Saturday 17 March 2018

Michael McDowell gives passionate defence of his grandfather’s actions in 1916

Former Tánaiste argues that Eoin Mac Neill was 'tough'

Michael McDowell Pic:Mark Condren
Michael McDowell Pic:Mark Condren

John Downing Political Correspondent

Eoin MacNeill, the man remembered for seriously curtailing the 1916 Rising, was not a “dotty professor’’ opposed to violence.

That is the view of his grandson, former Attorney General and Justice Minister, Michael McDowell.

The former Progressive Democrat leader told a seminar on the 1916 Rising at Leinster House that his grandfather was far from being a pacifist. In fact he believed Irish people had a moral right to use violence to end British colonisation – but it had to have a real chance of success.

Arguing that MacNeill’s actions at Easter 1916  are often misunderstood, Mr McDowell said he opposed holding the Rising because the Volunteers were ill-prepared and ill-equipped.

McDowell said his grandfather was a realist about the prospects of success at Easter 1916.

He knew they had approximately 1,100 weapons at their disposal and were very poorly organised, except in Dublin.

“His views were that the Irish Volunteers should not contemplate insurrection in the context of their being hopelessly under-armed and under-prepared,’’ the former PD leader argued.

In essence MacNeill believed an insurrection in those circumstances would be morally unsustainable.

Mr McDowell said Mac Neill’s message in the Sunday Independent countermanding of the Rising effectively confined it to the Dublin area.  

It could be argued that a broader Rising,  as planned by Pádraig Pearse and his colleagues, would not have had the huge political impact that Easter 1916 and the GPO did have.

Mr McDowell  said MacNeill was a great patriot who played a leading role in founding the new Irish State.   

The former Tánaiste argued that there were other examples of his grandfather’s “toughness.” 

He believed the Irish Free State Government was right to use violence to end the Civil War in 1922/23, and also wrote a strong letter of rebuke to the Archbishop of Tuam, at a time of great deference to the Catholic Church authorities.

The 1916 seminar was organised by former TDs and Senators in the Association of Former Parliamentarians and held in the chamber of Seanad Éireann.

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