Friday 9 December 2016

All changed, changed utterly, by executions

TimPat Cooganon how even the forces of the Pulpit, Purse and Press were overcome and the Proclamation became a text for the times - but has the vision of 1916 been achieved?

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

The GPO after the Easter Rising.
The GPO after the Easter Rising.
Eoin MacNeill (right), who viewed the Irish Volunteers sole role as to defend Home Rule, if opposed by force.

The turn in the tide of public opinion away from the initially timorous approach of the Government has resulted in what appears to be a decent and appropriate commemorative programme for the anniversary year. This is all fine and large, a sign of maturity in dealing with an issue in our history second only in importance to the Famine.

  • Go To

However, in commemorating the idealism of the men and women of 1916 - idealism is something badly needed in our society - we should do so in a spirit of analysis, rather than self-congratulation.

What would they have made of the type of society that has evolved from their sacrifice? First of all, let us look at who they were up against.

Nearly everyone is the short answer. Firstly, obviously, the British Empire and the Unionists, against whom they were almost ludicrously outgunned, and secondly, the forces of Pulpit, Purse and Press. Internally, within the Nationalist family, they were seriously weakened, firstly by divisions between themselves and the Irish Parliamentary Party, led by John Redmond in the House of Commons. He sincerely believed that, after decades of agitation, Home Rule, meaning an Irish parliament in Dublin, albeit one with limited powers, would at last be conceded by the British after the Great War (1914-18) ended.

Redmond had caused a split in the Irish Volunteers by advising them to join the British armed forces in the fight against Germany. The section of the Volunteers which had disregarded this call was further weakened by the action of the man who had founded them, Eoin MacNeill. He placed an advertisement in the Sunday Independent on the eve of the Easter Rising, cancelling all activities for the weekend.

Consequently, when the fragment of the Volunteers still left to Pearse and Connolly marched out, the leadership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood knew they going to certain death. Unlike MacNeill, who had viewed the Volunteers as existing solely to defend Home Rule should the English Conservatives and the Ulster Volunteers (UVF) attempt to oppose it by force, the Irish Republican Brotherhood led by Pearse, McDermott and Clarke saw the Volunteers as a vehicle to be used to secure full Irish independence.

Marching out that Easter Monday, their hope was that by the inevitable sacrifice of their lives they would awaken public opinion in support of their goal. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, it appeared that they had signally failed in doing this.

Where the pulpit was concerned, Cardinal Logue responded to the first executions to say that no one could criticise the government for its actions provided that punishments were carried out "within the laws of humanity".

A letter from the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin appeared in The Times a day after Pearse was shot, urging the government to take "the sternest measures" against the rebels. It went on, "this is not the time for amnesties and pardons, it is the time for punishment, swift and stern".

The Irish Catholic, in calling for help for the victims of the "partially socialistic and partially alien outbreak", said that the Rising was "most traitorous and treacherous to our land".

The hierarchy did not call for help for the victims of the rebellion, eschewing a church door collection lest it be taken as a sign of support of the rebels.

Where the press was concerned, as the wounded Connolly still lay in a hospital bed, the Irish Independent, in the middle of the executions, wrote that: "Certain of the leaders remain to be dealt with..." and, warning against an outburst of leniency, went on: "Let the worst of the rebels be singled out and dealt with as they deserved". This editorial was a legacy of the 1913 Lockout in which the then owner of the Irish Independent, William Martin Murphy, had successfully led the employers of Dublin against the workers led by James Connolly and Jim Larkin.

Connolly's importance was well known to the British. Crown Prosecutor Wylie has left an account of the incident which doomed Connolly and saved de Valera. General Maxwell's pen had gone down the list of the rebel leaders and stopped at Connolly's name. Below it appeared de Valera's. "Is he someone important?" asked Maxwell.

Wylie replied that he was not. He was a schoolteacher, taken at Boland's Mill.

Maxwell had shown Wylie a telegram he had just received from Prime Minister Asquith warning that the executions were having a bad effect. On hearing Wylie's assessment of de Valera, Maxwell announced that the executions would stop with Connolly, saying: "We can't let him off."

Where the purse was concerned, the business community were outraged to a man. The record of the period shows a flood of anger from the men of commerce accompanied by a loud chorus of demands for compensation for losses occasioned by the Rising.

However, as we now know, the executions changed all this. They were carried out in stark contrast to the manner in which the Unionists had been urged by Conservative leaders like Bonar Law to disregard parliamentary majorities in opposing Home Rule, and encouraged to run in guns to enforce that disregard.

As Yeats wrote, all was changed, changed utterly. Suddenly, the 1916 Proclamation became a text for the times. The Republic it envisaged spoke of cherishing all the children of the nation equally. At a time when women did not have the vote, its first words were an address to Irishmen and Irishwomen. Noble aspirations. But, in reality, to what extent has the vision of 1916 been achieved?

The hard questions about 1916 in this anniversary year have nothing to do with irrelevant debates such as should members of the British royal family be invited? Or attempts to fit the Somme commemorations into 1916. The Somme and its intended guest list could and should be properly addressed in and around its due date. But we should be concerning ourselves with issues such as the fact that in the first few days of this anniversary year of 2016, there were over 500 people on trollies in our hospitals, some babies, some nonagenarians.

Would Connolly have laid down his life to in effect take us out of the UK National Health Service to achieve that disgraceful situation? Would Pearse and McDermott have stood for, or more importantly willingly been shot for, a government that has presided over the death of the principle of accountability?

The irresponsibles who commuted economic treason on a grand scale against the children of this nation have, generally speaking, escaped the law. The Government has not even attempted to charge any of them with reckless trading. The Government is bleating about bringing back some of the children whom the reckless traders forced into emigrations - but where are the houses or apartments in which to house them? Homelessness grows by the hour.

We have evolved an unreal national broadcasting ethos in which panellists and commentators exchange economic jargon, without ever mentioning words like suicide or homelessness. Far more people committed suicide in this republic during the recessionary years than were killed in 1916.

For many 'The Recovery' is more apparent to the politicians than the people. Of course, things are getting better than they were during the nadir of the recession, but if you stand up from the floor, you can be much taller than before without achieving a significant height. Did Pearse, McDermott, Connolly and the rest take on the fearful odds that faced them so that such a condition of affairs could persist?

The answer is most certainly not. Instead of futile debates concerning matters extraneous to the reality of the 1916 Rebellion stemming from a still extant colonial cringe accentuated by the authoritarian nature of two forms of colonialism - those of Mother England and of Mother Church - contemporary Ireland should set about commemorating 1916 by recognising that a hundred years ago a gallant deed was performed but that today much of what was attempted then has been left undone.

Indo Review

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News