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Samizdata quote of the day

Did the rebels intend to take power in Ireland by force of arms, or was the entire exercise a form of sacrifice in which a small group of idealists offered themselves up to inspire a larger number? “What happened on Easter Monday in Dublin is open to interpretation,” writes Tóibín. “As a military event, it makes almost no sense. Taking St Stephen’s Green, rather than Dublin Castle, suggests poor planning and lack of strategic thinking.” Indeed. Instead of capturing the city’s arsenal or barracks, the rebels occupied a post office, a bakery and a public park. This was revolution as performance art.

Eamonn Fitzgerald

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27 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Éamon de Valera was warned that the Easter uprising was suicide, but he still went ahead with it for exactly that reason. He wanted Irish martyrs killed by British soldiers to be the kindling of a revolution in Ireland.

    Whether he didn’t care about the inevitable deaths (both as a result of the fighting or the legal repercussions of the aftermath), or he thought them justified in the cause of a United Ireland both the approach and the timing (during the middle of WWI), were deliberate acts which could only inflame the British.

    For myself, of joint Irish/Manx heritage, I’ve always found de Valera to be a divisive character, a fanatic whose long terms as both Taoiseach (1937 through 1948) and then President (1959 through 1973) held back the political and economic development of Ireland.

    All that being said though, he fought for an independent Republic of Ireland and apart from the frustration over the loss of Ulster, he delivered on that promise. Looking at the total death toll of the Easter Rising as about 500 on either side it was nothing in comparison to the slaughter on the Somme or Passchendaele.

    Despite British attempts to hold down Irish Home Rule, de Valera was right that the Easter Rising would be the starters gun for the Irish War of Independence. But it was not the Easter Rising itself that caused it but the behaviour of the British Authorities to those who had clearly lost in the uprising.

    The treatment of James Connolly was especially hard to bare, unable to stand due to the wounds he received during the uprising he was executed sitting in a chair. If the British had shown any sort of magnanimity in victory then the Irish War of Independence may have been averted, but as it was their actions against the leaders of the Easter Rising and their subsequent repression of Southern Ireland made war inevitable.

  • JohnK

    The treatment of James Connolly was especially hard to bare, unable to stand due to the wounds he received during the uprising he was executed sitting in a chair. If the British had shown any sort of magnanimity in victory then the Irish War of Independence may have been averted, but as it was their actions against the leaders of the Easter Rising and their subsequent repression of Southern Ireland made war inevitable.

    I have seen this theory posited many times, but I find it hard to imagine any other way the British authorities could have reacted. The rebels took up arms against the state in a time of war. The only possible outcome for them was the death penalty. This was a time when hundreds of soldiers were being killed on quiet days, much less the thousands killed in offensives. A tired soldier who fell asleep on sentry duty could be sentenced to death. Was the British government expected to spare people who had actually taken up arms against it?

    Anyway, I see that the old rogue de Valera died in 1973, so he did not live to see Ireland join the EEC, and eventually become an economic colony of the European Union. It seems to me the rebels of 1916 would have been better advised to stay at home and enjoy their Easter eggs.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    That raises an interesting point- will Ireland stay in the EU, or will it leave if Britain does?

  • I have seen this theory posited many times, but I find it hard to imagine any other way the British authorities could have reacted. The rebels took up arms against the state in a time of war. The only possible outcome for them was the death penalty. This was a time when hundreds of soldiers were being killed on quiet days, much less the thousands killed in offensives. A tired soldier who fell asleep on sentry duty could be sentenced to death. Was the British government expected to spare people who had actually taken up arms against it?

    I would argue that this was exactly why de Valera did what he did, when he did it. In essence it was a trap sprung against the British forcing them to act in a way which would be repressive and give him the martyrs he desperately needed. He was aware of the consequences of taking up arms against the British during wartime and he knew full-well that it would hurt the British more than Irish Independence.

    Home Rule was on the statute books but deferred until peacetime, this gave de Valera nothing of what he wanted (as demonstrated by the Irish Civil War of 1921-22), the uprising gave him a mechanism by which to drive a stake through the heart of any political settlement and kill “Home Rule” (which he despised) stone dead.

    That raises an interesting point- will Ireland stay in the EU, or will it leave if Britain does?

    They went into the EEC because the British were going in (with or without them), as it stands right now, I would expect them to stay in the EU if the British leave just to spite them, but also because Ireland is too small on its own and the EU provides a nice retirement income for failed Irish politicians.

    Hard to find that elsewhere. Is remaining in the EU in Irelands interests if Britain leaves, difficult to say, probably not though. Spite goes a long way though.

  • Mr Ed

    The Kaiser’s plans, Casement in Dublin, Lenin in Saint Petersburg.

  • Mr Ed

    That raises an interesting point- will Ireland stay in the EU, or will it leave if Britain does?

    Nicholas,

    I doubt it, the political classes and most Irish would rather be in the EU’s orbit than be independent, even Sinn Fein, it seems, doesn’t really want a free, united Ireland.

    Which begs the question as to why the (P) IRA kept on murdering after accession to the EEC, perhaps following the hints from Moscow.

  • staghounds

    Britain isn’t leaving the EU any more than Germany is deporting the invaders.

  • De Valera had rather less to do with whether the rising happened or not than his survival would suggest. As (legally) a US citizen at a time when Britain was not keen to antagonise the US (De Valera was his nom de Plume and de Guerre, like Joseph Dugashvili aka Stalin), he survived while others (possibly better men, though I have little use for the whole tribe of them) were executed.

    The rebels of 1916 came of a long line of Irish rebels who had conceived considerable respect for British Intelligence. They therefore organised the rising in a tiny secret coterie within an organisation whose nominal head was a respected figure committed to publicising the achievements of Irish culture, and gaining home rule, but not a violent rebel. They believed that any large group would be discovered. (Given their success in going undetected till acting, compared with prior attempts, they seem to have judged rightly.)

    They also believed it was desperately urgent to provoke violence to _prevent_ a peaceful solution. Home Rule had been passed in 1914 but then the outbreak of war put everything on hold. They genuinely _feared_ Ireland’s settling down to a contented state within the UK, with its own local parliament. They _feared_ that the next generation of Irish would lose the ant-English revolutionary impulses, which they in any case saw as fitful and weak. To understand the rising, forget post-hoc self-justifying nonsense ably “we will lose but hen win”. They passionately thought that the war was a last chance before home rule turned the Irish into accepting, unrevolutionary UK citizens.

    The rising was very nearly aborted when the head of the organisation, learning of it at the last moment, put a notice in the papers (seemingly innocent, but very clear to the would-be revolutionaries) cancelling Easter ‘events’. Simultaneously, Sir Roger Casement returned from Germany, not to start the rising with German help as the Germans thought but actually to tell the leaders that Germany was indeed worse than Britain and merely using them, that he had personally been forced to this conclusion as a result of his time negotiating with the Germans. He was caught by British Intelligence the moment he landed in Ireland, so was unable to communicate this to his colleagues before the rising.

    All the theories in this thread that suggest the revolutionaries knew they would fail but had a long-term plan are simply falling for post-hoc rationalisations. The rising was of course crushed in circumstances where it was visibly both pro-German (Casement’s interrogation was political gold to the UK) and visibly little supported – both undermining sympathy abroad. In well-armed and well-trained post-war Britain, their success was strictly political and depended on Lloyd George (possibly the most corrupt PM we’ve ever had) being in power. Lloyd George was a clever politician, as was seen in his handling of de Valera when they met. De Valera read a Gaelic text, then its English translation, demanding an independent Irish republic. He had dreamed of the scene often – but had never dreamt that he would be confronting a gaelic-literate “English” PM. Lloyd George replied, “I did not hear the word “republic” in your Gaelic text! After fluff from de Valera while Lloyd George repeating the remark, the PM turned to his (equally-Welsh) secretary and had a long conversation in Welsh, de Valera struggling to follow. Then he told de Valera, “There is no word for republic in Gaelic, because we Celts have never had such a thing”. This subtle rebuff led to a furious de Valera being forced to accept (in words and signed treaty) that the King would remain formal head of Eire and there would be a viceroy resident in Dublin. (De Valera then slowly and systematically cheated his way out of this during the next 20 years. The final act, in 1938, saw Churchill begging his parliamentary colleagues not to fall for it – in vain of course.)

    Despite his trivial triumph over monarchy v. republic, Lloyd George’s whole approach was inept and has more to do with the outcome than any foresighted “we’ll lose, but then win” strategy of any of them – let alone de Valera, who was not a leader and decision maker in the inner group, but one among several being given orders in Easter 1916 (first orders to take no action by the nominal leader, which infuriated him, then orders to act by the real group of leaders, which he much preferred; by surviving, he became more important than he was at the time .

    Since becoming independent, Eire has done exactly _one_ thing of external consequence: refuse to fight Hitler. This was in no small part de Valera’s achievement; a different politics might have seen Eire act differently. I have three thoughts about that.

    1) This failure to stand with catholic Poland when she was set upon by neighbours who made Cromwell look like Mr Nice Guy made a nonsense of the whole raison d’être of the Irish rebels.

    2) De Valera was very lucky that before the US entered the war, the UK would never risk bullying Ireland, and after the US did, the battle of the Atlantic turned and the air gap was closed just in time to prevent the necessity of using Eire bases. A very slight increase in the (already dire) shipping necessities of late 42 or start 43 would have seen Churchill act on his (well-founded) opinion that Eire was in violation of its treaty obligations.

    3) Had I been born in Ireland, and grown up with the same degree of honesty as I have, I would be embarrassed by Eire – and so yet more of a unionist than I am as a Scot. To have _nothing_ to say of your country’s entire independent history on the world stage except “we refused to fight Hitler” is pretty miserable.

    Finally, I should note that many individual Eire citizens _did_ volunteer and fight in WWII – and were then persecuted in petty ways by de Valera. The notorious Lord Haw Haw, who broadcast propaganda for Hitler, was an Eire citizen of a different sort – and was executed for treason after the war. As far as I know, this was the only reproof Eire was ever forced to swallow. I do not know the legal technicalities of how his execution was justified; it _may_ have been the final consequence of Lloyd George’s wit two decades before.

  • De Valera had rather less to do with whether the rising happened or not than his survival would suggest. As (legally) a US citizen at a time when Britain was not keen to antagonise the US (De Valera was his nom de Plume and de Guerre, like Joseph Dugashvili aka Stalin), he survived while others (possibly better men, though I have little use for the whole tribe of them) were executed.

    The actual involvement and responsibility de Valera had for the Easter Uprising is debatable, but I think the point about him surviving because of his US birth when many better men were executed is absolutely correct. He survived to 92 despite his growing involvement in the Easter Uprising, where he was virtually unknown to the British, the last commander to surrender and the only commander to not be executed.

    Would de Valera have had the influence and been able to cause the chaos that he did in subsequent years, if he had not been prominent in the Easter Uprising? Probably not.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Actually de Valera died in 1975.

    “Simultaneously, Sir Roger Casement returned from Germany, not to start the rising with German help as the Germans thought but actually to tell the leaders that Germany was indeed worse than Britain and merely using them”

    That’s quite a claim. What’s the evidence?

  • Mr Ed

    That’s quite a claim. What’s the evidence?

    The fact that he was facing the noose, and he had to think of something…? 🙂

    I have found what purports to be the transcript of the trial for treason of Casement, one of the major points of law was whether treason committed ‘without the realm’ was an offence, and AIUI, Sir Edward Coke‘s dicta on treason were the basis for the court to find jurisdiction to try Casement for treason, the facts doing the rest.

    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE What I am not quite clear about in
    following your argument is this. Do you say it is not a crime at common
    law for a British subject to adhere to the King’s enemies without the
    realm ?

    Mr. SULLIVAN For the moment the argument is not addressed to the
    common law at all.

    The LORD CHIEF JUSTICE I tell you why I am putting that to you;
    we cannot lose sight of it, I think. You are quite justified in saying,
    if you think it right, that it does not affect your argument; but if we
    have to construe the statute of 1351 we have also to bear in mind what
    has been said by other great judicial authorities as to the statute, par-
    ticularly Lord Blackburn, who said it was declaratory of the common law.
    You are thrown back to the common law of the realm in order to under-
    stand the statute. I quite agree we still have to construe the language
    of the statute and are bound by it, but it is important to see what the
    common law of the realm is.

    Mr. SULLIVAN I submit by the common law of the realm at the
    time of that statute it was perfectly clear that the common law could
    not deal with treasons abroad, for the reason that they would not be
    triable at common law.

  • Actually de Valera died in 1975.

    Quite correct. Some confusion over the end of his term of office as President which ended in 1973.

  • @Mr Ed:

    Not only that, but since the restoration of Charles II was essentially treason against the crown until the act was completed by the Restoration, the view that “Foreign treasons don’t count” is a polite fiction to cover up the pretty obvious treason of Sir Thomas Fairfax and others.

  • Paul Marks

    I do not care what their battle plan was.

    They (the “Easter” rebels) were mostly socialist scumbags (their leaders were mostly Marxist atheists to boot) who stabbed the United Kingdom in the back in the middle of a total war against the German collectivists. And they, the people who stabbed Western civilisation in the back in Dublin, were actively supported by the Germans. They were no better than “Lenin”.

    Damn them – and damn all those who support them. Then – and now.

  • “Niall: … Simultaneously, Sir Roger Casement returned from Germany, not to start the rising with German help as the Germans thought but actually to tell the leaders that Germany was indeed worse than Britain and merely using them.

    Patrick: That’s quite a claim. What’s the evidence?

    Mr Ed: The fact that he was facing the noose, and he had to think of something…? 🙂 …”

    Before leaving Germany, Sir Roger attempted to send a message to the leaders in Ireland, ostensibly to coordinate arms delivery from Germany but actually to tell them to call off the rising. However his emissary failed to reach Dublin or deliver any part of the message.

    Having arrived in Ireland by German U-boat, and been immediately apprehended, Casement must have been well aware, despite the technicalities of his treason trial, that he was “in a fair way to be hung” whether he said he was against the rising or all for it. There is reasonable evidence that Sir Roger was not lacking in courage. Thus while I see the point of Mr Ed’s joke, I’m inclined to take seriously his statement, persisted in at all times from the first moment of his arrest till his execution, that he wanted to cancel the rising, especially as it agrees with his earlier message.

  • I support Irish Independence from the British because I find colonialism fundamentally unjust.

    Given that “Home Rule” was in the bag in 1914 and it would have been settled after WW1 had ended the Easter Rising, Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War was simply unnecessary bloodshed.

    Independence would have evolved naturally from “Home Rule” when Ireland was ready and would not have elevated leaders like de Valera and Michael Collins whose route to power was through bloodshed.

    Sectarian violence still scars Northern Ireland to this day and anyone who believes that the end of “The Troubles” brought peace is a fool. Walk down the Falls Road in Belfast or through the heart of Derry and tension is still only a breath away.

    It is the history of violence and bloodshed that has caused this, not some inherent vice in the people of Northern Ireland. I firmly believe that a more settled peace evolving from “Home Rule” in 1919 would not have left the scars that we suffer today.

  • Mr Ed

    Niall,

    If Casement hadn’t been touring POW camps in Germany seeking to recruit soldiers to fight on Germany’s side against the UK, Belgium, Italy and France when the war was in the balance and after the Rape of Louvain and the Dodenraad, one might have some sympathy with him, and anyway, calling off the uprising was surely a tactic, not a change of heart.

    He had the benefit of law, he might have been acquitted, unlike many a Belgian shot by the Germans.

    I think the juxtaposition of the weekend’s commemorations with the aftermath of the Brussels attacks spoke volumes about the Republic of Ireland, like de Valera signing the book of condolence in the Germany embassy in Dublin on 2nd May 1945 on learning of the death of that former Bavarian Army corporal.

  • It was natural that, in his messages to his rebel friends, Casement stressed “it will fail” and “Germans giving us insufficient support” as the reasons why they should heed his warning to call the rising off, while to his British captors he should stress “Germany is more oppressive than Britain” as the reason for his anti-German, anti-rising stance. Elements of both were probably present – we’ll never know in what proportion, and perhaps he did not know at the time himself.

    Like John Galt above, I think that, had the rising been averted, the home rule that had been voted in 1914, or something like it, would have happened in 1919, and been a lot more peaceful than what actually occurred around the end of that decade. People other than de Valera would have been prominent in Irish politics. Ireland would have fought with the rest of the UK against Hitler in 1939. Modern Irish history would have been happier, and a source of more – and much more legitimate – pride to an honest Irishman.

    I do not suppose that no trouble would ever have befallen the emerald isle in that case. As John Galt says, there is a “history of violence” and these habits die slowly. There is also ideology, which lives off itself: the ideology which caused a needless rising at a time when home rule was guaranteed would also have died slowly. But no rising during WWI, followed by home rule after it, would have provided a much happier start-point for Ireland in the 20th century.

  • Alisa

    A fascinating discussion about a subject I knew next to nothing about – thanks so much to everyone.

  • Mr Ed

    Germany* has put the extreme, genocidal violence of WW1 and WW2 in particular behind it far more successfully than Ireland has dealt with the violence in its culture, perhaps starting from a lower base and never having been made or obliged to consider violence wrong hasn’t helped.

    * Aggregating that which cannot be properly aggregated, I know.

  • @Mr Ed:

    Then again, while Irish sectarian violence is bad it comes nowhere near the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s, so not really comparable.

    Civil War is never easy, it puts neighbour against neighbour for often spurious reasons. The sectarian violence in Ireland is the same, give it three generations of peace and as with the Germans reconciliation with their past, the Irish will do the same.

    The green barriers called Peace Lines in Northern Ireland are still freshly painted, until the communities on either side demand that these artificial divisions are barriers between their communities rather than protecting their communities nothing will change.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_lines

    Time heals all wounds, simply because those whose hearts are full of hate die off and their grandchildren can no longer see the point. That is what is needed in Northern Ireland, time to heal the wounds.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Just one point. The conflict in Northern Ireland has nothing to do with religion. It is to do with nationality and borders.

    Niall, you are quite right.

    Make that two points.

  • Patrick Crozier

    I think it is worth considering what the stumbling block to Home Rule was prior to 1914. Had the nationalists accepted the exclusion of Ulster they could have had Home Rule any time after 1910. Probably, much earlier.

    So why was Ulster so important to them? Because it looks nice on a map? Because there were so many nationalists living there? Or was it because there was an opportunity to plunder? Or perhaps because nationalists wanted to persecute the Ulster British?

    The map argument seems to be romantic nonsense. The protect-our-fellow-nationalist argument (although it got stronger as the state got bigger) was – at the time – rather weak. Which leads to a rather unpleasant conclustion: persecution was a big part of Irish nationalism – even amongst moderate nationalists.

    The ridiculous part of it is that in the end they had to accept the very thing they said they would never accept.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Economically and commercially and administratively, Irish independence was a bad thing. In the same vein, partitioning Ireland was a bad thing, so much so that no one even considered it seriously before the rising. That meant any Home Rule scheme would subordinate the Protestants of Ireland to the Catholic majority, to which Ulster Protestants in particular were violently hostile. On the other hand, the Irish Nationalists bitterly resented a large part of “their country” being hived off, especially as much of the population there were Irish Nationalist too.

    That’s the irreconcilable problem in mixed-nationality territory: what one man claims as justice for his group may be regarded as gross oppression by his next-door neighbor.

    Niall Kilmartin: William Joyce (“Lord Haw-Haw”) was never a citizen of Ireland. He might have claimed U.S. citizenship, as he was born in the U.S., but never did. He grew up in Ireland when it was part of the U.K., and had relocated to Britain before the Anglo-Irish Treaty established the Free State.

  • Mr Ed

    Following on re Joyce, aka Lord Haw-Haw, his conviction in the UK for treason after WW2 was regarded as potentially unsafe as he was a US citizen, not a British citizen, thus he owed no allegiance to the British Crown. He had lived in England from a young age but not taken British citizenship. However, he had sought and got a British passport, which he obtained by falsely claiming to be British, but, by having done so, he was deemed to have owed allegiance to the Crown, and thus was hanged.

  • Just one point. The conflict in Northern Ireland has nothing to do with religion. It is to do with nationality and borders.

    If you check through the comments mentioned here, religion is only mentioned by yourself.

    I have not used the word because it does not reflect the reality of the conflict in Northern Ireland to which I have strong family ties. My grandfather served in the British Army in North Africa and was a civil servant at Stormont from 1946 until his death in 1971.

    The violence in Northern Ireland is sectarian in nature, not religious although there are correlations between the mainly protestant unionists and the mainly catholic Irish Nationalists.

  • Patrick, thanks for your second point about my being ‘quite right’. I should note here just for the record that as regards Lord Haw-Haw, when I wrote above that “I do not know the legal technicalities of how his execution was justified” I was even more right (about my not knowing 🙂 ) than I thought. Although born in Eire (before it was Eire), Joyce actually claimed US citizenship, not Eire citizenship, as the legal objection to his British trial for treason (rather illogically – he could just have been transferred to the US and hung there for treason post 1941, but I suppose any delay is worth something to a man under sentence of death). However it was shown that he had made statements about his nationality to obtain a British passport, and had voted in Britain, which made him legally a subject of the king.

    I mention FYI that the belief that Lord How-Haw was an Eire citizen, or could have claimed to be an Eire citizen, was held among my grandparents generation AFAIK – presumably his birthplace induced the idea. Lord Haw-Haw’s broadcasts were much enjoyed – as comedy – by my grandparents’ generation; people (in the north of Scotland – and, I have always assumed, elsewhere too) listened to them as ‘a hoot’. My mother found the hatred she sensed in them disturbing and had to pretend to laugh along with the grown-ups, and this seems to have been the case with intellectuals – c.f. George Orwell’s remark (in ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ IIRC) that, “The threatening tone of so much Nazi propaganda is a mistake – it only really gets home on intellectuals.” (quoted from memory)