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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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1916

deep lines in his face. One of the last survivng members of the Fenian movement, which had sparked most of the rebellious Irish activity in the latter half of the nineteenth century, he had waited thirty-three years for this day. In 1883, he had received a life sentence in England for a revolutionary bomb plot, and he had served fifteen years, much of it solitary confinement, before his release. Though he was quick to correct any impression that his part in the uprising was motivated by revenge against the British for imprisoning him, he was, nevertheless, filled with a deep satisfaction that these younger men, and there were many who were just boys, whom he had imbued with the Fenian spirit of rebellion, were finally making a defiant gesture he knew would deliver Ireland from British domination. MacDermott, a singularly handsome mand despite his infirmity, was only three years old when Clarke began serving his long prsion term. Next to the youngest of eight children of an impoverished family in County Leitrim, he started as a barman, gardener, and tram conductor in Belfast; he became an organiser of the secret and revolutionary Irish Brotherhood and, after coming to Dublin in 1908, developed an unshakable friendship with Clarke, first as a protege, then as a colleague. There were those who said Clarke used him, but in recent years MacDermott's influence had become so strong in the nationalist movement that some people had begun to accuse him of using Clarke.

wrist and two huge antique rings. He took great pains to explain to Brennan Whitmore the military situation at the moment throughout Dublin - or at least the military situation as he hoped it to be. At best, it was not the way he had planned it. As chief military strategist for the plotters of the rebellion, Plunkett had anticipated that more than 9,000 men in all parts of Ireland would take arms against the British. But due to a deep division between activists and moderates within the leadership of the Irish Volunteers, only 700 men, almost all of them in Dublin had answered the call. It was amazing, in fact that even 700 men had come out, because the call, originally issued for Easter Sunday, had been publicly countermanded Easter Sunday by Eoin MacNeill, the president of the Volunteers, who had been understandably angered by the almost incredible fact that the entire insurrection was planned without his knowledge. He and other moderates like The O'Rahilly who did not think an armed revolt at this time offered the best hope of achieving Irish Independence had been told that the Easter Sunday, all-Ireland muster was to be nothing but a massive maneuver. When they found out that that an uprising was intended MacNeill, at the prompting of O'Rahilly, countermanded the muster order, thus robbing the insurgents of most of their potential strength.

With their ranks woefully depleted, the rebel commanders had sent undersized contingents to take several strong locations in the city: Bolands bakery to the east, St. Stephen's Green and Jacob's biscuit factory to the south, the Four Courts, the Mendicity Institution and the South Dublin Union to the west, and Gilbey's distillery to the north. Plunkett had bee most influential in choosing these outposts. As soon as a communications system could be set up, he would be hearing from all of them. Meanwhile, he had no reason to suppose anything had gone amiss in the plans to seize them. The British military had obviously been taken by surprise. Proof of that was the ease in which the Irish took the Post Office, in the shadow of the Metropole Hotel, where many British officers had rooms. Some of them - those who had stood on the sidewalk and laughed at the approaching troops of the first Irish Republic - must be staring agape now at the siege preparations inside the Post Office. But they were not an immediate threat. Like almost everyone else in Dublin, the British forces were enjoying the last day of the Easter holiday. It would be easier at this moment to round up a fighting unit at te Fairyhouse race course than downtown or even at the barracks in Phoenix Park. Patrick Pearse, less conspicuous than either Plunkett or Connolly

walked past the table on which plunkett had spread his maps, glanced at them, moved on to this then that part of the building, observing the busy confusuion but seldom speaking. Pale and unsmiling even in the hour of fulfillment of the boyhood pledge ( he had once knelt on a prie-dieu with his little brother Willie and sworn someday to free Ireland or die fighting ) his face showed no expression to suggest the determination or dynamism of leadership. It was his voice more than any other, however, that stirred the rank and file of the Irish Volunteers. His words, at the funeral the previous year of Fenian revolutionary hero O' Donovan Rossa, had visibly rekindled the Fenian spirit of rebellion in the thousands of young Irishmen who had come to Glasnevin Cemetary to hear him. At the slow, tantalising pace he maintained to avoid stammering, he had said: ' Life springs from death, and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The defenders of this realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fool! they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland hold these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace. '

Yet the thousands who had heard Pearse and cheered him at Glasnevin in the year before, only 700 had turned out this morning to prove their cheers. Today, where were all those rebellious young Irishmen with their rekindled Fenian spirit? At the seashore? At the Fairyhouse races? Walking in the sun with their rosy-cheeked girls? The fact remains that they were always there. The flame of Irish rebellion needed to be awoken within each and every one of them, but the orders given by MacNeill had done a great deal of damage. It was a dreadful disappointment that so few had turned out, but one could scarcely blame those who remained at home. The counter-command order- nothing else, had kept them there. And for that he could blame O'Rahilly as much as Eoin MacNeill, who had issued it. Without O'Rahilly standing behind him, MacNeill, however angry he might have been at his betrayal by the activist faction, would never have gone so far. Yes it was not easy for Pearse to blame O'Rahilly for anything, for O'Rahilly, too, had been completely cut out of the rebellion plans. In Pearse's view, he should have embraced the plans anyway if he espouced the cause of Irish freedom. He should not have fostered the countermand and traveled the countryside propagating it. But Pearse had to admire him when, after failing to stop the uprising, he had bravely stepped forward to join it.

Eoin_MacNeill

Eoin MacNeill

O' Rahilly had been excluded ffrom the rebellion plans because he was not a member of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood, to which all the conspirators within the Volunteers owed their primary allegiance. The single purpose of the IRB was rebellion. A nineteenth-century Fenian organisation, it had been kept alive by Tom Clarke, who had drawn into it a new generation of leaders - men like MacDermott, Plunkett and Pearse. The IRB had encouraged the founding of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 because it needed a broad-based, popular front for its activities. From the beginning, IRB people had infiltrated the Volunteer leadership and, because they were united and dedicated, had dominated the larger organisation, which had a membership of almost 10,000. The IRB leaders had supported the election of the highly respected Professor MacNeill as Volunteer President because they were certain they could manage him in a crisis. On Easter Saturday, when he countermanded their all-Ireland ' maneuver ' they found out they had miscalculated both his capacity for anger and O'Rahilly's influence over him. Within the Volunteer leadership the moderate faction of MacNeill, Hobson, and O'Rahilly envisioned the use of the organisation as a military pressure group, the existence of which would finally, though perhaps not until the end of the war against Germany, induce England to relinquish Ireland. The IRB faction saw the Volunteers as a determined fighting force that would eventually prevail, even in the event of defeat, because of the virtue of its cause. Their doctrine, as developed and enunciated by Pearse, was that the victory need not be as important as the fight itself, that Ireland had always struck against England at the wrong moment or too late, that bloodshed was a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and that a nation that regarded bloodshed as the final horror had lost its manhood.