MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 61 – “Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion”
Held in Association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Monday, 24th April 2006
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park,
Navan, Co. Meath
Dr. Charles Townshend
(Professor of Modern History, University of Keele)
Brendan O’Brien (Journalist and author)
Welcome and introduction: Julitta Clancy
Opening words: Brendan O’Brien
Dr Charles Townshend
Questions and comments
Closing words and thanks
Appendix – Proclamation of Independence 1916
[Editor’s note: attendance at talk = 110]
Welcome and introduction: Julitta Clancy: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy welcomed the speakers and audience to the first of two historical talks focusing on events of 90 years ago – the Easter Rising, 1916, and Irish Involvement in the Great War, 1914-18 – which are being held in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society. “A special welcome to our speaker and our guest chair and all who have come to take part, some travelling long distances. These include some friends from Northern Ireland, members of the Louth-based cross-border dialogue group the Guild of Uriel, some from Co. Fermanagh and some from Belfast who are also members of the Ulster Unionist Party. The Guild has been doing tremendous work in promoting understanding and healing over the past ten years under the chairmanship of Roy Garland. I also want to welcome Breandán Mac Giolla Coille, the former chief archivist in the Public Record Office in Dublin and Paddy Battersby whose father, Thomas Battersby, was in the Fingal unit involved in the 1916 Rising – there is a memorial to him in Garristown. There are also some local historians here and others no doubt who had family members involved at the time. Just to mention that our talk on ‘Irish Involvement in the Great War’ will be held on 12 June in the Ardboyne Hotel, Navan.
“Our guest speaker tonight is Dr. Charles Townshend, Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele and author of Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion, and our guest chair tonight is Brendan O’Brien who has chaired three of our previous talks. He is a former senior current affairs reporter with RTE and has a long time involvement with Northern Ireland affairs. He is also the author of several publications including The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. Brendan currently presents the lunchtime current affairs programme on Newstalk 106….”
Introduction: Brendan O’Brien
“Thanks very much indeed Julitta. I am not going to say very much, because Dr. Charles Townshend is here to say things. … The thing about 1916 is that we really haven’t made up our minds yet about what exactly it was. I can certainly remember – I am old enough to remember and I am sure many of you are here too – to be educated in Irish schools using Carty’s History of Ireland, which told you nothing but that ‘the Brits were bad and the Irish were good’, so to speak, and rebellions were better than all! After a while Carty’s History of Ireland was consigned to its own history and new historians began to rewrite for schoolchildren what they believe really happened, or at least to give it multi-faceted aspects and to say that it wasn’t all a bed of roses and so on. I just wonder now if after thirty years of what is often called “The Troubles”, whether we are going through a new revisionism. It used to be that to be called a revisionist was a great insult. In a sense, it still is in this country: if somebody throws it at you, it is meant as an insult. It means you are not a true nationalist, you are not a true patriot or something like that – that you want to airbrush out some of the more patriotic rebellions and so on that took place in Irish history.
Revisiting of 1916: “There was a revisionism, as I say, that took place – certainly in the 1960s and 1970s – in the writing of Irish schoolbooks. I have a sense that there is a new revisionism now, which is a revisiting of 1916, that there is an acceptance of looking at 1916 dispassionately, and its implications for the foundation of the State or otherwise. I would just like to pose a very simple question: is the 1916 Rising over? In a sense I believe that what has happened is that 1916 was, if you like, taken over by people who established this 26-county state with a view to absolutely insisting that they would establish the 32-county Republic that was declared in 1916 in the Proclamation.
Inheritors of 1916: “Having failed to establish the 1916 Proclamation vision – the 32 county state – historians may start to look at and ask who are the true inheritors? Who are the people who held the flame? It may be very uncomfortable to suggest that the people who held the flame are actually those who stayed outside this state, who rejected this state from the beginning and who said: ‘we are the inheritors, we will keep the 1916 – if you like the 1919 Republic – going, the one that was voted for in the 1918 election’. There are people still who will say the Provisional IRA fought for many years saying that they were the ones who held the true flame, then they changed tactics in 1986 and decided to accept seats in Dail Eireann and they would still say that they continue with the same principles only they have pragmatically entered politics. Others would say that they have effectively accepted the State in all its legitimacy. If that is true or even partly true, the people who would say that they are the true inheritors of 1916 are the Continuity IRA and people who will stay even further outside. That is a very uncomfortable suggestion to make.
“I am not saying that I am subscribing to it, but it is nonetheless one that you have to look at and say: have we, has this State, effectively abandoned 1916 in favour of the only state that was available to it, while in verbal terms keeping the objectives going, knowing it can’t be achieved? Is that where we are now and will the ultimate revisionism be that 1916 is unachievable, that the goals as set out in 1916 are unachievable and whether we should just accept that that is what has happened in the intervening years?
Signatories of Proclamation – what would they have done at the time of the Treaty?: “I only just throw that out and, in a sense, the final thing I would say about that is that one of the advantages of 1916 in all its aspects is that it has a mystique about it which will never go away, because most of its leaders were executed. Therefore what they had said and what they believed is frozen in time rather than what they would actually have done at the time of the Treaty. What would they have done at the time of the Treaty? Do you go down the list of the signatories of 1916 and say: ‘would any of them have accepted the Treaty? Would they have always stayed on the outside to fight against the Treatyites and would never have gone in with De Valera, saying ‘the Republic as established in 1919 is the only true Republic, that is what we are staying outside for?’
“It is very comfortable for us to all know in a sense, that they were – not that they were executed – but the fact that they were executed means we don’t know the answer to that question. So we can all answer it for them and feel comfortable in knowing that, yes, at the end they would have accepted this State. I am not so sure.
Did we abandon 1916 in favour of what was available? “Anyway, these are provocative questions and what I would say for certain is that Fianna Fáil doesn’t own 1916. Bertie Ahern doesn’t own 1916. None of the political parties own 1916. This state was not founded in 1916. It was founded in 1921/1922. Whether you link it back to 1916 is itself a provocative question which we in the media continually ask, and have been asking in recent times, and getting fudge and confusion in the answers that they get, because people are uncomfortable with that question.
“Did we effectively abandon the 1916 in favour of what was available to us or not? That is a big question and I know for certain that Dr. Charles Townshend is going to answer this question perfectly and leave us all going home with great comfort and I would like to introduce him now. By the way after he speaks there will be plenty of time for questions and answers. …”
Dr. Charles Townshend (Professor of History, University of Keele):
“Thank you very much. Yes in fact I think I can give you a very short and simple answer to your question of whether the objectives of the 1916 rebels were unattainable and that is yes, they were unattainable. But I am sure we will want to come back to that question later.
“I am very glad to be here on what is the 90th anniversary of the outbreak, of the insurrection, the Rebellion, the Rising, whatever you want to call it. I call it a rebellion because the people who did it called themselves – and have always been called – ‘rebels’, and I think rebellion is a perfectly nice word to use. But I know there are people who don’t like to use this word and if there are any of you here, I hope you will raise that question as well.
“I know you have all been through a long period of celebrating this anniversary which was celebrated, of course, on the wrong day! From a strict historical point of view, this day – the 24th April – is the anniversary of the outbreak of the Rising. I know you have also been through a long period of people debating whether it is a good idea to celebrate the Rising, and there has been a tirade of very hostile commentary which has suggested that in fact it is a very bad idea to celebrate it, that the Rising was unjustified, was unsuccessful and pernicious in it’s long-term effects. In fact I did a talk precisely on these three concepts and attempted to analyse the argument on both sides of that, just a few days ago in Dublin. I had had it in mind to come along and just do the same thing in a rather lazy way here tonight. You may well end up wishing that I had done that! But in fact I woke up this morning – as one sometimes does – thinking I would do something slightly different.
Background – historians and 1916: “But I think I’d probably better start by just saying how I came to be here doing this. Writing a book about 1916 is not a straightforward thing to do for a historian. In fact it is quite an odd fact that no professional academic historians had ever done it since, I think, the 1920s. And although I think F.X.Martin credited Alison Philips with having written a complete account of it, in fact the book that Philips wrote was a study of the Irish Revolution as a whole, and so a dedicated single full volume study of 1916 just didn’t get written. For a long time it was because all contemporary history was essentially eschewed by Irish historians. Part of the founding rules of the first really serious set of professional Irish historians that developed in the 1930s and founded the journal Irish Historical Studies was not to deal with contemporary history because of its political significance and the fact that so many people were still alive. … Then, just when that might have been dying away, and historians might have been turning to these things, along came 1966 and all that followed from that. By the time I started work on a period close to 1916, but actually starting in 1918 (and this was in 1969), things were beginning to get very nasty, and 1916 was beginning to bear some of the blame for this.
‘Revisionism’: “So I think a whole new generation of people, as it were, turned away from it. It is pretty striking, as I say, that in the great fluorescence of Irish history writing – and it has been very dramatic since I started work – it is still the case that nobody really has ‘full-on’ done 1916 and it is because I think that the history writing has been dominated by what has tended to be called ‘revisionists’ which is a way of saying, doing history properly, that is to say casting aside all preconceptions and just trying to look at the material as straightforwardly as you can. Revisionists by and large have tended to take the view – and I certainly plead guilty to this myself insofar as I have been a revisionist, not one of the most notorious maybe, but I wrote a book in 1983 which is an embarrassingly long time ago now, in which I took a pretty negative view of 1916, I think it is fair to say, seeing it as really a very dangerous surrogate for politics. Pretty much the normal, liberal view, I think, of political violence.
“Really, apart from generally occasionally firing off certain dismissive jibes of 1916, I think most of my generation of historians have really done very little on it. Just one, I think, particularly striking example: a very hefty book was published a few years back called A Military History of Ireland – excellent book under the editorship of Keith Jeffery and Tom Bartlett (Cambridge University Press, 1996). That I think had two paragraphs on the 1916 Rising in it – in a book of 500-600-700 pages! They were pretty fiercely critical. In fact, they represented, I think, in full flog, the most critical, most revisionist, most dismissive view of 1916, and if I can call the precise phrase to mind -“reckless, bloody, sacrificial and unsuccessful”. Those were the four adjectives! So you can see where I had got to my three categories that I explored the other night. …I made various attempts to start work on this and I think it was the inability to really engage with the direct experience that sort of slowed me down and then I kept bouncing off it. Fortunately – or if it is a fortunate event? – I got a wonderful research award a few years back and I realised that this was now or never, I would have to engage with this. And it happened to come at a time when, as I am sure you all know, I can’t really call it a new source, but an old source which had only been very partially available to historians and to the general public, the witness statements compiled by the Bureau of Military History 1913-21 were finally made publicly available. And these are remarkable and fascinating and a very valuable source, and certainly for me they made the proof of difference between the standing back from this event in a rather critical way and I think my being able to engage with it in something like the kind of empathy that historians really do need to achieve. So I have done it.”
The Rising outside Dublin: “What I want to do today is not to recycle that talk I gave the other day, although I do think that those issues are extremely pertinent and interesting and I do hope that we can talk about them in the discussion afterwards. But actually I am just going to give you a historian’s little talk now, partly because of my suddenly realising that I was actually out of Dublin – I am not quite sure whether you regard yourself as being in the provinces here, but you are outside Dublin. I thought that what I would really do, is to look at an aspect of the Rising which I would hope I have done justice to in my book and which I feel I have done more justice to than most previous accounts, and that is the Rising outside Dublin, the Rising in the provinces, partly because I think it is interesting in itself and partly because it does raise one or two questions that are really the fundamental questions I raise about the way the Rising was conducted.
What went wrong? “I suppose that the underlying question that I just throw out right at the beginning and perhaps return to from time to time as I go along, is the question of what went wrong with the Rising – assuming we all agree that it went wrong in some way? There is possibly some scope for debate about just how badly wrong it went and that would depend what you expected it to achieve when you started out, and we know that there were disagreements amongst the leaders and between the leaders and followers about this, but something went not quite as well as it might conceivably have done. And did this thing go wrong because of the famous and standard explanation which was that everything was going fine until the dreadful misunderstanding that happened on the Saturday before the Rising was due to start – the disagreement between the planners of the Rising and the heads of the Irish Volunteer movement which resulted in the issuing of the countermanding order cancelling the Easter Sunday manoeuvres? By and large in most accounts – and certainly in most traditional accounts – everything that went wrong on the Monday is blamed on the countermanding order: the dislocation, the lack of forces and so on. But I think that – I am afraid this is a revisionist kind of view – there is another way of looking at it. What went wrong went wrong because the plans themselves were badly constructed in the first place. So I think the provincial rising which certainly did go badly wrong – I mean that is absolutely unquestionable, anybody who had in their mind the idea of the whole country rising up en masse was sadly disappointed.
“We know that in effect this was a rising that took place in Dublin and indeed many, many accounts simply ignore everything else that happened, with the possible exception of what happened just down the road at Ashbourne – that almost makes it into nearly every account. But for the rest of Ireland, it might as well be that nothing is going on and in many cases of course, nothing was going on. So one of the interesting questions is to figure out just how much potential there was and how much of that was lost in the way that the Rising developed.
“So what I just want to do is really do a very brief survey of the whole country. I started on this this morning. I got two pages of notes, and even an academic historian can’t speak for very long on just two pages of notes – you would think anyway! So I am hoping that this won’t detain you for too long and that we can then perhaps use this as the basis for thinking about some of these larger problems.
Newspaper headlines: “The Rising in the provinces, as I say, doesn’t command big headlines. It was late getting off anyway as far as the press were concerned. I just have a couple of headlines here that I think are fairly indicative. On the 26th April we see the Connacht Tribune. Its headlines go something like this: ‘Is it insurrection? Alleged General Rising in Ireland, wild rumours from Dublin’. So obviously somewhere in Connacht nothing much seemed to be happening. The Daily Express in London is even slower but eventually by the 28th it has this wonderful headline: ‘The crazy revolt spreads to the provinces’. So somebody thought it did eventually spread in its ‘crazy’ way.
Joseph Plunkett’s diary: “One interesting little detail also is that in Joseph Plunkett’s field pocketbook – one of those marvellous artefacts I think in the Rising, picked up on Moore Street actually after the surrender, apparently by a waiter at the Metropolitan Hotel. It now resides in the National Library. And this is his diary during the Rising and it’s surprisingly exiguous, I mean there is disappointingly little in it, just a few pages. One of them is actually about what was going on here in this very area. It is about hundreds of forces coming down from Dundalk. They were to bale out the Dublin garrison, and this actually was the basis I think of the speech that Pearse made to the Garrison in the GPO the following day, on the Thursday, saying that ‘the country is rising, Wexford has risen, hundreds are coming down from Dundalk’. And it loomed very large, obviously on a proportional basis – I haven’t quite worked out the proportion but it is a surprisingly large part of Plunkett’s very meagre account of his week at war. So something is going on.”
Arms landing and Ballykissane accident: “I want to just skim around the country from perhaps the most famous disaster of the Rising which is the failure of the arms landing in on the coast of Kerry. Well let’s start with that. Well no, let’s start with something that happens just about the same time, but I think also raises the same kind of question. The accident at Ballykissane, I don’t know if you know much about this. There are I think various stories about what the plan was but effectively they were a party of about half a dozen radio specialists who were sent down to the West Coast to dismantle radio equipment at Cahirciveen in Co. Kerry and take it to Tralee – and this is the most commonly told version of the story – to use to communicate with the German armship. If I have got this right, this was an idea of Sean McDermott’s … but the exact objective of this particular enterprise isn’t as important as what went wrong. The guys were put into two motorcars at Killarney station and drove off into the night – this is the night of Friday the 20th April. And, at Killorglin, the leading car took I think, the correct road, the right road, because they turned left. The second car, the driver didn’t know the road. I think they may have stopped to ask directions. Anyway, they took a right turn. They eventually ended up going off the end of Ballykissane pier into Castlemaine Harbour. The driver survived but all the passengers, the radio specialists, were drowned. I would assume that the driver survived possibly because the hood of the car didn’t actually cover the driver’s area.
“This was the car, according to the owner it was a ‘Brisco’, a vehicle which I am not familiar with, but maybe if there are any motor buffs in the audience, you might be able to help me out with this. But, this of course said, the mission was eventually aborted when the leading car realised that the following car was no longer following it. It seems like a ghastly accident and obviously it is a ghastly event and it sent shock waves actually through the whole area. But I think you can also just raise the question of whether it isn’t also oddly negligent? How, on a mission as important as this, could you… I know it is difficult for one car to follow another, but to have a driver who didn’t know the road – it does bespeak a certain carelessness in preparation.
“And I think that this is just the question that I raise: that things go wrong, but also at this point and particularly in Kerry, more things seem to go wrong than needed to. And that is particularly true of the arms landing which again is a notoriously difficult business, concerting a ground party to land weapons from a ship which has been at sea for the best part of three weeks. And we know that after its epic journey out of Hamburg, the armed ship [The Aud] did arrive absolutely on time, at least if the captain is to be believed. Captain’s logs usually don’t lie but Spindler, as it happens, has been criticised for the accuracy of his log and his navigation as well. But I don’t think anybody disputes that Spindler’s ship actually made it into Tralee Bay. And the problem is that even though the arrangements had gone wrong, and I think the general explanation is always that the people who were in charge of the landing arrangements just didn’t know that the change to the arrangements couldn’t befollowed through …..The ship is there. The chaps are not there. But as I think the best naval historian or maritime historian who has looked at this, has reasonably asked: it is just extraordinary that this ship is floating around in Tralee Bay for well over 24 hours. Nobody notices it. Is it really conceivable that you would have a set-up which is dependent on receiving these weapons and that nobody would be keeping a look-out of any kind?
“So that is the kind of question and I think it is rather awkward and it suggested for me many years ago, and I think I still stick to this although I am not quite as sure about it as I was before, but it suggests that the people who planned the operation overall, weren’t quite so concerned about getting these guns ashore as we might assume they would be. It seems to me that if this operation really was important, it is not possible to understand how it went wrong in the way that it did. The only possible explanation is that not enough organisational effort had been put into making it work.
Cuntermanding order: “Still, that is my view and in looking at the way it all fell apart in Kerry after this, it just went very badly wrong. On Sunday, once the countermanding order had been issued, absolutely nothing seems to have happened. There is a rather moving account of the Dingle company marching 35 miles barefoot to Tralee on Sunday and then back again the same distance on Monday. It puts you irresistibly in mind of the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ marching up and down, and yet this is very sad. And this is just one amongst hundreds of examples of men and women who turned out on Easter Sunday with a great deal of effort, only to find that absolutely nothing happened. In the case of very many of them, they marched off back home again and they were never seen again.
Communications shut down: “So the whole question of how the countermanding order – not what caused it, but how it was dealt with after it happened – I think is, as I say, at the back of the way I am approaching this: I think it is clear enough that everything kind of shut down, communications from Dublin to the provinces pretty much shut down over this and the remedial effort that would have been necessary – and possible, I think, to overcome the effect of the countermanding order – just simply was not made. We get, in the southwest, a real general paralysis, and, if anything, the impact is worsened by the instructions that are coming from Dublin.
Limerick: “It is curious that in Limerick, which had responsibility for basically covering the whole landing of the weapons and then moving them according to this rather grandiose plan, which has often been mocked, I think perhaps in this case slightly unfairly, Pearse’s phrase about ‘holding the line at the Shannon’, the local commander did regard it as an impossible mission. But it wasn’t that that was so much of a problem, as the fact that Pearse changed his orders at the very last minute, having given these orders actually very belated in the first place. So the Limerick staff were working on it desperately and then were given a whole new set of orders. And so we see this in other places as well, that such orders that do come through actually make the situation more confused.
Cork: “In Cork, they are absolutely obsessed about the conflicting orders they are receiving. In Cork apparently …nine separate different orders were received in the first four days of Easter week! Sadly for the historian they didn’t keep them, there isn’t a nice little file with them all in, so you can see. But that was their view of what went wrong.”
Galway: “The biggest mobilisation outside Dublin actually took place in Co. Galway, and it was big. Again we don’t have a muster. That’s one of the things that puzzles me in general about the Rising, I haven’t really cracked this at all: nobody counted their forces anywhere, even in Dublin, which was the most efficient brigade in the country. But by some accounts there were a thousand people mobilised in Galway so we are talking about a very significant force, and it is rendered futile by its leaders’ inability to adjust to the failure of the arms landing. All the planning is based on the arms landing, distributing the guns and then creating this rather large strategic manoeuvre that Pearse was talking about. When that didn’t happen, nobody seems to have had any idea of what else to do. And the commanding officer in Galway, Liam Mellowes, never seems to have come up with any plausible proposals to counter the increasing defeatism of his officers. Basically he has a series of battalion councils and the officers are all saying, ‘right, we’re done for, let’s go home’. I feel what Mellowes needed to do was to say, ‘no chaps, there is another way, there is something we can do’. He never said it. Only one of his fellow organisers, Alf Monahan, actually said: ‘well we can use guerrilla methods’. I think he was the only one who said this, but he said it perhaps too late and with not sufficient conviction.
Guerrilla methods: “But it is extraordinary, and again here Galway is quite typical, I think, of the rest of the country, that nobody has ever thought about this before. Well they had. The formal leadership of the Irish Volunteers were very keen on guerrilla methods, but the informal, the secret committee, notably Pearse and McDonagh, the director of training, were quite against guerrilla methods. And as a result, well we don’t know quite how much they did, but they certainly did far, far less than we, with the benefit of hindsight, might expect them to have done. And certainly not enough to convince these – ‘defeatist’ is a hard word – but I think if you look at the Galway Brigade’s officers, they were defeatist. They really thought that they were never going to be able to achieve anything. They would have needed something positive to convince them that it was worth going on and taking the risks.
“So there was a great need for local initiatives to overcome this undeniable big problem that they faced when the arms cargo was lost.
Breakdown of communication: “And it is a fact that I find difficult to explain, that after Pearse’s relaunch of the Rising on Monday – after the delay from Sunday – remarkably few orders from headquarters seemed to have reached any of the provincial units and this is not because it is difficult to get them there. There is no shortage of very willing couriers. There is just a breakdown of communication. And so what we see across the country, as I say, is a dependence on the individual local initiative and it just doesn’t appear. …
Westmeath: “I will just quote you a little piece from Westmeath: ‘only 7 of the 70 Volunteers in Tyrell’s Pass turned out on Monday, even when they heard the fighting in Dublin, they were confused and did not know what to do. … They could not do anything. They were disorganised and the element of surprise was gone. To attempt to take a post or hold a village would have been a useless sacrifice.’
“You see that argument used again and again and you lose count of the number of times it is used. None of those arguments would look very plausible four years later and therefore there is something that could be happening I think there that isn’t. So the lack of initiative I think is made, is almost guaranteed or maybe worsened by, the lack of training and the lack of preparation for the kind of fighting that actually would have been workable in those kind of situations.”
Ashbourne, Co. Meath: “And all of this is really appropriation for saying that it makes what happened around here, actually really rather more remarkable, rather more remarkable than earlier history certainly might suggest, because obviously we know that the operation of Ashbourne, the operations of the 5th Battalion under Thomas Ashe, are very well known. As I said at the beginning, they are never neglected even in the most Dublin-centred histories of the Rising. But what is most interesting rather, from my point of view, is that they showed how if you could improvise, you could outweigh the weaknesses which all these other provincial units were so painfully and paralysingly conscious of. Ashe when he started out had no idea what to do anymore than anybody else. He just stood around waiting for orders. Being closer to Dublin than most provincial commanders, I guess he probably wouldn’t have even have seen himself as a provincial commander. He actually did get orders, because after all you could get in and out of Dublin from County Dublin. He got orders, but they weren’t the orders he wanted. He thought that Dublin was going to send him forces. In fact he got orders telling him to send forces into Dublin and I think possibly partly for political reasons, partly to give Pearse the possibility of saying to his troops: ‘forces are coming from the provinces, the country is rising’.
“So Ashe reduced his force to what he clearly considered to be an unviable small number by sending what he could spare to Dublin. But then he somehow came up with a wonderful way of using these guys. He divided them into a flexible formation, almost Napoleonic on a tiny miniature: four little groups of about twelve taking the van and the supply functions in circulation, and he headed off into the wild yonder of County Meath. As we know it didn’t all go perfectly, but when the crunch came, they got involved in a fight, in a way again they had absolutely… no, it was totally unplanned. Ashbourne is often described as an ambush, but in fact it wasn’t. It was a classic kind of encounter fight where two sides had absolutely no idea what to expect. They had run into each other literally and it is just up to the one who can think and move quickest. The single battalion came out of that with I guess probably the greatest glory maybe of the whole of 1916 in terms of this being an absolutely successful operation.
Hill of Tara, Co. Meath: “So, alright, they got the glory. The men of Louth probably didn’t get so much glory, but I think that they actually tell us a little bit more about what was possible and what was difficult for the rest of the Volunteers because this area had been focused on by Pearse to an unusual degree. He had actually appointed, he had sent in a special supremo, to sort out the obviously militarily fairly undeveloped volunteer forces and he had instructions to keep communications open between Dublin and the West generally. So it is a big strategic mission. But he was also given a rather curious instruction which was to ensure that forces concentrated on the Hill of Tara over there. Dan Hannigan, the officer in question, actually protested. He objected to Pearse that Tara was ‘a very inconvenient place’, which is probably putting it mildly if you think about what possible military significance it could have. And in fact Pearse’s orders in this are very characteristic of the way he often went about things, in that the two missions he gave to Hannigan, I think you could argue, are mutually incompatible.
“They are contradictory. But he is trying to accomplish two things at the same time and I think that is very much what the Rising is about in Pearse’s mind, and I think actually that is the reason why it worked, because it is Tara’s symbolic significance that interested him. It might be inconvenient but he told Hannigan it was all-important for historical reasons. The coronation place of the old high kings of Ireland, he wanted the Proclamation of the Republic read there. Now he didn’t actually get this, because the mobilisation, like all these other mobilisations, went wrong for pretty much the same reasons, well for reasons again that are sometimes obvious and sometimes rather hard to understand. Hannigan, despite being given the responsibility for co-ordinating this entire area, then, for reasons that he doesn’t explain – and there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation either – didn’t get in touch with significant other forces, particularly the semi-independent company which had been formed by Seán Boylan, who had also strangely been told – not by Pearse directly but by one of his aides – that he was responsible for the Tara mobilisation. So we actually had two or three officers being given apparently the same mission. And whether this overkill was designed to make sure that somebody would do it if the others failed to, I am not sure, but it is strange that the central command didn’t actually tell them, these separate officers, that these arrangements were being made. Again that is very characteristic of arrangements throughout the country. But, whereas Hannigan’s outfit actually refused to take the countermand seriously, and Hannigan insisted on getting a direct confirmation from Pearse before he would disband, and so in fact his force went marching off and stayed in the field really for days on end, Boylan’s force did disband. They just accepted the countermand. The Boylan brothers went off to the Fairyhouse Races like so many other people on the Monday.
Boylan’s force: “Then they did reassemble, and that again is terribly important, I think, because in answer to the question that I am sort of anticipating might come up in discussion in fact and relaying one of the arguments I was using the other night about the justification of the Rising, one of the arguments that is quite commonly brought to bear is the argument that the Volunteer rank and file were actually deceived by their leadership, that Pearse, Plunkett, McDermott were – well the word ‘lies’ has been used, so it sometimes goes beyond the polite word ‘deception’ or ‘misleading’ – but that they were lying to the followers in order to make sure they turned out in the rebellion. And my answer to that is that it wasn’t really necessary for them to do this. The guys who turned out in Easter week wanted to come out. They weren’t fooled into this and I think that Sean Boylan is probably an excellent example of that, as somebody who has missed the mobilisation. Certainly he is under no illusion what is involved when he finally does get into it. But get into it he does, so he remobilises. He joins up with Hannigan and thus we have this strategic force which is supposed to be fulfilling Pearse’s objective of keeping communications open. But when I look at how in his own account of what he then did, I just cannot square these things together. I can’t see that what he then did – which was very little, and this is not really intended as a criticism of him in a direct sense – because I say nobody really had any idea what to do. But they moved around, they eventually occupied a large house and they sat there trying to make contact with Ashe. That is where they stayed until the end when they finally made contact with Ashe. Allegedly, according to Peter Boylan, I think, the one contact was betrayed but eventually they did make contact with Ashe only to find that he had already surrendered. So they were still in the field, they were one of the last fighting units in the field, but they didn’t fight. The position they were in, I don’t think would have worked very well to pursue the purpose of Pearse’s orders.
Limitations: “So, I know this is going to sound kind of unsatisfactory, but to me this is the picture of how things were. A tremendous amount of energy goes into this, a lot of commitment. There are thousands of men and hundreds of women involved in trying to get this Rising off the ground. I think most people would accept the way I put it at the beginning. It failed. The national Rising really didn’t take off. But as I say the failing seems to me to be almost built-in to the limitations of the training, the ideology perhaps of the Volunteer movement in general.
Critique of MacNeill and Hobson: “And I come back to this long running dispute between the two elements in the leadership, which welled up in Holy Week and presented the result that ended in the crisis of the countermanding order. This wasn’t just a dispute about whether there should or should not be an insurrection, although it was partly about that. And to sort of just prepare the way for moving the discussion on when I stop speaking: the beginning of the revisionist critique of 1916 began before the Rising took place. It is contained in the views of Eoin MacNeill and Bulmer Hobson which is to say the Rising wouldn’t work and they argued this consistently. It wasn’t so much that it wouldn’t be justified, although I think they did take that view, but that it wouldn’t work, because you couldn’t just raise the flag and expect the people to rally to it. You had to have some mechanism for engaging the people in large numbers, and MacNeill’s critique basically is based on the fact that the people planning the rebellion were nineteenth-century insurrectionists, they were the political equivalent of faith healers. They thought that the nation was a slumbering – the metaphor they tended to use was ‘powder keg’, and one of the many arguments between Bulmer Hobson and James Connolly revolved around this metaphorical ‘powder keg’, but that is a classic metaphor used by insurrectionists. You drop the spark, you need to supply the spark and ‘boom!’ the nation will respond. Hobson and MacNeill say: ‘no, it won’t be like that. The spark will fall into a damp bog.’
“So there is an argument about the viability of this one shot type of insurrection and the anti-insurrectioners are basically arguing that you have got to do it a different way. You have got to learn how to exploit the strength of your own weakness. Don’t go into a head-to-head showdown. Use different kinds of tactics. This debate went on for – am I exaggerating if I say years? – many, many months anyway. The formal director of training of the Volunteers in 1915 was in favour of doing essentially – not quite guerrilla training – but what they called ‘hedgefighting’. But as I said right at the beginning, this is resisted by the really decisive leadership of the volunteers, Pearse and MacDonagh.
“So I think one has to accept within the limits, the constraints, it could have been different. Whether the political impact could have been different, that is another question. But I shall leave it there and perhaps we can move onto some discussion.”
Brendan O’Brien: Well thank you very much indeed, Dr. Charles Townshend. Just to remind you, you probably all have one of these [handouts]. But anyhow Dr Townshend has written three important books. Apart from being Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele, he has written The British Campaign in Ireland 1919-1921, Political Violence in Ireland – Government and Resistance since 1948, and the most recent one, Easter 1916, the Irish Rebellion, and he was careful to tell us that in his view it wasn’t a rising but it was a rebellion. Some very interesting questions arising there now. I have written some of them down. I don’t know if you have written down the same ones. But anyway here is a microphone. I am going to pass it around and I just will see who wants to ask questions and we’ll put them to Dr. Townshend. So who wants to start? It’s always the hardest one isn’t it, the first one? …
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Q.1. Jim Nolan (Enniskillen): “Mr Chairman, at the time of the arms coming in at Tralee and the ship in the bay there for so long. Was that not the time Roger Casement was captured and the head of the police there was anxious to get him released and he was hoping that the Volunteers would come and kidnap him, and they didn’t do that, because they felt that Casement was against the Rising? Can you make a comment on that?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well yes that is a kind of odd idea, don’t you think? Why do you think the –well you would be talking about the County Inspector of the RIC – why would he want Casement to be released?
Jim: “Well that was a comment we heard last week, that he felt that he [Casement] was an innocent man. He kind of liked him. He kept him in his own house and brought him a steak and all that. He locked his door and he thought they might come into the other room and kidnap him. But the local Volunteers weren’t of the same mind. If he wasn’t kept at that stage, he might have saved being executed.”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “We haven’t got an official account of the interrogation but the unofficial accounts of the interrogation are very strange, I mean so the County Inspector did have some odd ideas. But are you suggesting that the Volunteers, that there is some ulterior reason why they didn’t try to release Casement?”
Jim: “I am not. I am just only saying what I have heard on a radio programme …”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “They had a discussion, basically. Austin Stack, the battalion commandant, convened a battalion council at the Rink in Tralee, and I think the majority of officers were in favour of trying to release Casement. But Stack took his orders, he said that his orders – which were not to fire a shot before the Rising – couldn’t be broken. What is curious about that argument is that he had already raided a police station to release another one of his officers, apparently he had been brandishing a revolver when he did this. So presumably he was taking some risk of firing a shot, I am not sure. I don’t know. I find this whole thing rather difficult to understand, because Stack, his whole posture is oddly quietist. Whether he really felt that the order to do nothing for Sunday was absolutely binding or that he is using it because he just didn’t want to undertake this particular operation, I am not sure. So, no, I cannot really solve that.”
Jim: “Some commentators have been trying to blame Austin Stack for this part…”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Yes he didn’t get a good press over this, out of the whole plan. It is a bit unfair, because we do lack the information. It is a bit like criticizing the plan of the Rising as a whole, since we don’t know what it was. We have to work it out. You have to sort of retrospectively work out what it might have been on the basis of what was done.
“Allegedly, there was a plan for the landing of the arms but again it doesn’t exist, so we can’t subject it. It may have been a brilliant plan or it may not. I think that that is part of the problem, as far as we can work out from what was done, the plan doesn’t look to have been workable. But various people have come to that opinion, which I think to me on the basis of what we know is probably the only opinion you can come to. But there may well be a plan there somewhere. The curious thing, and the problem with all the secrecy of the planning, is that nobody else knew this plan. Even his second-in-command didn’t know it and being a good IRB man didn’t ask, because you weren’t supposed to ask these questions. So you have a plan that only one man knows….. But that may not be Stack’s fault. That may be the orders that he was given.
Jim: “Thank you.”
Q.2. Fr. Gerard Rice (President, Meath Archaeological and Historical Society) “Obviously for the last, say, 60 years, a certain idea of 1916 was part of the mythology of the Irish State and was therefore inculcated in the schools and it was necessary to give a respectable mythology to a new state manufactured in 1920. Now obviously the need for that mythology is gone and we are down to your goodself and people like you who are revising the way things are. But it strikes me, just from what you are saying tonight, when you mentioned Pearse and orders and things, it sounds like people playing at little games, that they weren’t really either trained or trained themselves or had the cutting edge of someone say like Collins, to organise even a rising, let alone a rebellion. I’d just like to hear your comments on that.”
Charles Townshend: “Well, obviously none of them were professional soldiers and that is a good thing! They are often portrayed as being a bunch of amateurs and actually very often it is said, ‘poets and dreamers’. Some of them were, some of them were poets anyway and they all may have dreamers and I don’t think there is anything really wrong with that. But that sort of stereotype of the really dreamy, I think perhaps Pearse and Plunkett in particular tend to be portrayed that way. It doesn’t fit Connolly does it? He is a very hard-headed guy and he – unusually in the leadership – did have some military experience although very much at the bottom end of it. And he certainly thought very hard about what was possible. I am not saying he wasn’t a dreamer either, because I think all international socialists at that time were dreamers. They were idealists. But they thought of themselves as ruthless revolutionaries and they thought they had absorbed the lessons of the nineteenth century. So Connolly is a hard-nosed geezer. What is odd about this is that Connolly and Plunkett seemed to absolutely get on on a personal level, but militarily what seems to have happened with the planning and the Rising, is that Plunkett’s plan was accepted by Connolly as being brilliant or fine anyway. In fact I think Connolly did often express theview that Plunkett had a brilliant military mind. So he kind of gets an endorsement from a pretty tough critic I would say.
Did the Rising need to be effective militarily? “But the real question is not whether they had the skills to make the Rising more effective militarily, I think it is unquestionable that the Rising could have been more effective militarily. It is always portrayed as a tiny band of people fighting against the might of a great world empire. But 1500 people out in Dublin alone, that is a very significant number, and as we know from what actually happened if you study the way the fighting actually happened, the great successes are had by very small groups of people, not large ones. So we know that it would have been possible for the Rising to be much more effective militarily. But the question is did it need to be? This is what I can’t decide. Pearse achieved what he wanted when he decided to surrender. Many around him were quite shocked and wanted to go on fighting and they clearly didn’t share his vision of how it was working. They felt that they were out there to win and they still felt they had a shot. He decided on the Saturday that enough had been done, and actually he was right. So in a sense, they didn’t need to do more than they did. They might even have got away with doing less. So that is where … and I think one is bound to go into a technical military critique, because in a sense, Pearse whatever else, is responsible for the lives of the people he commands, like any military commander. He knew that and he would have accepted that. That he definitely did. So therefore if you were incompetent then that is morally bad, because people get killed who don’t need to. So I think there is a necessary and legitimate ground for subjecting military operations to this kind of critique. But at the political level, as I say, I don’t know. I think that is where he really knew what he is doing.
Q.3: Séamus Ó Siocháin (NUI Maynooth): “You did a geographical run around the country and the single area most notable for being absent was the northern part of the country, so I just wonder if you would make a comment on that. I think when the Irish Volunteers were established, it was very significant in recruiting and support in the Northern part of the country. Now clearly strategists would probably have realised that there would be a very large proportion of the population who would be unsympathetic, but nevertheless would you like just to make a broad comment on that?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well you are absolutely right that that was a very strong argument and I would say it was so strong that it induced – I am going to find myself using this word again – that ‘defeatism’ amongst the Volunteer leadership in Belfast. They seem never to have had any intention of doing anything in Belfast itself. They simply took everybody out. And I think the general idea was that they should assemble and gradually move off to the west, join up with these forces that were assembling in Galway and further south. And they started to do this and then they stopped.
“That is a very frustrating story, I think, for the people involved many of whom did feel very let down by their leaders and made no secret of this fact. Because, as you say, although it is an unpromising situation, there is a very powerful republican tradition in Belfast. And of course, Bulmer Hobson had founded the Dungannon Clubs movement with Dinny McCullough there, and you could argue that the Dungannon Clubs movement is the real beginning of the Volunteer movement and the beginning of the Easter Rising. That is what I would certainly argue. So in a sense it has prime place in the whole movement. So there is a sense of cheated expectation I think. But it did, as you say, I think the decisive argument was that anything resembling an attempt at local military operations in the North would have been overwhelmed by a sudden and very nasty upsurge of hostile activity, so that is about it.”
Q.4: Linda Clare (Batterstown): “Apart from the usual and expected local police forces based around the villages and towns of the country, what size was the British Army in existence prior to Martial Law being instituted on the Tuesday and the arrival of reinforcements and Maxwell on that week? In other words what were they up against numerically?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “That is a surpisingly difficult question to answer. Because of the war being on, the true flow of troops was so continuous that you only get annual averages of the size of the troop content. I am sure it would be possible to work this out in theory from the military records, but nobody has actually quite done so. What we know is that most of the forces are unavailable because they are in tiny little local stations. We know there are about 2,500 troops in Dublin. It’s the total establishment, that is actually about 2,300 and I think 5 or 6,000 at the Curragh, some thousands in Belfast. We are probably talking about 20,000 troops. No?”
Linda: “I am gasping, they couldn’t handle that.”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “But also the 20,000 troops couldn’t be brought together. So concentrating them on Dublin you eventually ended up with an entire Division basically in Dublin which is probably 10-12,000 troops and yes that is quite a lot …, but militarily 10,000 troops would have immense difficulty penetrating into an inhabitants’ city held by 1500 rebels. So the disproportion, this is less than 10:1. Now the Soviet Army when it developed its urban warfare doctrine in the 1950s says 20:1 – this is on the basisof their experience in the Second World War. So urban war is fantastically difficult for regular armies to conduct. Well we know this from what has happened recently in Falujah – unless you are prepared to raise the city, it is incredibly difficult. I think we can say that the British did not have sufficient forces to deal in an easy way with what they might have been up against, but of course in principle they could have brought in 100,000 troops if necessary. But the problem was the War and I think certainly later when I say 20-30,000, that I think is the figure for 1916. In 1917 they had maybe 50,000 troops in Ireland, but that is partly because they kept more there after 1916. They tended not to let the garrisons get run down. But in 1916 itself they were run down, because that wasn’t regarded as being a security problem. As we know, part of the whole issue was the slightly odd British negligence, but anyway.”
Q.5. Marie MacSwiney (Drogheda): “You began by asking: is 1916 over? I’d like to ask do you think it would be over now, either on their terms or your terms if it had had a popular mandate?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well I don’t think it was me who asked whether 1916 was over.”
Brendan O’Brien: “You can answer it!”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “… When you say a ‘proper mandate’ I am interested in this phrase because a lot of the criticism that has been levelled at 1916 or the ‘16-ers’ by – they tend not to be historians, they tend to be journalists and commentators, and as you are well aware, there was quite a blitz of them in the run up to April. But one of the charges is for example, if you have a parliamentary democracy then all violent methods are ipso facto illegitimate and therefore what you should do is to stand for Parliament. And it has been urged by some people, and I don’t think it is just Kevin Myers but him in particular, that these people should have stood for Parliament and if they didn’t then they had no title to do anything politically. That clearly is not a very persuasive argument. But this notion of finding some way of getting a mandate I think is incredibly difficult to do. I mean if you win an election, you have a mandate and that is a sort of democratic fiction, isn’t it? We don’t always agree, even as voters with that, but we go along with that. But where you are going into the unknown, I think it is much harder to say what a mandate might be. … The guy who talked about this perhaps most consistently in the pre-1916 period was Bulmer Hobson. He believed that the IRB itself had re-written it’s Constitution after the ‘67 ‘rising’ – well, you could barely call it that – and recognised the futility of trying to just strike and wave the flag and wait for the people to rally to you. Hobson believed that they had rewritten the Constitution to say that no action could be taken unless – how do I put it? – he interpreted it as the majority of the Irish people were in support. Again, it is hard to imagine how you would actually get to that situation I think. Hobson did use this argument repeatedly in the pre-1916 period although occasionally he also went the other way and became a bit of an insurrectionist. But certainly the decisive showdown on Friday when Pearse actually argued to him that his allegiance to the IRB meant that he must back the rebellion, Hobson persistently refused to. As a result he was arrested. He was the only member of the IRB who was actually arrested by the IRB itself and imprisoned.
Civil resistance: “But I never really have been clear about what he thought you would have to do. I don’t think there is any way in which you could get a mandate. I think what he is really talking about is that you adopt a method which will enable you to gauge how people are reacting, that you don’t just strike and then hope, but that you have a method that brings the people into the resistance organisation bit by bit, and that is a method that later will be known as civil resistance. That’s very much what Hobson was an advocate of. You start with things that are easy to do, that people can boycott, things that people can do without any..”
Marie MacSwiney: “Sorry I didn’t mean by ‘mandate’, the democratic mandate. I meant probably what you are saying now, a greater number of people joining the civil resistance. Over the decades since 1916, it has become patently obvious that the people who were involved in the insurrection were a minority and, if we are to judge by what you have told us tonight, even those who were involved, those coming in from provinces, those in the midlands for instance that you said just abandoned their march, were not wholehearted about it. And all I am asking you is: if the people involved had had more popular support and had people who were wholehearted about it, and perhaps all came from a similar ideological stance – and that may be part of the problem, that there were socialists there, there were republicans there, there were anti-English there, there were maybe reactionary Catholics there – there were all kinds of people involved and maybe if they had a unifying ideology and more popular support among the ordinary people of the country, really I’d like to know do you think it would have been successful or would we be talking still about finishing it?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well, one of two things might have happened. One is that it might have produced this massive national uprising of theimagination, and Hobson’s argument is that if you get to a certain point the country becomes totally ungovernable and the British have to accept that they can no longer do anything.
“The other thing that might have happened is that the more formidable the resistance became, the heavier the British would have come down on it and it would actually have been a very nasty war in which thousands and thousands of people would have got killed. Normally that wouldn’t happen and of course Hobson, that sounds a bit daft doesn’t it – but Hobson wrote his thesis in 1909 and I think it is very much a peacetime thesis. Hobson, I think, had a fundamental disagreement with the old Fenian mantra which got pulled out again in 1914: ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.’ That is manifestly not true in the case of a war this size; the one thing Britain couldn’t tolerate in the middle of a war that size would be a rebellion. In peacetime they might give way to it, in themiddle of a war they would destroy it. So it was entirely the wrong time to do it, if you were going to do that. So I think in reality, the more formidable the Rising had been in 1916, the more heavily it would have been crushed.”
Q.6. Fintan Mullally (Dublin): “I would slightly disagree with you on that theory, but my point basically is that with the number of Irish troops who would have been in the English forces at that particular time, would the brigades and battalions in Ireland have been 50:50 Irish natives and how high up the ranks? They wouldn’t be like the Duke of York or Duke of Wellington or up at the higher levels. I presume they would have a blockage at colonel or something. The ones who might be possibly nationalistic in their outlook – I suppose in a family where the first boy went to the church and the second lad went into the army. They were well-paid jobs at the time, not maybe well-paid in cash form, but at least you got a good education and things like that. Can you see that the reason that the Irish few got away with it, was the fact that there may have been slowness in shall we say the battalions taking on their sisters and brothers?”
Charles Townshend: “Did I get the understanding that you are suggesting that no Irish men got promoted above or to the rank of Colonel? Because that certainly wouldn’t be true. …In Irish regiments, and indeed outside them, as far as I know there is no glass ceiling for Irish people, since the Duke of Wellington’s time, as you rightly said. We know that two, three of the battalions in Dublin were Irish regiments. So, yes, is there any reluctance? I mean by and large the Irish troops were loyal to the oath to the army they joined, as Casement found when he tried to recruit Irish prisoners into the Irish Brigade. So as far as we know all of the Irish troops in Ireland were implacably opposed to the rebellion which they saw, as British people did, as a stab in the back. So I have never seen any evidence that there was any problem of that kind. It doesn’t appear in the military material itself that there was any inclination to pull Irish units out of the thing and replace them. It could look that way because the first reinforcements brought in from outside are extremely English formations, their midland division, but they were militarily completely ineffective compared with, I mean the effectiveness of those Irish forces, like the Royal Irish Regiment was very high, so I don’t think so. The curious thing to me though is that what used to be called ‘military fenianism’ in the nineteenth century was, it was an idea that at least made sense theoretically. John Devoy had been involved in that in the 1860s. Essentially it had been a plan to suborn the Irish units of the British Army and turn them into an insurrectionary force at the right moment. It was rooted out by a very fierce counterpolicy carried out by the military authorities and of course Devoy himself was eventually convicted and lived out the rest of his life in the United States. But it has never been clear to me why Devoy was so unimpressed by the Casement idea of forming an Irish Brigade. But it is clear that Devoy never thought it was going to work, whether this is based on his own experience, but it is a radically different situation in the First World War. The troops that he tried to convert were professional, hard-bitten professional soldiers. The troops in the prisons in the First World War many of them were just very recent recruits into Kitchener’s armies, and on the face of it, I would have thought it seemed like quite a good idea. But he never, I think, had any faith in it and of course in the event it didn’t work out. So that would appear to bear out the argument that once you join the British Army – for whatever reason – you stayed with it.
“That didn’t hold for ever. There was some leakage, and I think after 1916, it became more of a problem. I think nationalist ideas did begin to form a little bit more in Irish units, but of course never to the point that a whole unit would become unreliable.”
Q.7. George Fleming (Belfast): “Thank you very much Dr. Townshend for that excellent talk. What do you think today, 90 years after the Easter Rising, how do the people in Britain feel at the moment? Is there any general feeling at all, even from a political point of view and from all of the newspapers, I didn’t find much written about it, I doubt if there are any politicians in the British Parliament that know very much about it, putting it quite frankly, except for people like yourself who have an interest in this from an historical point of view and it is nice to see. I am a bit interested. Most Irish people are, but outside of Ireland what do you think?”
Charles Townshend: “What you were saying a minute ago, it strikes me as being pretty much the case that you have to scratch pretty hard to find any real interest in or understanding of Ireland amongst English people and that goes right back of course. That is part of the problem within the Union itself. It is part of the problem in the British government in 1916. Nobody knows, nobody cares. They have no touch in Irish policy and that is one of the reasons I think why the Liberal cabinet had eventually come to the conclusion that Home Rule was a good idea, because the Union just didn’t really work. So I think this is a real issue. There has been quite a bit of – as I was saying a while ago at the level of engaged journalists – there has been quite a flurry of rhetorical denunciation of the Rising. But I think you’d find it hard to find much response among ordinary people.
“So the whole point of the Home Rule policy was, as I say, based on the fact that the English or the British, whatever you want to call them, wanted to remove the Irish problem which had been such a nuisance for two, three generations and it is that negativity that is again, it’s followed out through British Policy after 1920/21 and British policy in relation to Northern Ireland. It’s an absolute unilateral withdrawal, even when Northern Ireland is breaking the rules that Britain had tried to impose in the form of the Government of Ireland Act. There just isn’t any political will to impose the British version, even though the British know perfectly well what they write and that the Northern Ireland government is wrong. They just don’t do anything about it. So that is a slightly different point. But I think it seems to run through the whole system and that is fairly regrettable. I do my bit to teach a course to English students in a university but I can tell you that the level of ignorance is stupendous. It is more than if you were teaching a course on Germany or Russia.”
Q.8. “Mr. Chairman, Professor. Just as a slight diversion I was interested in the numbers of British troops in Ireland and the numbers who took part in the Rising or Rebellion, depending which way you want to look at it. I don’t know the exact numbers on either side, but I do know that something like, the numbers in the GPO were around 300 and yet 15,000 looked for medals after it! Brendan Behan is reported to have said that the British Army must have been a gallant little band! But, apart from that, you punctuated all your answers by saying you just didn’t understand and you left a void there all the time. Because I am getting old and ancient, I had the privilege of meeting men, not women, I just met men who took part in the Rebellion, or Rising or whatever way you like to describe it, and can I tell you that one of them gave me his walking stick. I still have it. He walked from Kilskyre which is about 10 miles north, maybe 7 miles north of Kells, and he walked from Kilskyre on the first Monday of Holy week – which is the Monday before Easter – to be in Dublin for the Rising! And he had been in Dublin in 1910 when the last monarch arrived and he was batoned down for singing ‘God save Ireland’. And I said to him ‘why would you bother?’ and he said to me, ‘I’ll tell you why, I wanted to be a citizen and not a subject.’ I just want to tell you that that is the answer to an awful lot of the questions that you left unanswered, in my humble opinion.”
Charles Townshend: “Well I absolutely accept that and I hope I didn’t give the impression that I didn’t understand that dimension of it. It is something in the book that I actually tried to bring out in a way that probably hasn’t been popular with historians in this last generation. That is one of the reasons why there is this tendency to look for evidence of trickery and deception. But I think the place of simple idealism needs to be re-emphasized. This notion of freedom, although it may be naïve in some ways because we know it doesn’t eventually amount to perhaps what you first of all imagine, but that isn’t really the point, the point isn’t really does national independence solve all your problems? Nationalists may say this in their propaganda but it isn’t really what it is about. What it is about is ‘well, Sean McEntee, in those moments you felt a free man. You felt a yolk had been lifted off your shoulders’. That is a very telling kind of phrase, it is a completely psychological yoke, but it is a feeling of liberation. I think there is absolutely no question about that. That is why I am arguing that people were up for this fight. They wanted to be in it. Obviously they remained quite a small minority. But the idea that that group that came out was in some sense deluded, deliberately deluded, I think it is not sustainable and it is no tribute to them at all.
“But I am interested that he knew the Rising was taking place on the Monday beforehand, because a lot of people do say they didn’t realise what was going on until a lot later than that. This is one of the hardest things to really put together, because the leadership were giving out so many signals, and there are a number of people who claim they really were pretty certain by Palm Sunday that they knew what was going on and the hints had been dropped and so on, and people suggesting they might go to confession and so on.”
Questioner: “This man said that he had heard and he wanted to be there….”
Charles Townshend: “Well I think this makes a lot of sense. The people I can’t really understand are the people who say that they got as far as Easter Sunday without realising that anything serious was going on, because, as I said, there were just so many signals. And yet the British apparently reached Easter Sunday without realising anything was going on and they had just as much information, so I suppose it comes from what you believe is possible. And of course one of the things one might say about the Rising generally – in case it doesn’t come up in any other way, and it’s one of the points I do try to make in the book as well – is that it does change mental attitudes in a very dramatic way, more than political attitudes to begin with. I think it explodes the limits of the possible. I think there is a whole generation, the whole Home Rule generation is confined by a sense that only certain things can happen, that in the face of British power you can only ever achieve a limited autonomy and that what you have to do is buy into the biggest structure provided by Britain. I think that had been very widely accepted for a very long time. But suddenly with 1916 – and I think it is quite sudden – there is this feeling that maybe that is not so true after all, that maybe another way is possible. For a small number of people, they believe it can happen, obviously afterwards an even larger number of people, but before that most people think that it just could never happen and that is why they look at all the evidence, and they say, ‘well there may be this evidence, but it still can’t really be true because it is just not possible’. But, as I say, after 1916, these things seem possible.”
Brendan O’Brien: “Just to let you know we have three questions lined up ….
Q.9. Seán Collins (Drogheda): “First may I compliment you on your book, I think it is the first book I have read on the subject – and I have read many – that actually does cover the provinces and the various things that attempted to take place, shall we say. Could I make an observation before a question, in that I think somebody remarked that the people involved were half-hearted. I think that is sad, because they weren’t. They were very committed. I think you will agree with that.
“But what we have got to remember, looking at it from today’s point of view, we live in the Internet age, we can flash information around the country in milliseconds which they couldn’t do then. Communications just weren’t as accessible. You cited the example of Hannigan in Louth who said that when he assembled the men on Easter Sunday morning at Dundalk, the men didn’t know they were going to participate in the rebellion. Twenty miles down the road in Drogheda, when word came to the man that organised the muster there, they just all went home. They were told it was off. So they went home. By the time the message came to Hannigan I think about five o’clock on the Sunday evening. But he knew that there was another executive operating, so he wasn’t prepared to accept that order. But I think, would you agree that the detail that has become available through the release of the papers of the Military Bureau of Intelligence needs to be further and further analysed for us to get a better understanding? Because the people that did set out – and it has come across to me in all those papers – were very committed to what they were doing, but they were very, very confused. Even people in the know shall we say, like Hannigan, showed his own confusion. And also, until we have time to study more what is out there, like the pension papers which I believe they are going to release, they will tell us more. Last week a wonderful book was published by, I think it was UCC, on the life of Philip Monaghan …. And Monaghan said that he didn’t muster, he went to the Fairyhouse Races. Yet there are two independent accounts of him being present and organising the muster at Drogheda! They are written years apart by different people in different places. But I think at the end of the day, the failure wasn’t on behalf of the participants, the failure was the inability to organise.”
Charles Townshend: “I think I’d like to believe that we will eventually get so much evidence that we will be able to solve all of these mysteries. But I am afraid that probably isn’t going to happen, and not only because some of the kinds of evidence that we’d need will never appear. … I think it is highly likely that most of the Volunteer material that would be particularly interesting to look at, was actually deliberately destroyed before the rising. …There is an awful shortage of really contemporary material. The witness statements are a wonderful source, but they do suffer to some extent from the problems of being written thirty years after the event. In some ways it is not as much of a problem as you might in the abstract think. Many of the inconsistencies and the errors in them – and they are absolutely riddled with errors, but then everybody’s memories are – but I was talking today to a Ph.D. student in Trinity College who is studying the witness statements, really analysing the witness statements as a source, as her thesis. She has compiled a massive database on them and we were talking about where, on a scale of 1:10, you could rate them overall for reliability. My suggestion was 6 and she seemed to agree with that. But there is far more in them that is valuable. As I say they are a good source, priceless in some ways, but even more contemporary sources are problematic. People can simply utterly forget things that can be confirmed by other people who were with them. Eoin MacNeill notoriously wrote three accounts of his actions in the critical last few days before Easter Sunday and these are pretty close together, close to the time. He wrote a briefing paper for his solicitor when he was under arrest and placed in courtmartial, and this is in May 1916, and then a more extensive paper for the information of Bulmer Hobson a year later. And he has crucial meetings on different days. Taking one of these accounts, he has it taking place at breakfast on Saturday and in another on Friday. These are dramatic events, they are very close to the time. He was fully aware in retrospect how important they were. He says at the time he wasn’t quite aware how important they were and that is why he didn’t remember them. … I just find that, I mean a university professor is supposed to be able to remember things! Well perhaps that is not such a good argument. But the fact is that if he can be so significantly out in such … I think you will just have to accept it, that the only way you can militate against that is to have loads and loads of these accounts and crosscheck them. So to go back the first point, you are absolutely right there is more work to be done on these sources and particularly if the pension statements as you say get released. We will certainly have an even bigger database which we can – scientific is probably pushing it a bit – but we can certainly approach it very analytically.
“So yes, I think that all that comes out of this does sustain just what you say which is that to an extent that surprised me, I found that people who I perhaps felt had been deluded and wrong-headed, I came to the conclusion that they were really extremely sensible and that the whole project really does contain some terrible, perilous dangers for the idea of constitutional liberalism and so on. But the whole project is underpinned by a very simple full-hearted belief in the improvement of things. I mean there is a tremendously strong sense of idealism and that I guess is what this generation would want to rescue from out of … what the Taoiseach is talking about rescuing the spirit of 1916. Now nobody really knows quite what that is. There are at least as many versions of it as there are political groupings presumably. But some part of that spirit must be this idealism. Yes it is very strongly present in it. That is something that I hope I have brought out a little bit, but there is more to do. ”
Brendan O’Brien: “Well if there is one thing that you are bringing out it is that this isn’t a simple matter boiled down to a small group of men in 1916. My fear is that that is exactly what the new revised version of 1916 will be boiled down to. I think that is where your contribution tonight shows us all the layers and complications and human frailties and failure of plans and everything else, which just never seem to get into the narrative, I wonder why. Now this meeting is going to finish at 10.15pm. We have two more questions lined up, so if you have anymore, get in before the sale ends.”
Q.10. Pamela McMillen (Belfast): “I came to live in Belfast in the late 1960s just in time for our ‘Troubles’. For some people the Easter Rising is like a red rag to a bull. I am just wondering if it would be better – and I know the south of Ireland has moved forward far quicker than people’s attitudes in Belfast or the north as a whole – if we had the celebration of Independence Day, the same as the other countries that have now left the Commonwealth and the majority did achieve it by peaceful means. I suppose that people in the North feel that the Rising validated the Provos’ campaign in Northern Ireland. Quite honestly I feel we have achieved nothing by thirty years of violence and a lot of people killed and sadness. But dialogue, I mean we have two world wars, I don’t think it achieved that much either. Dialogue at the end of the day, achieves a peaceful end.”
Charles Townshend: “That is a very, very serious question. I am probably not remotely qualified to even offer a direction to an answer on that, but I think if I follow what you are saying, that there could be an approach to a deliberate offsetting of the centrality of the Rising in favour of a more arbitrary … When would the Independence Day be? It would have to be not the 24th April 1916, because obviously there was a declaration of independence that day. Then there was another declaration of independence on 21 January 1919. But that also was unfortunately accompanied, by pure coincidence as it happens, by the first violent action of the Anglo-Irish War. … That is a cursed sort of accident in a way, because I think if it were possible, politically possible, to agree that January 1919 was a more complete and progressive kind of declaration of independence – and you could argue that I think on the basis of the way the Sinn Fein party at that point was, had adopted this civil resistance idea that I was talking about earlier. If you could do that then I think that would possibly be very beneficial. But as I say, because of this ghastly coincidence that the IRA’s war or what would become the IRA war, was launched on exactly the same day, as I say by accident, because it was an ambush that had been tried a few times and hadn’t worked and then bingo they just hit them that day. That is going to scupper that so you might have to come up with some completely artificial celebratory date which would be better, because what you are arguing of course, is that people should think this out and they should get away from the visceral gut kind of ancestral politics and they should say: ‘now what we want to do is try and incorporate the principles of these things into some new vision’ ….. but where you could site it, you would need a lot of thought about that.”
“But your point about 1916 and its validation of violence is obviously inescapable and it is a really hard thing to deal with. Some of the commentary suggests that Ireland is kind of uniquely malevolent in that respect. There was a particularly grotesque article in the Observer a couple of weeks ago by a guy called Geoffrey Wheatcroft who argued pretty much that the 1916ers had invented terrorism and they were responsible not only for everything up to and including the death of Dennis Donaldson, but they were responsible for Nazism …and you name it, and I mean it was the most fantastic diatripe. You can dismantle that, and I think you have to, by saying that 1916 is quite a small element in the history of violence in the twentieth century. The War itself which was started by an act of undoubted terrorism by Serbian nationalists and then turned into the most stupendous bloodbath on the basis, as you were saying earlier, of a nationalism which convinced all the belligerent countries that they had to fight to the last drop of their blood to preserve their way of life. Everybody is doing the same thing. I think there is a certain unfairness in singling out the 1916 rebels as somehow the most pernicious users of violence in the twentieth century. So I think a little bit of perspective on that would kind of help, from both sides. But it is very, very difficult.”
Q.11. “You mentioned that the bigger the rebellion, the hotter would have been the response. Bearing in mind that machine guns and artillery were used, this would have resulted in an absolute massacre. My question would be: in hindsight were we lucky that the arms landing failed?”
Charles Townshend: “I think you could say yes, because the scale of the fighting – if they had been got ashore – would certainly have been very much larger. And you have to ask: what is the real possibility of anything other than a more extended and bloodier kind of defeat? In that sense I guess the guys who went looking for German help were right and that only very significant German military force would have made it possible to actually get the British out of Ireland if they didn’t choose to leave. It is hard to imagine any negotiated compromise that could have happened. I guess I was trying to say this in a way when I was arguing that, although you can criticise the organisation on their command failures and so on, you do have all this to ask: what would have been the point of making the Rising more militarily effective than it was? And I suppose I would come back again and answer your question just the same way and say yes, it probably was a good thing they didn’t get those guns ashore.”
Q.12. Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “Mr Chairman, isn’t it true that the entire Irish people’s attitude changed especially after the prisoners were released from Frongoch? When they were going away, that is what I was told anyway. Ladies whose boyfriends were out fighting the war, to save all small nations. They were preaching at them and shouting … When they were released coming home, they were amazed. They went out meeting them and cheering them. Whatever about whether it was not very effective or whether it was small or who was in it or whatever, it did take effect in subsequent years and when the election came in 1918 then it was quite evident that the Irish people had changed. Is that correct or am I right?”
Charles Townshend: “It is absolutely clear by 1918 for sure, and you are right that there is a big change between April and December 1916. I think both of those responses are slightly exaggerated. There is a certain number of people who had an interest in arguing that the whole population of Dublin and Ireland in general was against the Rising and this was shown in a very hostile reaction. I think there was some hostility, but there was also quite a lot of support more or less from the beginning, and certainly by the middle of the week and at the point when the prisoners are being marched off to the North Wall, the reactions, as far as I can judge, are not quite as overwhelmingly hostile as one viewer has it. Equally the reaction to the return of the prisoners is not always as absolutely overwhelmingly ecstatic as Sinn Fein propaganda made up, but it is pretty generally so in most places and there is a snowball effect that there is a feeling that something is going on.”
“That rolls on to 1918 in the sense that even without the conscription crisis, I think Sinn Fein was already well on the way to being the only really serious political game on the nationalist side. … Usually the conscription issue is taken as being the decisive point and it clearly was in the sense that it happened and there was this big rally against it. But as I say I think Sinn Fein was really on a roll. It might have taken a few more years, but that ultimate outcome where the old Parliamentary Party is effectively destroyed and replaced by Sinn Fein, I think that was going to happen from the middle of 1917 onwards.
“What exactly causes this change? I don’t think there is one simple single thing and I don’t think it is just the executions, although that is important. But just the very experience of imprisonment, I think, and the impact. In terms of actual imprisonment and even interned, I am only talking about a few hundred people eventually. But to begin with, thousands are arrested and I think that that is sometimes overlooked in comparison with the executions. The executions did have a terrific psychological effect, but also the arrest of thousands of innocent people always is bad. I mean from the Government’s point of view, that people even if they have only been held for a few days, they have already got a sense of grievance. If you push more people into, or accuse them of being sympathisers with your opponents, it kind of has this effect of making them think that maybe they are sympathetic, even though they might have not felt so before. So I think the policy was pretty counterproductive from a British point of view. So there is a whole sort of set of things and then of course there is a whole sort of industry – sorry that is not the word I really like to use as a whole – there are ways in which commemoration of the 1916’ers goes on and it crosses all kinds of age groups. So I think it does become eventually a real sort of social movement. So as I said before, Pearse got that bit absolutely right.”
Arthur: “Commenting on the executions, Shaw said: ‘the fools, the fools, will they ever learn?”
Charles Townshend: “Well they never will”
Q. “Don’t take this wrong because I am reading your book and enjoying it very much, but I am also just wondering about your thinking, as a British historian or a historian with British background coming to 1916, and how you are finding it sifting through. Is it an advantage if you like coming at it from that distance or personally how have you found that? And secondly on a bigger scale where does it fit in British history and is it seen as an event, coming back to the earlier question about how it is seen in Britain? But from a history point of view, does it do large or small on the scale of British history?”
Charles Townshend: “Those are two quite different questions. I can’t really answer the first one. By and large the ethnicity of historians themselves doesn’t count for very much. I mean people do, Germans do British history and the French people do Chinese history. There is a slight more feeling here, that somehow if you are not Irish, you can’t do Irish history. But basically … it is just a question of how much effort you put into it. Once you have been doing it for thirty years, you have the same problems actually doing the history of your own country if you like. There are certain things that are harder to do than others. Certain groups are harder to empathise with, certain ideologies or whatever, but apart from that I don’t think there is a…There is a third question actually which again I don’t think I can answer, implicit in what you said. Does it help to be an outsider? Somebody actually said this. Of course, what is an outsider in that sense? But I suppose in my case it means that I wasn’t born and brought up in Ireland, but I do have Irish connections, although they are Anglo-Irish but that is neither here nor there. I might as well be an Australian. Some of the most effective contemporary historians are Australians as it happens ….. People often feel that you maybe take a different perspective, it might not always be better. But it probably helps to have some different perspectives brought in and maybe I have things that are unconscious that I can’t control but that do have certain effects. So I couldn’t say about that either.
“As to where in British history, that is a slightly more technical question. Yes this is important, but I think in the British perception it is not – that was an earlier question – it is not as important as it should be. There is an awful lot of ignorance and sometimes it happens because it is aided by the fact that when you have done something really badly, you don’t want to remember it particularly. So I am thinking of another subject that I am semi-specialised in which is the British General Mandate in Palestine. I mean that has also been subject to quite serious loss of British memory because it really was a humiliating failure, and yet it is very important that people should remember this because, as some of us try to say to our Prime Minister: if you know some of this history, you are less inclined to repeat the mistakes you made before. So I think that there is – without leaping towards Iraq – if you just look at the handling of 1916, there should be for the British, they should pay more attention to the way it was misjudged and mishandled, because it is generic kinds of governmental mistakes that we make time and time again in other situations as well, maybe not with quite such disastrous results. So I would have to say that it doesn’t figure quite as large on the horizons as British people as I would like it to. But I am doing my best to raise it a little bit!”
Brendan O’Brien: “You are doing a great job! We are just at the end, but Julitta Clancy at the back has a question and because she owns the hall we will let her ask it!”
Q.14. Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “No, the Columbans own the hall and thanks to them again for it. Just to thank you for your wonderful contribution. And I just wanted to ask a question that is kind of pertinent to now, and it is: how much did the leaders of the volunteer and nationalist movement all around, Redmond and the whole lot of them, how much knowledge and communication did they have with unionists at the time? Was there any at all, and was a lot of what they did in total reaction to Carson and the formation of the UVF? And I say this because I discovered a grandfather of mine was sent to Belfast at the time of the Treaty negotiations. He was formerly in the IRB but he was now working in the government [Ministry of Economics in Dail Eireann] and was sent to meet with unionist and business leaders to talk to them and he seems to have got on very well, in the discussions he had with them. In fact one of the things that he reported to his superiors was that if you remove the threat, you remove the violence and the boycott, there is a hope for some form of talking together in the future. And I just wonder how much of that – if you look at the Proclamation where they wrote that bit about ‘divisions fostered by an alien government’ which shows very little knowledge of unionist beliefs and aspirations and experiences?”
Charles Townshend: “Yes I think it probably is unfortunately true that that generation of separatists were locked into a version and interpretation of unionism that was quite some way off being correct. They hadn’t really got to grips with any attempt to understand unionism from inside. They saw it as just the effect of British manipulation or at best complete delusion and of course it is unfortunately true – that is a heavy word isn’t it? – but it seems to be one of the more incontrovertible aspects of 1916 that it was made by people whose philosophy was entirely about reinforcing the cultural core of Irishness as they understood it, and which was a cultural core that was actually further away from any possible acceptance by unionist and previous definitions of Irishness. There is no question that the Irish Ireland movement had moved a very, very considerable distance from the old sort of United Irish conception of Irishness which was, basically if you live in Ireland you are Irish. That was Wolfe Tone’s idea, but by 1900 you are only Irish if you accept the full package really. You have actually got to come ideologically on board and you have got all sorts of deliberate tests being set up, whether you are Irish or not. So if you play cricket you are not Irish. It is very, very serious. I mean you cannot disguise how divisive that Irish Ireland movement is and the 1916ers are Irish Irelanders. There is no question that the aspirations, the dreams are, as Pearse said, that Ireland should be not free merely but Gaelic also. That is a whole extra, that would have been a literally meaningless conception to Wolfe Tone.
“And politically, if you are interested in unity in Ireland, it is a very difficult thing to get over. So I don’t think one should disguise that 1916 is almost more dangerous in that ideological sense than it is in its simple physical readiness to use violence. …. And you are absolutely right – the organisations themselves are direct reactions to the Ulster Volunteer movement and as far as I know, there is no contact between them even at the very high level. Eoin MacNeill could very easily have communicated with Carson and he did have quite an interesting argument that they were both home rulers. But he didn’t, as far as I know, communicate with him and the notion of using their complementary sort of interests and methods to construct some kind of united front, just doesn’t seem to have figured as a political option for the Volunteer leadership. So I think that aspect of things is quite negative and that is something that would have to be left behind if you like.”
Closing words and thanks:
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much indeed Dr. Charles Townshend and thank you all for your questions which were very good. I suppose if you say ‘Londonderry’ you are not Irish as well isn’t that it? We have awful difficulties with these things, identity? Carson of course did, I think, describe himself as an Irish Unionist, but I was asking Jeffrey Donaldson the other day ‘well what would you call yourself?’ and he couldn’t say ‘Irish Unionist’ but he would say ‘Ulster Unionist’, whereas Reg Empey would say ‘I am an Irish Unionist’. Ian Paisley’s answer to the same question is: ‘I am Irish but I am not for a United Ireland.’ Mind you, in 1972 he was encouraging talk towards a United Ireland in certain circumstances. So it is all terribly complex and I think the complexity of your talk is what is the valuable contribution. The simplicity is what maybe has done it all down over the years. It is not simple, it is quite complicated and the questions were an illustration of that. So anyway thank you very much indeed for all of that. ”
John Clancy: “On behalf of the peace group, can I just thank both the chair and Dr. Townshend and you all for coming? … There is tea and coffee served, for those who aren’t familiar with our hospitality, but the hospitality is there because of the Columbans and the generosity of giving us these facilities, and I would just like to bear in mind the great contribution the Columbans have done to all of these discussions…. Finally, I would like to introduce you to one of our committee members Philomena Boylan-Stewart whose father, Sean Boylan, was referred to by Professor Townshend and who would like to say a few words in terms of her memories of her father as a brief appendix.”
Philomena Boylan-Stewart: “This is very unexpected! I would just like to refer to the orders received up at the Hill of Tara, and there is one abiding memory of my father talking about this, and those men talked very little. It was not until after 1966 that they spoke about it at all. But daddy always talked about the orders and the counter-orders and all this, and the awful confusion. Now I don’t know where you got your information about them going to the races, maybe they did. I don’t ever remember having heard that, for Easter Monday. There were four boys in the family and they were all interned afterwards. So they just didn’t forget about it on Easter Monday and go off. Later on there was £10,000 on my father’s head. He was shot at in Dunshaughlin. He feigned death and escaped. He was to have been executed. Thank God that didn’t happen either. I know Professor you have done a great job in the book. I haven’t read all of it, but a good bit of it, and you couldn’t possibly mention every province. But there are three of four lines about this area here, and this area is not Ashbourne. I just felt that maybe we were a bit cynical about what happened in Tara, and I think, from what I know and from my father’s friends whom I knew all over the years, they were very sincere and very determined to do what they set out to do. Thank you very much.”
Meath Peace Group report, 2006. Taped by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video)
Transcribed by Judith Hamill and Julitta Clancy. Edited by Julitta Clancy
Dr Charles Townshend is Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele. His first book The British Campaign in Ireland 1919-1921, was published in 1975 and in 1983 he published Political Violence in Ireland: Government and Resistance since 1848 (OUP). His most recent book, Easter 1916: the Irish Rebellion was published by Allen Lane/Penguin in 2005.
Brendan O’Brien was formerly senior current affairs reporter with RTE and has been reporting on Northern Ireland affairs since 1974. He has made several documentaries on the Northern Ireland conflict and is also the author of The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. He is currently a presenter of the lunchtime current affairs programme on Newstalk 106.
Attendance at the talk: 110
Appendix PROCLAMATION OF INDEPENDENCE
POBLACHT NA H EIREANN
THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT
TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last three hundred years they have asserted it to arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God. Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government.
Thomas J. Clarke,
Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh,
P. H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt,
James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett