hurled death and destruction into the broadest and proudest street in the city.’ [17] Three months later, the observation made at Westminster was that the ‘best part of Dublin looked like Liege or Ypres.’ [18] For those of us old enough to remember Hungary in 1956, it is particularly chilling to remember the feeling of helplessness when a city-centre is blown apart by a brutal military force.

Notice how the story was framed. Initially the Easter Rising was depicted as a German plot, an ingenious interpretation which placed the rebel Irishmen as traitors to the cause of civilisation and freedom and friends and allies of ‘Prussianism’. Not only did this relegate the rebellion from its national cause to an alien-inspired act of treachery, but it deflected attention away from more worrying sympathies like socialism, neutrality and the political machinations of the die-hard Unionists. In other words, the instigators who wanted to serve neither King nor Kaiser were mad, insane, wicked and selfish while the slaughter of Irishmen on the European field of battle for the freedom of small nations was deemed to have saved  Ireland’s reputation.

[1] House of Lords Debate, 25 April 1916 vol 21 cc811-8. On occasion during the war, parliament could use its procedure to dismiss all observers and have a debate that could not be reported to the enemy. The general public were served up an account of what transpired by the government itself. While the Secret Debate in the house of Lords is currently available online, there is no equivalent report from the House of Commons. However a communique was issued by the government and printed in The Times, April 26 1916, p. 7.
[2] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, pp. 8, 12, 24
[3] Hansard House of Lords Debate 25 April 1916 vol 21 c810.
[4] A M Gollin, Proconsul in Politics, p. 433.
[5] The Times 26 April, 1916, p. 6.
[6] Ibid., p. 7.
[7] New York Times, 29 April, 1916.
[8] The Times 28 April, 1916, p. 7.
[9] The Times 1 May, 1916, p. 10.
[10] George Robb, British Culture and the First World War, p. 121.
[11] H.C. Peterson, Propaganda For War, p. 241.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Redmond Assails Rebels; New York Times, 29 April 1916.
[14] Irish Independent, 4 May 1916 can be viewed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/newspapers/na02a.shtml
[15] Ibid, p. 3.
[16] Peterson, Propaganda For War, p. 242.
[17] The Times 1 May, 1916, p. 10.
[18] Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 31 July 1916,vol. 84 cc2116-231.