WAR, SPLIT AND PLANNING INSURRECTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On the 5th August 1914 the Supreme Council of the IRB, one months after the British had declared war on Germany, decided in principle to instigate a rising for Irish independence.

On 5th August 1914, one month after the British had declared war, the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood decided in principle to lead a Rising. They envisaged, as many observers did too, that the War would not last long and arming and preparing for an insurrection would be difficult within that timeframe. The war continuing well beyond the at most expected period of a year, provided the IRB with the space to organise, plan, prepare – and also with an ally to arm them: Germany.

The split in the Irish Volunteers caused by Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge, offering the Volunteers to British Imperialism for the war against German Imperialism and Turkey, left the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood in a position to take control of the remainder, those who declined to fight for Britain and determined instead to fight for Ireland’s independence.

Over a number of months Patrick Pearse became Director of Military Organisation, Bulmer Hobson Quartermaster General, Joseph Plunkett became Director of Military Operations, Éamonn Ceannt, Director of Communications, while Thomas MacDonagh became Director of Training.

The Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neill, titular head of the Irish Volunteers prior to and after the 1914 split. He would later be disgraced in the eyes of many for his public cancellation of the 1916 Rising which went ahead without him but much diminished in numbers. (Image sourced: Internet)
Bulmer Hobson in later years. By 1916 be had separated from the IRB he had helped reorganise and was even put under armed detention for a period by the IRB.
(Image sourced: Internet)
Patrick Pearse
(Image sourced: Internet)

The titular head of the Volunteers, the Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neil, and such founding figures as The O’Rahilly, while in prominent positions and refusing to follow Redmond, did not embody the same coherence and determination for insurrection as was embodied in the IRB.

That list above contains four of the later signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas Clarke are missing but, though central figures in the reorganisation of the IRB over preceding years, that is not surprising: the older Fenian, veteran of 15 years in British jail in conditions which, it is said, sent one third of his comrades insane and another third to early graves, preferred to work in the shadows. No doubt he had instructed his student and energetic organiser, Mac Diarmada, to do likewise in so far as possible. However, they too joined the expanded Military Council in late 1915.

Thomas Clarke, ex-Fenian prisoner and the real head of the IRB in Ireland. (Image sourced: Internet)
Seán Mac Diarmada, recruited into the IRB by Hobson but became a close supporter of Clarke’s. (Image sourced: Internet)

The fifth of the Proclamation Signatories missing is James Connolly, who in August 1914 was recovering and rebuilding the Irish Transport & General Workers union, months after the end of their exhausting 8-month struggle against the Dublin employers. But he was horrified by the imperialist war and the pitting of workers against one another, divided by the ruling classes of their respective locations, uniforms of different colours concealing their common interests. Connolly wanted a rising – not just for independence but also against the coming butchery of War. The reorganisation of the Irish Citizen Army, the worker’s defence militia, began to engage Connolly’s energies but he was only sworn into the IRB in January 1916, three months before the Rising.

James Connolly, photographed in 1900. (Image sourced: Internet)

So many different threads in Irish life – cultural, political, class and nation – had been coming together, to weave a tapestry that would be read in different ways over decades but would still have powerful images, colours and words to move women and men over a century later.

 

End.

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