Friday 6 December 2019

Calm before the storm as Rising plan undetected

The Irish Independent published on the morning of Easter Monday 1916 presented a complacent calm with no premonition of the lightning storm about to strike. Hotels were taking bookings for the Spring Show, while the big stores were launching their spring sales, although not in a snappy fashion. Highlighting their gloves, hosiery and parasols, McBirney's of Aston Quay desired "to direct attention to the undermentioned fashionable items which they put forward as special value this week".

The capital was on holidays and the 'Amusements' included a "new musical melange" at the Empire Theatre. The Tivoli was offering Gigantic Easter Attractions, including "two ragtime gymnasts", while the Rotunda was screening the "extraordinary, sensational, three-reel drama The Mystery of the Cards". For the highbrow, The Abbey was staging WB Yeats's Kathleen Ni Houlihan, while kids were half-price into the Zoo, where "lions, tigers, elephants and monkeys" lay in wait.

The British Class System was everywhere, and the Irish were fully embedded. The Social & Personal column dealt almost exclusively with the comings and goings of aristocrats, toffs and London high-society.

In the rolls of the honourable war dead from the front, members of the officer class got short pen-pictures and sometimes actual pictures, while the lower orders were cramped under 'Irish Rank & File'.

This pecking order was evident at the week's main event. The Gaiety was staging a series of Gilbert and Sullivan musicals starting that night with The Gondoliers. In large print, the adverts stated: "NB. Under no circumstances can seats once booked be exchanged." In other words, it would be intolerable (and not tolerated) if a person of the 'wrong' class was to seat themselves rubbing elbows with a social better.

A visiting Martian reading the Irish Independent of that Easter Monday could only have concluded that Ireland's immersion and integration into the United Kingdom was all but complete and consensual, from the Westminster parliamentary reports to the "Fish Wanted" notice placed by a trader in London's Billinsgate market offering the "highest market prices". This unionist sentiment was bigged up on the sports pages, which carried a glowing report of an IRFU "old crocks" rugby friendly to raise funds for the troops at the front.

The non-prospect of an insurrection can be gauged from the tiny space buried in the middle of the paper housing a single paragraph headlined: "The Irish Volunteers: Parades Suddenly Cancelled". Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill had ordered that "no parades, marches or other movements will take place". And that, it seemed, was that.

There was one straw in the wind, though. Headlined "Remarkable Scene", one report told of the arrest of Dubliner John O'Neill in possession of a revolver, shells, rifle cartridges and an Irish Volunteers membership card. O'Neill, "who had some drink taken", offered to buy a drink for a Welsh soldier in a pub. When this was politely refused, he produced his revolver, saying: "I carry more weapons than you. I could blow your brains out, and somebody else's."

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