The Easter Rising: romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation

in response to David McCann’s very personal and sincere post, I must say that the Rising is part of my history but not part of my cause. I approach it with fascination and regret. Regret for the delayed victory for physical force it represented. But how could it not inspire? The world was in turmoil; nothing would do but for the “Army of the Irish Republic” to start their own little war too. And of course the Jesus parallel and the martyrology still works.” Oh death where is thy sting, oh grave thy victory.. “the fools the fools they have left us our patriot dead..” and all that. Great stuff if you’re a believer, still terrific propaganda for the detached and the sceptic.

The Rising is safely far enough back in the past to appreciate the element of nobility while shaking one’s head at the quixotic. But don’t let’s overdo the nobility. What nobility was there to open the engagement by shooting the unsuspecting sentry at Dublin Castle in the head and bear main responsibility for almost 500 dead,  80% of them Dublin citizens?  I must admit I enjoy Kevin Myers’ fiercely detailed revisionism that must wind up even the mildest Irish patriot. Nevertheless I admire the many glimpses of humanity seen on all sides, such as the solder escorts of the surrendered of the GPO, held after a cold night in the open at the Rotunda, telling some of the younger ones to eff off home.

It’s the character of the leaders that’s most fascinating. I’m with Yeats in admiring Mac Diarmada and Mc Donagh who I think it was rejected the idea of seizing Trinity because its destruction would have been * a national catastrophe”. Pearse comes across to me as an Irish Rupert Brooke type and a gay hysteric. I wonder what the old toughie Connolly really thought of him. I’m tickled by the story that Dev had a nervous breakdown at Boland’s Mill and could hardly hold himself together – but that could be later Fine Gael propaganda.

It was Collins on the fringes in 1916 who learned the tough lessons of how daft it was to barricade themselves in buildings and wait to be shelled out of them. He must have thought Pearse was a total bollocks as a general, as was milady Markievicz  for trying to dig trenches in the Green rather than seize the commanding heights of the Shelbourne. Pearse the theatrical propagandist and sacrificial lamb and Collins the effective terrorist and pragmatic politician. That was the sequence that delivered success.

Collins impresses precisely because of his pragmatism. Ruthless but not romantic, he wrapped the whole thing up in four years, unlike our lot who think he’s their model . Perhaps there’s a social class point to make here ; Collins had no illusions and was rural working class. The executed leaders of 1916 were mainly middle class and romantic. Collins only became romantic after he was assassinated . I like to think it exasperated  his shade in purgatory to become one of sainted martyrs. He surely didn’t mean for that to happen.

Another impressive figure is largely forgotten because he lacked the gift of the gab. Richard Mulcahy was the only man of 1916 to win any sort of victory when he led an ambush of the RIC at Ashbourne and inflicted 18 dead at a cost of 2 volunteers. It was Mulcahy probably more than any other who steadied the ship of state after Collins’s assassination in August 1922. It was who gave the order as Irish Army chief of staff to carry out reprisals against Irregulars in the civil war, earning undying bitterness from what became  Fianna Fail. Strange how ruthlessness impresses and political romanticism irritates at this distance.

This 1971 RTE recording of veterans assessing Mulcahy’s career just after his death shows vividly how that generation of leaders aspired to be revolutionaries only temporarily. How lucky that generation was compared to ours. Listen carefully at how they glide over the reprisal executions, still so sensitive in 1971  (after the Arms Trial, remember) and  far more ruthless than what the  British inflicted.

l marvel that even in 1916, much British opinion led by the prime minister Asquith feared that the 15 executions by court martial were excessive and too hasty.  What other country would have been so lenient against rebels who also invoked “ gallant allies in Europe” in time of desperate war?

Then there is my counterfactual. If the militants had waited a bit and accepted the feeble Home Rule parliament, how could the British have  prevented it acquiring the same powers it had acquired by 1922 after almost three years of guerrilla war and over 3000 dead? But politics are only partly rational. Like so many others in emerging states, Irish militant nationalists had to have their fight. It’s pointless to begrudge nationalism its dramatic foundation myth. With respect to Kevin Myers, it’s no more nonsense than most and is no excuse against reconciliation today.

And yet … standing in those lovingly preserved terrible cells and the execution  courtyard of Kilmainham gaol , I lament the terrible waste of time and lives across most of the century which Easter 1916 inspired. But yes you’re right; it wasn’t all their fault. I haven’t started on the Brits and the northern unionists yet.

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  • wild turkey


    a great piece of writing.

    was gonna say, save it from the memoirs, but WTF you have decided to post your words on Slugger

    words, which remind me of something. a something Abraham Lincoln attempted to examine

    “This fragment was found and preserved by John Hay, one of President Lincoln’s White House secretaries, who said it was “not written to be seen of men.” “Mr. Lincoln admits us into the most secret recesses of his soul …. Perplexed and afflicted beyond the power of human help, by the disasters of war, the wrangling of parties, and the inexorable and constraining logic of his own mind, he shut out the world one day, and tried to put into form his double sense of responsibility to human duty and Divine Power; and this was the result. It shows — as has been said in another place — the awful sincerity of a perfectly honest soul, trying to bring itself into closer communion with its Maker.”

    The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Pearse comes across to me as an Irish Rupert Brooke type and a gay hysteric.”

    Oh Brian, as I said on one of the other threads;

    “I’m always interested in what is left out of a thread on Slugger. Its probably important not to forget that Pádraig Pearse was not simply a “one hit wonder” and the two dimensional violent revolutionary (Comrade Stalin’s ‘madman’ on another thread) version that is popularly remembered has almost entirely eclipsed a much more interesting man, “A Significant Irish Educationist” to use the title of Séamus Ó Buachalla’s excellent 1980 collection of Pearse’s writings on education. This social amnesia regarding Pearse’s ideas on the provision of a full education for the entire person, rather than a limited state education that simply strives to produce trained slaves to service the economy, is another of the “fatal wounds” of 1916.”

    I’m always surprised when I see clearly intelligent, caring people make pithy simplifications about an historical figure. Pearse’s work for the full education of an entire person are, I think, his most important contribution to Irish culture, and something as yet quite unexplored in this crude age of an education that is increasingly limited to the narrow requirements of an homogenised economy (“getting on in life and bettering ourselves”) first and foremost.

    And as for “gay hysteric……”

  • Reader

    …Irish Rupert Brooke type…
    Handing out a rifle as a school poetry prize seems to fit the bill.
    SeaanUiNeill: Pearse’s work for the full education of an entire person…
    Handing out a rifle as a school poetry prize seems to fit the bill.
    Pearse for education minister!

  • Gopher

    Nobody with sense begrudges the act which led to the foundation of the Republic its the complete lack of perspective. In the skirmish and it was a skirmish 466 people died. In the campaign for independence 2000 people lost their lives and in the Civil War (sic) around 3,000. So the British if you take the propaganda at face value are responsible for around 2,500 deaths. On the Queen Mary in one *instant* a few days later 1,200 men died on the Invincible 1,000 and a following 1,000 on the Indefatigable . It wernt Thermopylae, the “might” of the British Empire deployed few resources to the skirmish or the subsequent insurgency, It was more akin to the abolitionist John Browns actions and just as poorly planned and executed and with the same result. America it must be noted found Tom Brown his correct place in their History.

    Considering the UK lost some 800,000 men alone in World War One and Ireland over 30,000 the intensity of struggle just did not exist in Ireland to perpetuate the myth into the twenty first century. The hatred from the British side just did not exist. That is the problem people have with Easter 1916, they have no problem commemorating the event and respecting those involved they just don’t want to fuel the nonsense that goes along with it. So to paraphrase the guardians of the Rising have damaged the path to reconciliation not the Rising nor independence itself.

  • reconciliation after the rising, is it to soon to contemplate such a thing, All those you lives wasted, as of course they were in the civil war, cause Dev would take the oath, which he eventually did. Any chance they will want to rejoin us in commonwealth?

    when will people realize the futility of war.

    perhaps in 50 years those alive in an independent Scotland, join with their neighbors in independent Northern Ireland, and those in Rep of Ireland, and those in principality of Wales and whats left of olde England to form a Confederation of states.

    Will 50 years be enough time for people to learn that wars kill many people prematurely

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Good heavens “Reader”, old fellow, just go and actually read Pearse’s writings rather than simply staring up at the old Cinema Poster version…..

    Bit of underlining needed:

    “I’m always surprised when I see clearly intelligent, caring people make pithy simplifications about an historical figure.”

    Some meaningful engagement with a really detailed unedited history that does not simply select out the bits we know already is what is actually needed if we are ever to carry ourselves beyond our deeply ingrained culture of mutual cultural effacement.

    As someone said over on a Guardian thread this morning, “we must de-frost history.” To do this you will need to actually take your historical pre-conceptions out of the mental freezer its being preserved in, an already made up mind ……

  • mr x

    1921 in England is remembered more for the collapse in house prices than anything else.

  • Ctos

    Thomas Ashe commanded the Volunteers at Ashbourne, Mulcahy was his second in command

  • “And of course the Jesus parallel”

    I don’t recall any accounts of Jesus and his disciples killing people or, for that matter, being involved in political insurgencies/wars. Would someone riding into Dublin on a donkey even have been noticed, let alone considered a challenge to the political and/or religious authorities?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Ctos, for the important correction mentioning Tom Ashe.

    Its a sad pity Brian does not bring in Mulcahey’s close friend Kevin O’Higgins who first noticed that the insistence that the new Free State continued as a Dominion within the Empire had some very interesting possibilities for those not bound as Dev was by abstract dogma. During the Imperial Conference of 1926 O’Higgins so effectively canvassed the other Dominion leaders on issues of common interest against Anglocentric policies, that he could laughingly write from London that ‘by 1929 things should be ripe for changing the name “British Empire” to “Irish Empire.” ‘

    Unhappily O’Higgins was assassinated the following year and did not see 1929……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Nevin, over on the “Ireland Wounded by 1916” thread I’ve my own slightly less belligerent version of my grief over Pádraig’s unfortunate conversion to the gun, ending:

    “Interestingly, another non-engagement thread of Gaelic League/Irish Ireland thought from Pearse’s time would inspire the thinking of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.”

    But then even Our Lord violently drove the moneychangers from the Temple, so I suppose that if you think of Ireland as Sacred Earth……..

  • Brian Walker

    Well now of course I haven’t said all that can be said about the leaders or anything else.

    Seann.. The climax of Pearse’s life was the Rising and he expected, indeed longed, to be judged on it. Otherwise, St Enda’s would have been only a footnote in the story of the language movement. Pearse may have been a committed educationalist but even here he seems to have over compensated with a certain shrill Irish Irishness. I admit that’s a matter of taste.

    He was no monster. The Proclamation is a moving document and he had a hand in it I believe. His surrender is well documented and impressed those who talked to him. He reminds me of a very different character the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who following John Henry Newman taught in UCD for a while 25 years or so previously. There is a similar strain of private ecstasy put into words suggesting suppression that both had in common – in Hopkins case non- politically. I decided to call a halt before going on to Kevin O Higgins.

    I could have reflected that Desmond FitzGerald must have been a disaster as chief cook in the GPO if he was anything like his son Garret. A few years ago I spent a pleasant hour with Garret going through his fathers’ collection of British imperial comics and stories of derring-do. That’s as close as I got to the people of 1916

    Nevin.. as usual you really know what I mean. The self sacrifice..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, I thought very long and hard about this, but “Let truth prevail, although the world should crumble.”

    The director of the Institute for the Study of Judaeo-Christian Origins at the University of California, Robert Eisenman, the leading figure in opening up of scholarly access to the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggests that the scrolls may imply that the historical Jesus was closely aligned with the apocalyptic violent militancy of the Ebionite/Essene Zaddikim who would later lead the revolt against Roman rule, and that these groups may even have represented what Christianity was before it was re-envisiged for the Roman world as a mystery religion by St Paul.

  • Seann, I was just challenging Brian’s comment. Perhaps Pearse’s inspiration came more from Irish myth and, possibly, the Old Testament than from the New Testament. What would Jesus have thought of the night life of Temple Bar? 🙂

  • “Nevin.. as usual you really know what I mean. The self sacrifice..”

    Brian, I made my comment because I think it’s important to draw a clear distinction between the actions of, say, pacifists and those of militants – some who will fight to the last drop of other people’s blood.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Of course, Brian, I know this! To say it all is not a column but a book, and I’d not put you to “that drudgery”, i’d rather “call the muses home” (sorry WBY!).

    But I still think that the Pearse from before 1911 and the intense politicisation of virtually everything is a far more interesting man, even if he “ran to his mystic destiny” in 1916. A terrible waste of a gifted man, but 1916 was a year for that.

    And its the essence of Pearse’s penetrating analysis of educational practice in general, rather than his experiment of St Endas that I’m referring to, which is why I describe him as ““A Significant Irish Educationist” to use the title of Séamus Ó Buachalla’s excellent 1980 collection of Pearse’s writings on education.”

    The theme of this body of work is “education rather than competition” and Pearse sees the task of an educator as fulfilling EVERY possibility latent in a student (a quintessentially Irish talent, in his eyes), rather than simply training future “slaves for capitol” with the few skills they may need to earn a crust, even if it may be a sometimes rather sizable crust. His analysis of education is what Gellner would describe as supporting those counter-entropic themes that automatically resist the homogenising trend of all modernising and centralising political Nationalism. I find it amusing that in Gellner’s terms Pearse could not be considered as a Nationalist! This is the real value of his thought, rather than the version a canonic politico-centric historical analysis (the bane of any real understanding of Revival “Irish” Ireland) has put to centre stage.

    Do not be fooled by the canon, enquire further…….

    And I know what you mean about Garret…….I often reflect that my illustrious namesake, Seán Donnghaileach mac Cuinn Bhacaigh Ó Néill’s mother was a Fitzgerald, interesting!

  • “romance and regret but no barrier to reconciliation”

    Perhaps it’s worth comparing comments by the inclusive peace-loving Ray Davey and the exclusive belligerent Padraig Pearse:

    Ray: “We hope that Corrymeela will come to be known as ‘the Open Village’, open to all people of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and work together for the good of all.”

    Padraig: ““If you strike us down now we shall rise again and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom then our children will win it by a better deed.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom then our children will win it by a better deed”, perhaps a penetrating education reform to actually educate to fulfil the intellectual and creative potential of all within the island……….

  • Seann, as you can see from my comments on Corrymeela and Coleraine’s JCSS I was a keen supporter of not just developing potential but also harnessing it but that’s not the thrust of the Pearse quote. This tells you a little bit more about what influenced him:

    ‘I see my role in part as sacrifice for what my mother’s people have suffered, atonement for what my father’s people have done.’

    Perhaps he never stopped to think about what his mother’s people had done but his basis for action is wholly lacking in nuance.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh Nevin, I’d ever doubted that, even so I’d still have you read Pearse’s educational writings, but then, life is so very short…..

  • Seann, I’m sure there’d be no harm in that – and probably little risk of me becoming at advocate of blood sacrifice.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Me neither, Nevin, but credit where it is due, Quoting myself from another thread:

    “I’m interested in the wholistic, non-compeditive approach to education practice that Pearse mapped out over long years of work before his late conversion to revolution. This is what may have been his really valuable contribution to an as yet unfulfilled Irish future and it is a great pity that while Pearse was able to see that the education system of his day (and this still applies to its contemporary descendent) was crafted to trap people within the requirements of the governing hierarchy, that he was still unable to understand that political violence simply re-affirms the essential control devices of the same hierarchy by engaging with them on their terms.

    Interestingly, another non-engagement thread of Gaelic League/Irish Ireland thought from Pearse’s time would inspire the thinking of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.”

    It was a Belfast man, the poet/Theosophist James Cousins who introduced Gandhi’s circle to “Irish Ireland” and the concept to moral boycott. Interestingly, Cousins had been secretary to another Irish language enthusiast, Sir Daniel Dixon, the Unionist shipowner.

  • Brian Walker

    Seann.. I bow to your learning…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Just a few peas rattling, Brian! Like they used to say about a skill in billiards, the mark of a wasted adolescence (in the old damp private libraries in my case, with a few tall tales about the revival and Frank Bigger’s mileau from family and old friends of family thrown in). I should properly have been off at Trinity getting a decent degree……

    And I did enjoy the piece up top…….something about the invisible human contradictions that the entire thing is strung along comes over well.

  • Billy Pilgrim


    A fine and interesting piece. We’ll have many points of disagreement, of course, but I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    The one major criticism is one of omission. In discussing the leaders and majors figures of Easter Week, you major on Pearse, who was merely the front man, and make no mention of the prime mover in it all, the single most indispensable of all the leaders: Thomas Clarke.

    Clarke was utterly incorruptible, as only true fanatics are. And like Collins, he was rural working class, and had zero illusions about what he was doing.

    The leaders of the Rising were an uncommonly widely-published bunch. Their thinking is right there, in black and white. So it’s a little suspicious that there are such common misconceptions about their aims and objectives.

    In truth, the Rising was not really aimed at the British. It was aimed at the Irish. The Rising was about blasting the sleveenism of Home Rule politics out of the water. It was about forcing the Irish people to stop fatalistically acquiescing to their own cultural destruction. It was about forcing the Irish people to stop putting off the day when they would stand up and assert their nationhood politically.

    It was about forcing the Irish nation to throw its cap over the wall.

    In most respects, Clarke would have considered the Rising a job well done, and went to his death convinced of his success. He sought to electrify Ireland, and even a century on, his Rising continues to do so.

  • Son of Strongbow

    So the “romance” continues. The dressing-up box has been raided once again for a day out at Belfast cemetery (and in case the message behind that festival du mort was misconstrued an overnight attack on World War I and II graves followed).

    Meanwhile in Sackville Street Dublin the usual Ruritanian homage was paid to the Pearse gang (no ‘minute’ for the hundreds of Dublin’s poor who paid with their lives for that fool’s ‘romantic’ interlude).

    What of Easter 1916 was the ‘President of Ireland’ actually genuflecting to? Was a thought spared for that unfortunate Dublin Castle sentry murdered along the way, and who serves as a harbinger of how that ‘war’ would play out?

    Here’s a taste of ‘war news’ from the Patron Saint’s day in 1920: ‘The Battle of Toomevara’; Constable Charles Healy along with Constable James Rocke had just left the church after evening devotions when they were shot by a number of men hiding behind a hedge.

    Constable Rocke was killed. Constable Healy, as he lay wounded on the ground, was shot three more times by his attackers. The constables were taken to the police station at Toomevara, County Tipperary, where Constable Healy died.

    Constable Healy, 25, was from Glengarriff, County Cork, he had four years police service and had been a farmer before joining the RIC. Constable Rocke, who would have been 27 in three days time, was from Killimor, County Galway. He had five years service and had also been a farmer before joining the police. (Robert Abbott, ‘Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922’)

    So despite the fine words spouted on the steps of the GPO on Easter 1916, and no doubt again on Easter this year, not much ‘cherishing’ of the Nation’s children that St Patrick’s night in Tipperary.

  • Seann, the ‘Catholic Ireland’ boycott fell a bit short on the moral front. Inter alia it involved murder, incendary fires and the maiming of cattle:

    .. In Munster, out of 631 cases, there were only 18 convictions. In 536 cases no 901 one at all was brought to trial. Amongst the cases I find that there were six murders with only one conviction, while in three cases of murder nobody whatever was brought to trial. There were 16 cases of firing at the person, and only one conviction; there were 70 cases of incendiary fires, and not a single person was brought to trial; there were 45 cases of maiming cattle, but no one was convicted, ..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Brian “shrill Irish Irishness”?

    Irish Ireland gets a very bad press from Moran’s very strident popular version. Essentially, it was a broad church with endless variants. Frank Bigger’s version, which had the loudest shout up north, was as broad-minded and liberal as one might expect in a situation where Ireland was defined as everybody, with nothing of the sectarianism and exclusiveness of Moran. I’m reminded of a very grand, very ancient San Francisco Catholic Lady (the capitol “L” is intentional) who told me when I mentioned I was simply an Anglo Catholic, “We are all Roman Catholics really, it’s just that some of us don’t realise it! It’s the universal church, you know!” I think FJB thought about Irishness like that!

    I think the real Pearse, the man, not the over-hagiographised version we all get served up to us, would have been full of surprises…….

  • David Crookes

    SoS, to talk about a blood sacrifice is to sound a recruiting-call for psychopaths.

  • “talk about a blood sacrifice is to sound a recruiting-call for psychopaths.”

    David, perhaps Pearse was just being overly flamboyant in his use of language:

    “Blood is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and the nation that regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood… there are many things more horrible than bloodshed, and slavery is one of them!”

  • Son of Strongbow


    Are you absolutely sure that quote is not from ´Mein Kampf’?

  • David Crookes

    Thanks, Nevin. I wonder how much experience Pearse had of real slavery. His idea that the tired old heart of the earth would be refreshed by blood shed in a world war is dangerous lunacy. When flamboyant speech comes to express warm approval for contemporaneous massacre, we need to deal with the flamboyant speaker.

    Whenever I hear the phrase IRELAND UNFREE I think of the nation that was ruled by Dev and McQuaid. A lot of oul wild talk will need to be exorcized, on both sides of the fence, before we can have a new agreed Ireland. But we’ll never exorcize all the sacred myths.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    A lot of the criticism of Pearse’s rather lurid language is lacking in a proper sense of perspective.

    Remember, this was at a time when the intellectuals of all the great imperial powers were eulogising the blood sacrifice of not hundreds, but MILLIONS on the fields of Europe. So while Pearse’s rhetoric seems jarring today, it was absolutely mainstream in his own day, and in the context in which the words were spoken – a context in which most of the major European imperial powers (their governments/elites, their intellectuals and yes, their populations) were consumed with the most bloodthirsty nationalistic fanaticism.

    (Take for example, Ruyard Kipling, who extolled the deaths of millions and pulled all sorts of strokes to ensure that his own son was among them. To this day he’s regarded as a hero and a moral paragon in Britain. Only nationalist ideology prevents him from being seen as the filicidal monster he was.)

    Of course, divorced from context, Pearse’s rhetoric is easy to criticise, a century on. But if anything, in its proper context it was relatively mild.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    David C

    ‘…I wonder how much experience Pearse had of real slavery…’

    It’s worth mentioning of course that another of the leaders of 1916 was among the world’s leading experts on the subject of slavery; indeed it was his very expertise in the subject that led him to turn against imperialism and embrace his inner Fenian.

  • Brian,

    I think that Richard Mulcahy was one of the more interesting and praiseworthy of the Irish revolutionaries from 1916. I understand that not only did he serve as chief of staff during the civil war but as party head of the predecessor to Fine Gael, but unfortunately was cheated out of the premiership by the bitterness caused by his actions in the civil war.

    One should remember that two narrow bodies-of-water away on the continent 1916 was a year of major military offensives and battles: first by the Germans at Verdun, then by the British at the Somme, and finally by the Russians on the Eastern Front. The German attempt to bleed white the French was ultimately nearly successful, but at a huge cost to the German army as well and may well have contributed to the 1918 collapse. The Somme was a complete waste of manpower for the British and French. And the Brusilov offensive was the last major Russian success in the war before the February Revolution overthrew the monarchy.

    ” It was more akin to the abolitionist John Browns actions and just as poorly planned and executed and with the same result.”

    I never really thought of that comparison before. The difference was that Brown’s action at Harper’s Ferry preceded the violence of the Civil War by two years and the major killing by 3-5 years, whereas the Easter Rising took place during Europe’s major bloodletting in what was the bloodiest year of the war. Brown’s raid was financed by a number of major figures in abolitionist circles in Boston and New York state. It was this support and praise for Brown in Massachusetts that helped to lead to the Civil War. My guess is that despite Pearse’s educational writings, no one in Ireland at the time was so well known. Instead the Rising made several reputations by allowing those who survived to claim major roles in the Irish War of Independence and Civil War.

  • Billy Pilgrim, perhaps Pearse was a malign influence on others. I’ve found the blood sacrifice quote in “The Coming Revolution” – November 1913.

    and this on sacrifice from “The Murder Machine” – 1912:

    A love and a service so excessive as to annihilate all thought of self, a recognition that one must give all, must be willing always to make the ultimate sacrifice this is the inspiration alike of the story of Cuchulainn and of the story of Colmcille, the inspiration that made the one a hero and the other a saint.

    Pearse drew from a very deep well.

  • Now here’s the interesting prelude to the blood sacrifice quote [same link above]:

    I am glad, then, that the North has ” begun.” I am glad that the Orangemen have armed, for it is a goodly thing to see arms in Irish hands. I should like to see the A. O. H. armed. I should like to see the Transport Workers armed. I should like to see any and every body of Irish citizens armed. We must accustom ourselves to the thought of arms, to the sight of arms, to the use of arms. We may make mistakes in the


    beginning and shoot the wrong people ; but bloodshed …

    Would today’s fans of Pearse take a similar view?

  • antamadan

    Pearse came late to violence, just couldn’t put up with all the promises and BS from the Brits; while the Irish nationalist majority were second class citizens in an Empire that claimed it was fighting for ‘small nations’. By the way Belgium’s Congo was as big as western Europe

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you antamadan, “Pearse came late to violence,” but I’d still think he was playing on his enemies terms the moment he surrendered to the seemingly simple solution to a complex problem. Its the really important work he was engaged in before his conversion that is entirely neglected in the rush to produce a théâtre du Grand-Guignol villain, dripping innocent blood.

    And I grieve to watch again as no one seems to have even considered my plea to re-evaluate Pearse from the entire body of his thought. Seemingly everyone prefers the big brightly coloured cinema poster version that they are familiar with.

    David C, “Whenever I hear the phrase IRELAND UNFREE I think of the nation that was ruled by Dev and McQuaid.” Me too, anyone who hates the soul-deadening homogeneity of that Ireland would, but the real issue is: would the Pearse of his creative and educational writings not have been one of the foremost critics of such an ugly coarsening of the human soul? If you were to read Pearse’s broad body of work you would find that all the values anti-materialism your other postings commend are the very life-breath of the actual man’s thought

    Nevin, you have obviously looked at “The Murder machine” or at least a book containing quotes from it. Please read the work again for the rich insights it offers in its all to the point analysis of the woeful effect of an education intended only to prepare the student for a life of work-enslavement to others and moral enslavement to their ideas.

    The “Murder” Pearse refers to is the systematic murder of human culture through what a later thinker, Herbert Marcuse called a reduction to “One-Dimentional Man.” As the educational articles are written in Pearse’s rather dated fin de siècle prose, it is very easy (and grossly unhelpful) to make fun of what are still very important, very modern ideas.

  • Seann, I’m attempting to look at Pearse in the round – religion, politics and education – but it’s the cocktail of religion and politics that comes to the fore in the lead-up to 1916. Perhaps you have fallen into the one-dimensional trap. I’ve acknowledged on other threads that ruthless paramilitary godfathers could easily be doting fathers and grandfathers.

    I see you take your user-name from Shane O’Neill, one time head of the O’Neill dynasty in Ulster. In summary, he collaborated with the English to get rid of the Scots Macdonnells and the silly man then went to the Antrim glens to seek their assistance IIRC against the O’Donnells. The Macdonnells killed and decapitated him. George Hill has the gory details.

  • David Crookes

    Seaan, you remind me of something that Nabokov once said about the intellectual life of his homeland. ‘It was getting interesting BEFORE the Soviets.’

  • Harry Flashman

    To focus on the violence of the Rising amidst the carnage of the First World War is akin to criticizing a mosquito for biting a man being devoured by a lion.

    To somehow believe that the men who sent hundreds of thousands of young men over the tops of trenches to be mown down by machine gun fire or blown to smithereens by artillery were morally superior to Pearse and Connolly (and as anyone who has read my posts will know I am no fan of either) is simply absurd.

    As to Brian’s assertion that the Asquith government was somehow “lenient” towards the Rising’s leaders, well that had me spraying my coffee all over my computer monitor.

    The men of the Rising fought in uniform, they fought under their flag, they had clearly identified officers who publicly identified themselves as such and they fought as soldiers of their nation. They certainly killed a few unarmed civilians and that must be condemned but they did not murder as many unarmed civilians as the British Army did.

    So having fought a largely clean military action, in uniform and as soldiers, you know the sort of things that Unionists and British observers condemned the later IRA for failing to do (as if fighting at the behest of your enemy was somehow a military virtue) and having surrendered and laid down their weapons the leaders were still summarily executed.

    Think about that, prisoners of war were executed out of hand, so desperate were the British government to get their revenge they dragged one of the badly wounded leaders from his death bed, tied him unconscious to a chair and shot him before he could be allowed to die a natural death.

    Did any captured German officer get treated in the same inhuman way in the First World War? Come to that did the British do that to any captured Nazi prisoners of war? No. Only the poor bloody Irish got that sort of treatment from the mighty, but lenient and liberal, British Empire.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    David Crookes, yes! That’s exactly the point! Thank you!!!!

    Nevin, I’m honestly sorry about getting under your skin for suggesting (yet again) that you read something in some depth and make from some informed reading a re-appraisal of the old hackneyed version engraved on the popular imagination. It just won’t do, all this simplistic regurgitation of popular myth!!! Now I realise that you are very active over a number of important areas and I applaud the sterling work you are doing, so I realise that have little time to read tomes, but its a matter of consistency. I’m concerned that you damn poor Pádraig simply as a terrorist ( a canonic and rather obvious understanding of the poor man, hardly “a re-apprasal in the round!”) but that you repeatedly argued the cause of Margaret Wilson and and Margaret McLachlan, recognised supporters and possibly activists in an earlier ages violent Covenantor terrorism. These things sit rather ill together.

    But, alas, all I am saying, is give Pearse a chance, (sorry John Lennon!)

    About Seaan, just a wee correction, George Hill has a rather shallow version of the details, simply a re-hash of the few state papers available to him, with some bizarre interpretation on his part. His MacDonnells of Antrim has quite a few howlers such as the mis-dating of the Battle of Aura (1583, see Wikipedia) to 1559!!! Its worth going to original Irish sources for Seán Donnghaileach mac Cuinn Bhacaigh Ó Néill,(the sassenach even get his name wrong! “Séan an díomais”, indeed!!! this is a translation into Irish by the Four masters of Henry Sidney’s assessment!!!). The best non-Irish version, in the Abbé Mac Geoghegan’s ‘Histoire de l’Irlande Ancienne et Moderne’, which gives the first decently balanced version of his illustrious career, but there is a reasonable nineteenth century translation for the non-French speakers.

    And for anyone actually interested in a reasonably accurate version (the bits I contributed, anyway):

    And Harry Flashman, thank you for so very clearly outlining that all important difference between Pearse and Co and most of their successors….

  • Son of Strongbow

    Who’d have thought things were so straightforward?

    I’m off down the army surplus store to get a few new duds and reinvent myself as General Strongbow, now note I’ve published my ‘military rank’.

    On behalf of Dál Riata (no mandate: no worries!) I’m going to march on County Hall at Galgorm, I’ll jot down some personal musings to proclaim from the steps on the way there. But mark me, things will never be the same again! (Note to self: take along a stout stick to wave about, and a flag of some sort, blue I think to go with my eyes)

    Should my personal putch be defeated by Crown Forces and my ‘war’ lost as a Prisoner of War I’ll expect repartition to my homeland, in time for tea would suit me fine.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Congratulations, Gilbert (SoS), but is that not simply emulating what your illustrious father, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke actually did?

    Well not Galgorm perhaps…..

  • “Nevin, I’m honestly sorry about getting under your skin”

    Now that’s where you’ve started to go wrong – right at the beginning. Nobody gets under my skin. You’ll have to try a bit harder 🙂

  • Brian Walker

    Re leniency over the 15 executed. You can’t move the goal posts at will. Just by putting on a uniform and calling yourself a republic doesn’t qualify you for belligerent status in anyone’s law. I admit that republicanism has always between good at imagining a reality in order to make it so.

    I continue to marvel that British sensibilities had not been so coarsened by war that old Liberal values still survived. Contrast that with the ruthless behaviour of the Germans in Belgium and the Austrians in Serbia in 1914, to name but two examples. The Irish although not quite “us” were nevertheless close enough not to qualify as an enemy and therefore as a belligerent.

    Things changed of course. From 1919 the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland weakened well before the Treaty not only because of the IRA campaign but because Sinn Fein showed it was able to paralyse the British administration and even take over some of its functions such as with the Dail courts.

    When reprisal killings were authorised by Lloyd George in 1920, the moral authority of British rule vanished – again in my opinion.

  • Harry Flashman

    I wasn’t aware that the definition of who constituted a soldier of the Irish Republic was the sole preserve of soldiers of the British Empire. How remarkable.

    The men who fought in 1916 armed themselves and trained openly in uniform. They raised their nation’s flag and unequivocally declared their nation’s statehood, their officers appended their names to the declaration and then printed and distributed the document widely.

    They then took up positions and openly fought in military fashion, in uniform, against the troops who, also in uniform, they regarded as occupying their nation.

    The men of 1916 were soldiers, their nation recognises them as such today. The definition of who constituted an Irish soldier was not the preserve of the men of Aldershot or Whitehall.

    Would you deny the Poles of the Polish Home Army who fought the Germans in Warsaw in 1944 the name of soldiers? The men of the Baltic republics who fought against their Soviet occupiers, were they not soldiers? The men of Washington’s army who fought King George, were they not soldiers? The men of the Boer armies who fought the British were they not soldiers? The Bosnians who fought for their nation against the Serbs, were they not soldiers? Need I go on?

    The double standards here are truly remarkable, the complaint against the IRA in the 1920s and subsequently was that they were “terrorists”, members of a “murder gang” because they fought in civilian clothes and conducted ambushes and planted bombs (as if no British soldiers ever did the same). “Why don’t they come out and fight like men?” was the refrain, poor Tommy Atkins hadn’t got a chance against these killers who came out of a crowd of civilians and them slunk back in again.

    Yet when Irish Republicans did precisely that and fought an open military war against the British on hopelessly lopsided military terms and fought in uniform and then surrendered honourably and laid down their weapons their leaders were summarily executed by the same British Army who had spent the previous week massacring unarmed civilians in the side streets of Dublin’s Quays.

    I ask again did any captured German officer, the butchers of Belgium so the British called them, receive the same barbaric treatment as was meted out by the liberal British to James Connolly? No that sort of brutality was reserved by the British for their Irish subjects.

  • Harry Flashman

    For those of you who still refuse to accept the term soldiers as appended to the 1916 rebels let me give you the Geneva Convention definition of a lawful combatant (ie soldier who is entitled to prisoner of war status).

    To assist those who believe it absurd to treat mere Irishmen as lawful soldiers of their nation I have emboldened a few relevant clauses.

    Article 4

    A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

    1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

    2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:

    (a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
    (b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
    (c) That of carrying arms openly;
    (d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

    3. Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

    The soldiers of the Irish Republic, in uniform and carrying their weapons openly, fought clearly under the flag of their nation and stated unequivocally and for the record that their nation was allied to several of the nations fighting in the war and were therefore party to the conflict.

    They couldn’t have made it any easier for the British to beat them but still fought as lawful combatants. If you refuse them that status then you are saying that no people may ever under any circumstances fight against what they regard as a foreign government. A frightening concept.

    I remind you that the vast majority of the atrocities against civilians, ie behaviour not in accordance with the customs of war, in the Rising were committed by men in British uniform, none of whom faced a firing squad.

    But hey, those liberal lenient British, weren’t the Irish lucky to be ruled by them?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Harry, brilliantly argued.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, “more in grief than in anger…….” And I do realise that not everyone is a professional historian or can take the time to read up on matters fully in order to be able to make really informed comments, such as Harry Flashman’s. But your postings are always interesting , even stimulating (even if the background reading is of necessity, perhaps, limited).

  • Son of Strongbow

    As of today I’ve proclaimed the Republic of Dál Riata, no scratch that, the Kingdom of Dál Riata (I fancy a bit of bling around my head).

    Although, much as a “Republic of Ireland” at Easter 1916, it doesn’t exist outside of my head I will take comfort from international conventions that allegedly make my fantasies a legal reality.

    So I begin my reign by insisting on road tolls, specifically for cyclists entering my domain. 😉

  • “And I do realise that not everyone is a professional historian”

    Seann, if you want a cheer-leader for the Macdonnells, I’d recommend George Hill, for the O’Neills Hiram Morgan. I don’t put too much faith in ‘professional’ historians 😉

  • Harry Flashman

    SoS, if Home Rule had been imposed on Ulster in 1912, would the men of the UVF, in uniform, under distinct command of identifiable officers, carrying weapons openly and prepared to fight according to the customs of war, have had the right to be classified as legitimate soldiers entitled to protection of the rules of war or would you have regarded them as mere traitors and terrorists who could be summarily executed upon capture? Do the same rules not apply to the soldiers of other nations?

    By the way the last time I checked the Irish Republic exists and the men of 1916 are regarded as soldiers of that nation who were entitled to the honours and pensions payable to veterans of that nation.

    I am not a fan of the Easter Rising, I believe it to have been a tragedy for Ireland.

    I think Pearse was a fanatical nationalist poet with an unhealthy obsession for militarising children, but in that regard no different from Rudyard Kipling or Robert Baden-Powell or indeed countless other such nationalist poets in Europe at that time. Anyone who has the least knowledge of my opinions will know the contempt that I have for the Marxist politics of Connolly.

    However the fact remains that the 1916 rebels fought openly and honourably as soldiers in uniform fighting for their country. They fought heroically against hopeless odds and it is a measure of their humanity that they surrendered honourably to prevent any further loss of life. The behaviour of the British toward their leaders was atrocious and repulsive.

    The execution of Connolly was nothing short of a war crime, it was cold-blooded murder and is a foul stain on the reputation of the British Army. It followed dozens of other murders of unarmed Irish civilians by British troops in the course of the Rising, none of which were punished.

    Two armies fought in the Easter Rising only one did so according to the rules of war and with honour, and it wasn’t the British.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Nevin, I’d cut poor old Hill who drivelled on and on, but has mislead so many with his witless assumptions and inaccuracies, but I can only cheer your suggestion of the work of my old friend the “professional Historian” Professor Hiram Morgan, so perhaps you might now actually read what he has written on Ulster’s greatest ruler, Seán Donnghaileach, in passing in his unsurpassed “Tyrone’s Rebellion” a book everyone in the province who takes our history seriously should own. Your earlier comments on my namesake suggest that you have only a scant acquaintance with Hiram’s work…..

    “I don’t put too much faith in ‘professional’ historians,” so
    if you are unwilling to at least look at the people who are actually examining the material within a discipline, and evaluate their work, who gives you your information? Oh, I remember, amateurs like George Hill…..

  • Brian Walker

    Harry says:
    “The men of 1916 were soldiers, their nation recognises them as such today. The definition of who constituted an Irish soldier was not the preserve of the men of Aldershot or Whitehall.”
    A perfect statement of misunderstanding, I’m afraid.
    What their nation does today is irrelevant to my point. This is ideology not argument and is one of the reasons why we get so tangled up with our history today.
    Sorry but you can’t self-define your status, just like that or argue teleologically i.e.backwards from a desired conclusion or an ultimately achieved result. The invocation of the Irish people and Irish tradition may be a splendid spur to action but it isn’t enough. It lacked the legitimacy of facts on the ground that the insurgency later created or the democratic validation which you could say- just about – that the election of 1918 gave to the IRA campaign. Even there of course the sources of legitimacy weren’t clear and came into direct conflict in the civil war. It took time for the Dail to become an effective challenge to British rule, It failed for example to win the recognition of the Americans and the others at the Versailles Peace Conference.
    Now you may say they deserved recognition and were honourable and so forth. This again is strictly irrelevant. I am not saying they deserved execution because they were bad people. I am making the limited point that the legal government of the day was faced with an armed rebellion in time of desperate war and inflicted much less severe punishment than many other states before, during and after.

    Other sentences were commuted, Willie Pearse who was a brother not a leader, should have been spared. The quality of the contemporary debate about the executions was high and impressive and centred on the use of martial law and the speed of the executions. Even General Maxwell predicted the political fall-out. It’s interesting to note that the prosecutor of the 1916 leaders served as legal adviser to the British administration to 1920 and then served as a Free State High Court judge until 1936. His 1916 role was therefore no anathema to the successor government..( His papers are in the Republic’s National Archives but are not open to scrutiny. Pity)

    On your comparisons..

    The Free Poles etc were the legatees of a defeated state still recognised as a legitimate government by the Allies.

    . . Would you say that the Russian – speaking Ukrainians who have an undoubted cause and are now occupying buildings are belligerents and should have their Donetsk republic recognised? If you do Putin would agree with you. He too might create a new reality but he lacks the appealing balm of sacrifice and victimhood

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Brian, the situations not at all clear cut. There were important legal precedents that were ignored at the court marshall, and Roger Casement’s would later reference his defence to the status of Irish wild geese soldiers in the Armies of France only 150 years before These eighteenth century agreements on belligerent status were the foundation on which the Geneva Conventions were built. The issues Harry raises, regarding article 4 of the Geneva Convention, ie: Uniform, chain of command etc, were talismans to affirm a right to such status, and as allies of Germany, something Casement worked hard to develop, this actually was a serious, arguable defence for the insurgents, even if it was not accepted in the heated atmosphere of the time.

    The case Harry has put forward is not simply sentiment…..

  • Brian Walker

    . seann . but doomed to fail. by the lights of the times and situation..

    Nice point about the Wild Geese who benefited from the Treaty of Limerick for which there was no equivalent that I know of in 1916

  • Son of Strongbow


    The last time I too checked the Irish Republic did exist. However it did not on Easter 1916. The self-appointed ‘military officers’ of the ‘army’ you applaud were not legitimate representatives of any existing state. Nor did they become so by merely reading out some mawkish, yet deadly dangerous, nonsense on the steps of the GPO.

    Any citizen who takes up arms illegally against the state is a criminal, or a “traitor and terrorist” if you prefer. The UVF certainly qualified.

    I imagine that the police sentry at Dublin Castle, perhaps a Dublin native himself, had witnessed the marching about of his fancifully dressed fellow Irishmen on a number of occasions. Lamentably such displays were tolerated by the authorities, as had those of the UVF a few years earlier.

    Perhaps in the few seconds left to him after being shot down by those “brave” and “honourable” “soldiers” [sic] he wondered to himself who had decided to change the rules of the game, and why?

    Of course Dublin’s poor paid the mortally most atrocious price for the calculated bloody folly at the GPO and elsewhere. The responsibility for that carnage lies with those ‘rebels’ who decided to place themselves in the centre of the city, and who then opened fire on any handy ‘state’ target that happened along; not on occasion sparing Dublin citizens, at the Jacobs factory and Stevens Green for examples, who were shot to death for demonstrating their distain for the barricades erected at those locations.

    Much as in the recent Troubles those criminals who invite (real) soldiers to a shooting party in heavily populated urban streets are often brazen enough to shed faux tears about uninvolved citizens becoming casualties, even though such occurrences are as predictable as night following day.

    Three officers of the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police were also purposefully shot and killed on the first day of the ‘rising’ by Pearse’s ‘army’. Another ‘battle honour’ I suppose?

    The first actual soldiers who responded to what was a no doubt confusing emerging picture, were a handful of mounted cavalry who were sent to investigate what all the fuss was about, and who were shot and wounded for their pains.

    It would all have been a merely distasteful pantomime, if it wasn’t for the innocent blood on the streets.

  • Seann, I referenced George Hill in relation to the gory detail; I also labelled Shane O’Neill silly. I was probably being too kind. In light of Shane’s treatment of the Macdonnell leaders, his trip to the Glens to solicit their assistance and his comeuppance ‘arrogant twat’ is probably more apt. By way of overview, it would appear that no grouping could trust any other grouping as alliances ebbed and flowed.

  • Harry Flashman


    “Would you say that the Russian – speaking Ukrainians who have an undoubted cause and are now occupying buildings are belligerents and should have their Donetsk republic recognised?”

    I make it clear that the political motives of the Rising were suspect, my point was that the rebels fought openly and honourably as soldiers and were entitled to be treated as such.

    By your lights the ethnic Russian militias who are holding the government buildings in eastern Ukraine deserve to be summarily executed by the Ukrainian government should they surrender, and any men captured on their deathbed should be hauled before the firing squad and shot tied to a chair to prevent them dying before they can be executed.

    Is that what you believe? Or is it only Irishmen who should be so treated by your “lenient” Liberal British government?

    I note you single out the Poles, were Washington’s men not soldiers? The state they claimed to represent still did not exist. What about the Boers would the British have been justified in executing them? I know the British did treat Boer prisoners appallingly but most of the civilised world was appalled at the treatment of the Boers by the British. I presume you approve of Boer prisoners being executed do you?


    I happen to disagree with you and I suspect you are being disingenuous when you claim to hold the view that the UVF deserved to be executed if they fought the British Army, the nobility of the UVF being the founding myth of Ulster unionism. Provided they fought according to the customs of war, in uniform and under recognised leadership they would have been entitled to be treated as soldiers.

    Again you obsess on the murder of the one DMP man, a dreadful act I grant you, but seem blithely unconcerned about the slaughter of unarmed Irish families in their own homes by murderous British soldiers, or the murder of Sheehy Skeffington, a harmless pacifist by a British officer.

    To blame the rebels for these murders is the same twisted rationale as the Provos used to excuse their killing civilians; “It was the Brits what made me kill ’em, so it was”. You’d treat such an excuse as contemptible if expressed by a Provo, have the intellectual courage to admit that the responsibility for murdering unarmed civilians lies entirely with those pulling the trigger.

    The British committed war crimes in Dublin in Easter 1916, I do appreciate that among a certain type of unionist crimes against Irish civilians committed by fine upstanding British soldiers could never happen but for those of us in the real world, many of us who have witnessed such crimes with our own two eyes, we know the truth to be different.

    Slavish support for murderous British soldiers as expressed by you and Brian is as repulsive as Sinn Fein bots who can see no evil in the actions of their noble Provos. You are two sides of the same coin.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Actually Nevin, this is where an interrogation of primary sources comes into play. These things cannot be stated in one or two sentences without grossly misrepresenting what actually occurred.

    The MacDonnells helped Shane to challenge the rise of the non-O’Neill adoptee Feardorcha, whom his allies the English called Matthew (father of Hugh “O’Neill”). Shane offered the MacDonnell’s his support for their claim on the Glynnes for this. Their other claim to the Route would be challenged well into the 1590s by every generation of MacQuillans on their coming of age (there are about three Rory Og McQuillans just to add to the confusion), who challenged old Edmond McQuillan’s policy of live and let live with the Macdonnells. But with Shane becoming O’Neill in 1558, and having access to the O’Neill hosting, the MacDonnells turned to the English and began to put out feelers to have their de facto ownership of the Glynnes recognised. Their distant cousins, the Ballygawley MacDonnell gallowglass sept had been supporters of Feardorcha and later the English, and in creating a base in Lecale in 1565,with the support of Séamus MacDonnell, Lord of the Glynnes own elite household troops, they, along with their Glynnes cousins, were in a position to offer England a situation where they entirely denied access to the eastern seaboard to Shane, in the English interest. Shane’s answer was to burn out their home base in Antrim in a lightning campaign, He had the support of one faction at the English court, Leicester’s, against the supporters of the MacDonnell’s offer, including Leicester’s enemy at court the ex-viceroy Sussex.

    So it was not simply that Shane hated the MacDonnell’s and was doing the bidding of the English, that’s the Beano version of events. He was consolidating his power base against a dangerous and powerful enemy. Even the death of Shane is more complex, and an event engineered by an English court faction, and corrupt old William Piers at Carrick, but that’s another, even longer story. Notably Sorley Boy, Shane’s prisoner warned him not to trust the faction of the MacDonnells who would kill him during the negotiations. And Sorley’s line would oust Séamus MacDonnell’s elder line before the end of the century. So yes, “it would appear that no grouping could trust any other grouping as alliances ebbed and flowed”. But arrogant twat is very much an assessment that the invader and the English historians would have you believe, and as a recent historian has pointed out that Shane offered “the most serious threat that the Tudors would face in Ulster until the outbreak of the nine years war.” So please go back an try the best non-Irish version of Shane’s career, in the Abbé Mac Geoghegan’s ‘Histoire de l’Irlande Ancienne et Moderne’

    Brian, I’m sorry to have taken your thread to such un-1916 regions, and at such length, in answering Nevin, but just one last thing, I was not making a general point about the Wild Geese. This was the actual substance of Casement’s defence and the explanation of his actions to create an Irish Brigade in Germany, and to formally create an alliance between the Irish State that would be proclaimed in 1916 and the German Empire. My own experience of contract law and fine print has alerted me to the serious legal implications of this formulation, even if the British Court did not actually recognise it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Harry, in answering Brian you say,

    “I note you single out the Poles, were Washington’s men not soldiers? The state they claimed to represent still did not exist.”

    The national Anthem of Poland, Mazurek Dąbrowskiego, uses the marching song of Dąbrowski’s Polish Legions that were raised for Naopleon’s army of Italy. I quote (and translate) from memory:

    “Poland is not dead, while we are still living, that which foreign malaise stole, we will re-conquer by the sword.”

    The French Republic at on point actually recognised these Legions as the Polish state, a precedent for Casement’s thinking in 1916.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh SoS “The last time I too checked the Irish Republic did exist.”

    Well, yes and no. The UDI of 1948 creating the Irish Republic (“the Republic of Ireland Act”) was never ratified by HMG, so perhaps only the Free State exists, actually. But then the Act of Union of Ireland and GB in 1800 was itself ratified by an English parliament that was operating, since December 1688, “de facto” outside the “de jure” ancient formulation of the “King and Parliament” for the creation of laws, having driven the king into exile, and as no further lawmaking was possible (or, strictly, legally binding) without his consent……..

    Laws are made up, not innate things, and we agree to follow them in order to have a society that functions. The killing of the men of 1916 was almost certainly outside the terms of the Geneva agreements, and the British simply tore them up symbolically as there was a conflict on points of law with how they were interpreted against the British law of treason. Both Brian and Harry are right, both parties had point of law on their sides, and an argument, but as the old saw goes “woe to the conquered.”

  • Brian Walker

    The way to resolve questions is to try to narrow the point and not to widen it by examples which take us down other paths. I should not have taken up your other examples. I simply wanted to make the point and leave it, that from the perspective of the government of the day, executions for armed rebellion were inevitable. There were qualms about using martial law at all in a civil society which were to persist well into 1920. There was quite a lot of debate in May -June 1916 over whether Asquith should have intervened earlier to reduce the numbers. Many in the government were men of conscience too .

    I suppose my overall message is that to make historical judgements – which can still differ – you have to consider both sides. That’s all I really want to say.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Well, yes and no. The UDI of 1948 creating the Irish Republic (“the Republic of Ireland Act”) was never ratified by HMG, so perhaps only the Free State exists, actually.”

    You make a good point Seaan, apparently SoS and Brian believe that the Irish Republic didn’t come into existence until the British government said it did. A peculiarly blinkered, imperialist and arrogant attitude.

    Just for the record the Irish Republic came into existence when the citizens of that republic say it did.

    It reminds me of the attitude of the Dutch (another imperialist nation that believed itself to be the very height of liberal virtue) to the Indonesian Republic.

    The Indonesians celebrate the birth of their nation when independence was declared by first president Soekarno in Jakarta at 10am on August 17 1945, no doubt another of these “mawkish dangerous” documents that SoS refers to, I mean how dare these subject peoples dare to assert their independence from the benign rule of their imperial masters? The upstarts!

    Anyway, as with Ireland and the United States beforehand it took a while for the colonial masters to get the message and leave the citizens of the new republic to govern themselves for better or for worse. After five years of hard and bitter fighting the Dutch finally accepted the tide of history and agreed to leave Indonesia. The Dutch left in 1950.

    However the Dutch refused to recognise that August 17 1945 was the date of the birth of the Indonesian Republic, they alone among the nations of the earth insisted that Indonesian independence didn’t occur until Queen Wilhelmina said it did. Believe it or not they persisted in this attitude right up to four or five years ago.

    It’s sad to see that this attitude toward the Irish nation still exists among certain people today.

  • “Brian, I’m sorry to have taken your thread to such un-1916 regions, and at such length, in answering Nevin,”

    Seann, you could also have apologised to Brian for introducing the red herring of Padraig Pearse’s ideas on education. Thanks for illustrating my point about changing alliances but Shane’s downfall in the Glens highlights my narrow point that he was an ‘arrogant twat’. Her Majesty’s ‘faithful servant, and obedient’ got his comeuppance in the vicinity of Cushendun.

  • Son of Strongbow


    I realise that I have not tread softly on your mythic dreams about the ‘rising’.

    I do not “obsess” about the murder of one police officer, one of about twenty who were similarly murdered across Ireland by your ‘army’ at the time.

    Nor am I “slavish” in support of all actions by soldiers during the events in Dublin. I leave the “slavish” need to raise the murderous onslaught on Dublin by the Pearse gang to something “brave” and “honourable” to you.

    I noted the price paid by Dubliners caught up in the violence. The responsibility for those civilian casualties, the vast majority of civilians who died during the incident, I do attribute to the gang who begat the violence.

    I condemn the murders committed by soldiers on North King Street and at Portbello Barracks. At North King Street a number of soldiers were killed and their comrades subsequently murdered around a dozen local men. The troops should have been held accountable for their crimes.

    At Portobello Barracks an Army officer murdered Skeffington along with six other civilians. That officer should have been tried and shot under the Emergency Regulations.

    I note you slide over the murders of civilians committed by the Pearse gang.

    But why Harry concern yourself with such details? I’m sure you’re already stocking up on Kleenex for 2016. As the green mist swirls around you enjoy your blubbing over the Bhoys of 16.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Brian, “I suppose my overall message is that to make historical judgements – which can still differ – you have to consider both sides.” Thank you for this, for without empathising with the other man’s opinions, we all begin to err in our own. But this probably means considering, no matter how infuriating, that there may be no final resolving of questions and requires attention to those “examples which take us down other paths.”

    Very few questions ever really resolve to everyone’s satisfaction, and any resolution tends to simply create a point of future conflict. Frank Bigger used to think that the essence of Irishness was really diversity. A nice little quote from him, talking about a pipe band he costumed in 1908: “One definite feature has been maintained; no two costumes are alike in colour……..thus getting away completely from any modern sameness of military appearance, and by a very variety of colour and difference of tone arriving at the true Celtic spirit where unity of the whole was best seen in the variety of detail.” And so on through virtually every other area of his interests….

    This is something very far from Gellner’s terrible vision of the homogeneous nationalism that has cursed much of the last century and now returns under the Global and International “Nationalisms” that have superceded the old nation state!!!

    My wife, an anthropologist, calls the (modernist?) quest for the ultimate truth of things “final solution thinking,” a vivid allusion to the true end of all such thinking.

  • Harry, London was still using the ‘Republic of Ireland’ label long after Dublin was using the ‘Ireland’ one. This CAIN webpage illustrates the variable branding in 1985. By 1998 they appear to have accepted each other’s labelling although, as we saw in President Higgins speech in Westminster, Dublin still attempts to create the impression that it speaks for the island of Ireland. Apologies for the absence of a link but there is an ‘inequality’ between bloggers and commenters 😉

    The President’s speeches can be found on the president dot ie website.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nevin, I have books to write, so I’ll just repeat, you should try and get a less comic book picture of Shane if you really want to understand Irish history. Shane’s treatment by the English, while living (and ever since), is really one of the signature stories about why we are in the mess we are in,

    On another thread I’d recommended that someone should read A.S. Green’s “The Making of Ireland and its Undoing”, as a starting point in understanding why the conflict was so bitter. The conquest effaced a developing situation where ireland was beginning to develop a modern European character. The version where an arrogant Neanderthal prat, Shane, is resisting the civilising English culture of Shakespere is long dead in the water, and Shane’s role in attempting to forge a modern European renaissance Ulster (oh yes!) against malaise and greed is still a story waiting to be told properly. But it is ever the technique of the aggressor to call the broken victim “arrogant”…….

  • Seann, I, seemingly, take a rather wider view of the history of these islands – despite being a local yokel. Your disparaging comments are indeed ‘comic’ – as your efforts to sex-up Shane.

  • Harry Flashman

    SoS, I have made it very clear that I opposed the Rising, I am pointing out that

    a) The troops of the Irish Republic, and I insist that that is what they were entitled to regard themselves, were better disciplined, fought with more courage and abided by the rules of war to a much greater degree than the British Army in Easter Week 1916, that is a simple fact.

    b) When those men surrendered, “to prevent further loss of life” as called for by the rules of war, they were entitled to be treated as prisoners of war. If the British felt the need to try them they should have done so openly in a properly constituted court of law instead of the hole-in-the-wall military tribunals and summary executions that occurred.

    Furthermore dragging an unconscious man from his death bed to tie him to a chair so that you can shoot him dead rather than allow him to die of his wounds is an act of cold-blooded murder. If this is what you regard as an example of liberal British justice then perhaps the rebels were justified in fighting against British rule after all.

    To blame Irish nationalists fighting for the freedom of their nation from what they regarded (and the world including Britain recognises today) as foreign rule for the brutality and atrocities committed by British troops trying to maintain imperial control over Ireland is so absurd and bizarre as to not merit a reply.

    You really cannot accept that the Irish have a right to be independent from Britain can you? Move on my friend, the British Empire ceased to exist decades ago. Ireland is a sovereign independent nation nowadays. The rest of the world now recognises the Irish people’s right to self-determination (in precisely the same way that I recognise the Ulster unionists’ right to their self-determination).

    Let it go, the Irish fought for their independence and won, it’s over mate.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Oh dear I do seem to have discomforted you somewhat. If it restores your mental equilibrium to paint me as some sort of pickled in aspic British Imperialist Colonel Blimp figure, please, be my guest.

    The “Irish”, as you put it, have their independence. I can easily ‘accept’ that was the will of the majority of the people in what is now the Republic.

    At the same time I do lament the choices made by the armed extremists within nationalism who made a conscious decision to spill blood in pursuit of their political goals, to prosecute a ‘war’ that consisted in the main of shooting down fellow Irishmen from behind hedgerows and ditches.

    A decision that has over the last century ‘inspired’ others to follow suit, and yet others to reply in kind. All of which has stored up a enduring legacy of victims and bitterness that will see out the lives of most living in Ireland today.

    I condemn them for it, and for their refusal to recognise the concerns of the minority in the north of the island who did not share their vision.

    Perhaps if they had kept their pikes in the thatch and talked more I would be living in a very different Ireland, and very many fewer souls would have met their untimely ends over the past one hundred years.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Enjoyed that Brian. It was mainly their fault though.

  • Harry Flashman

    “a ‘war’ that consisted in the main of shooting down fellow Irishmen from behind hedgerows and ditches.”

    Thank you for proving my point about the Easter rebels, who did not fight from behind hedgerows but fought openly, in uniform as soldiers, precisely as the British would later complain their successors refused to do.

    And what thanks did they get for making life so easy for the British? They were summarily executed. The Irish learned their lesson well when it came to fighting the British, the British fight dirty so the republicans had to do likewise.

    “Perhaps if they had kept their pikes in the thatch and talked more I would be living in a very different Ireland,”

    Oh so it was the republicans fault that Ireland didn’t have a peaceful resolution to its conflict was it?

    That’s an odd rewriting of history because for the previous century Irish nationalists had been “talking” till they were blue in the face as constitutional parliamentarians. Fighting for their national freedom almost entirely by means of non-violent campaigns in “the mother of parliaments”.

    And what did they get for that? Oh that’s right the Ulster Unionists backed by the British Army and the Conservative Party armed themselves to the teeth with arms from their gallant ally the German kaiser and threatened to resist the will of parliament “by any means possible”.

    But hey, that was the fault of the Irish nationalists for not talking enough, wasn’t it?

  • Harry Flashman

    By the way why is the word Irish in inverted commas in your post? Do you really have that much contempt for the people with whom you share your island that you can’t even allow them the dignity of their self-professed nationality?

    Do you think the “Irish” are somehow a lesser breed than the British or French or any other people whose nationality I assume you would accept without question?

    You know you may claim not to be a Colonel Blimp but the derision with which you regard the Irish people and their nation sure as hell makes you sound like one.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Take it easy on poor old Son of Strongbow, Harry, he’s looking at a bleak future. His friends of 1914 would be only too happy to hive him off to Enda if Enda was willing to fork out the 70% subsidy on the NI economy, and police his wild men with the flegs. Its a sad and lonely future, what with the DUP secretly looking with bright eyes at a future Cork oil boom…..

    I remember Brendan Behan (actually Joan Littlewood, et alla) describing his condition in the Hostage:

    “I remember in September when the final stumps were drawn
    And the shouts of crowds now silent when the boisterous cheer had gone
    Let us O Lord above us remember simple things
    When all are dead to love us, Oh, the captains and the Kings
    When all are dead to love us, Oh, the captains and the Kings….”

    And so on for another ninety or so Brechtian verses…..

  • Son of Strongbow

    Poor Harry, just can’t help going for the MOPE reading of things.

    I put ‘Irish’ in inverted commas to point out that not all Irish sought independence, as your subliminal failure to distinguish between the competing political aspirations on the island suggested. I even signposted my point by typing “as you put it” immediately following the word. Too subtle for you I guess?

    Or perhaps you’re one of those who think that unionists are less Irish, or fail to ‘qualify’ as Irish at all?


    Who are these “friends” of mine from 1914? Can you be more specific? Such long-lived fellows should be interrogated to establish their diets and lifestyles that facilitates such long sojourns on this mortal coil.

    ….. and please enough of the random quotes and name-dropping. We’ve already established you’re a confirmed Wikiophile, but do try and have the confidence to let your own words speak for you. We promise not to think (any) less of you.

    Btw, my future is looking rather rosy (as to “poor”, I’m the one in the 4×4 and you’re on a push-bike 🙂 ), but thanks for the concern anyway, it’s rather sweet.

  • Harry Flashman

    Fair enough SoS, we’ve probably flogged this one to death by this stage.

    I’m a MOPER (that would come as a huge surprise to my republican friends with whom I have spent many a night in ardent disputation over a beer or three) and you’re a Colonel Blimp.

    I of course regard the unionists as an integral part of the Irish people. Carson after all was a Dubliner to his core and believed his political career to be a failure because of partition, as he was an avowed united-Ireland man (united within the UK of course).

    I am very fond of the GFA definition of citizenship (about the only thing I do like about the GFA), and believe myself to be both British and Irish and proud of both nations, although always prepared to cast a critical eye over both nations’ respective histories.

    If that makes me a MOPER then so be it.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Agreed. I will flog no more.

    On, calmer, reflection my use of ‘MOPE’ with regards to you was uncalled for and I withdraw it.

    My last words on the subject are that I side with Carson and too look upon partition as far from an ideal outcome to the turmoil that engulfed Ireland at the start of the last century.