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Chapters

The 1916 Easter Rising

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was remarkably skillful at manipulating people, at using them for his own puposes. Within the revolutionary movement few seemed to resent his methods, because his purposes were irreproachable. Everyone was convinced he was using himself just as ruthlessly for the same purposes. No one ever doubted MacDermott's willingness to die for Ireland. And in any case, most of the people with whom he dealt were either won by his persuasiveness, charmed by his disarming smile, or vitually hypnotised by the penetration of his wide eye, deep-set eyes. A superstitous man might call his eyes eveil. A woman would be more likely to call them soulful. When, in spite of all his winning attributes, MacDermott was unable to manage a man ( as must inevitably be the case with a man like Hobson, whose independence matched his perception ) he was capable of almost any other methods that might, from his viewpoint, be necessary. O'Rahilly had confronted Pearse about Hobson's disappearance, but it was not Pearse's kind of action. It was MacDermott's. Under the circumstances MacDermott might have felt quite justified, from his viewpoint, in removing Hobson from circulation. As the clandestine plan for the uprising developed during easter Week, Hobson had posed a greater threat to it, and to the secret IRB faction behind it, than any other man within the Volunteer organisation, including O'Rahilly or even MacNeill. Hobson understood the IRB faction because he had once been part of it; having then become, in effect, the leader of the moderate faction, he wielded an influence that had to be neutralised. Hobson was a thoughtful and highly educated Quaker from Belfast who had been a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood's Supreme Council, the editor of its publication Irish Freedom, and the elected representative of its Leinster chapter, which included the entire Dublin area. Once Tom Clarke's closest protege, he had gradually moved out from under Clarke's

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Bulmer Hobson

influence as MacDermott had moved in. He now agreed with MacNeill and O'Rahilly that the best way to use the Volunteers was as an instrument of threat and of passive resistance that would eventually, by continued pressure, force the British to relinquish their hold on Ireland. Hobson was the first to sense that the IRB faction within the Volunteers planned to convert the all-Ireland Easter maneuver into an uprising. On Palm Sunday, speaking at a Cumann na mBan meeting in Parnell Square, he cautioned the Volunteers to maintain and strengthen their organisation in the hope of influencing the peace conference that must follow the European War. Then he hinted that certain people might be planning something foolish. It was not enough, he warned to make a futile military getsure and leave behind one more failure to add to the Irish tradition. ' No Man, ' he said, ' has the right to sacrifice others merely that he might make himself a bloody niche in history. ' When he spoke Palm Sunday, Hobson was acting merely on suspicion. As yet he had no definite information that the maneuver scheduled for the following Sunday was to become an insurrection. But four days later, the evening of Holy Thursday, he learned that patrick pearse had issued orders to some men the Dublin suburb of Bray, concerning the destruction of a railway bridge there. Hobson, feeling that his suspicions had been confirmed took a taxi to MacNeill's house, got him out of bed, and accompanied him to confront Pearse with the evidence of his duplicity. It was on this occasion that Pearse had said to MacNeill ' yes, you are right. A rising is intended. ' The very next night, Good Friday, Hobson had disappeared. If MacDermott was keeping Hobson under arrest someplace, O'Rahilly did not intend to let him get away with it any longer. Though a good-natured man, O'rahilly was, like most Irishmen, capable of terrifying wrath when aroused. Macdermott, aware of this, nevertheless listened with outward calm as O'rahilly demanded to know if he knew where Hobson had been taken. MacDermott said yes, he knew. O'Rahilly, his anger rising made it clear that for macDermott's sake Hobson had better be alive and well. MacDermott assured him that

drizzle was falling as Bulmer Hobson, released from house arrest, walked slowly down Sackville Street on his way to his flat in the southern part of the city. he felt let down, empty, saddened, and also somewhat amazed at what was happening, even though, he had been the first to detect the signs that it was imminent. As he approached the GPO, there was the barricade of junk on Earl Street and the abandoned tram car, and the dead horses near the Pillar, and the discarded merchandise everywhere littering the street - a fur stole, a toy gun, empty bottles, shoes, hats, a violin - and groups of looters still moving drunkenly in and out of shops, looking for more. A young shawlie, pretty even through the dirt on her face, with a baby's head sticking out of her black wrapround. Another girl, not so pretty, prancing in front of three men in a plumed hat and a satin dress too small for her. A pack of children playing tag at midnight could be heard laughing.

At the GPO, rifle barrels protruded from the glassless window casements. Shadowy figures moved about in the dim candlelight inside. Hobson had many friends in that ghostly building - and some former friends, bringing to a catastrophic end his dream of an Ireland that would win independence by winning respect. Hopelessly resigned, he stood for a while across the street from the Post office, absorbing the entire sadness of the day and the days and weeks and years leading to it. He thought of the gun-carrying guards who had held him prisoner since Friday in that house back there-men he had known and

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Members of the Irish Citizen Army 1916

liked for years - and the way he had laughed and said, ' You're a lot of fools, ' when they had first told him he would not be allowed to leave. He thought of Sean T. O'Kelly, who had come to free him with a note from MacDermott, and what a cute little fellow Sean was ( though such a dull speaker he would clear the hall if you gave him the rostrum ) and the classical nerve of the man to suggest, having freed him, that he should join the fight. He thought most sadly of his dear friend The O'Rahilly, who had ( he gathered from O'Kelly ) demanded his release, and he was as troubled as he was perplexed to learn that O'Rahilly was in that building with the others when he could have so little enthusiasm for what was happening there. He thought of the honest, simple perfervid Tom Clarke, whose zeal for Ireland had ignited himself and all the others, and of his own years as Clarke's closest friend before the rise of MacDermott. He thought of MacDermott, hopelessly crippled but devilishly clever, whom he had introduced to the movement in Belfast many years before, whom he had carried to the hospital when polio struck, but who now saw him as such a dangerous enemy. He thought of Connolly, who had said to him a few months previously, ' The Irish working class is a powder magazine. If you drop a match it will go up, ' and to whom he had said in return ' Since you must deal in metaphors, Connolly, i'll tell you what the working class is - it's a wee bog. You drop a match and it will land in a puddle. ' Here was Connolly's working class on Sackville Street tonight, raping the shops, reeling about in an alcoholic orgy. And the thought of Patrick pearse, alone even in a crowd. He was reminded of how often he had heard Pearse say. ' Bloodshed is a sanctifying thing, and the nation which regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood. ' He was reminded also of Pearse's play ' The Singer ' in which he said ' One man can free a people as one Man redeemed the world. I will take no pike. I will go into the battle with bare hands. I will stand up before the Gall as Christ hung naked before men on the tree. ' No one would eber again doubt that Pearse meant what he said. But was he right? Could he and his pitiful band, by facing the British Army alone, against great odds and with their bare hands, by shedding their blood for Ireland, actually make it a free nation? Bulmer Hobson did not believe so. Yet he found himself hoping so. He could not sustain any rancor against there old companions who had mistreated him. He simply thought they were mad. And so that tiny group of Irish Volunteers scattered throughout Dublin waited, each man with his own thoughts, some praying, many thinking of their loved ones, wondering what the next day would bring.