The Easter Rising 1916

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Something for the weekend.  The Clancy Brothers pay tribute to the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin which, although completely unsuccessful, started a chain of events which led to Irish independence, the dream of Irish men and women for centuries.  The songs featured are Legion of the Rearguard, the Foggy Dew and God Bless England.  Ironically, Legion of the Rearguard has nothing to do with the battle for Irish independence.  It was written during the Irish Civil War which was fought in 1922-23.  The title of the song is from  Eamon de Valera, who led the rebels and who, ironically, would end up leading independent Ireland for most of the rest of the Twentieth Century, and who admitted defeat in the Irish Civil War with his usual purple prose:   

Soldiers of the Republic! Legion of the Rearguard! The Republic can no longer be defended successfully by your arms. Further sacrifice of life would be in vain, and continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the National interest. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic.

De Valera of course was referring in his phrase to “those who have destroyed the Republic” to men like Michael Collins, who was killed in the Civil War, who were responsible for the creation of an independent Ireland.  De Valera, at the end of the Irish fight for independence, realizing that the only terms that the British would grant which would lead to an independent Ireland would be unacceptable to many hard core Irish Republicans, refused to engage in the negotiations with the British himself, sending Collins instead, over the protests of Collins.  When Collins came back with the best treaty terms possible that would be granted by the British, de Valera denounced him and the treaty and the Irish Civil War was the result.  De Valera therefore got the benefit of the treaty terms, an Irish Free State, while still able to pose as an uncompromising champion of complete independence, something which benefited him politically to no end, for over half a century after Collins died in the Civil War de Valera started after he rejected the treaty.  Very shrewd of de Valera.  The morality I will leave for the reader to judge.

The poem quoted in the video is W. B. Yeats, Easter 1916:


I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

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  1. The Irish didn’t cover themselves with glory in the Second World War. Unlike the Swiss they were seperated from the Germans by a large body of water, they could have pushed the boundary a lot more without the Nazis being provoked into action. Much of the Irish behaviour can be reduced to indifference. Of course being Irish they had to cover their actions with a swarm of empty words.

  2. Well Ivan, 70,000 citizens of the Republic of Ireland volunteered to serve in the British armed forces during World War II, which, considering the size of Ireland, was not an insignificant contribution. Additionally, calling to mind the “great kindness” which Great Britain has shown to the Irish over the centuries, it can be considered a tribute to the Irish that any of them were willing to fight on the same side as Great Britain at all.

  3. Donald, 70,000 is a huge proportion of a small population like Ireland’s. I take back my stupid remarks.

  4. No sweat Ivan. A lot of us over here still recall the debt of gratitude the entire world owes the UK, and the British Empire and Dominions, for standing alone against Hitler for a year.

  5. Irish Independence is rooted in neutrality. De Valera said that small states which enter major wars risk their existence without the possibility of gaining influence on either the course of the war or the ensuing peace.

    When the 1916 Rising and developments it inspired led to the democratic assertion of Irish Independence in the 1918 Election, and Britain continued to rule Ireland by force, and the Irish resisted by force, Whitehall determined to destroy the Irish democracy to preserve its own strategic interests. Britain offered a measure of self-government under the authority of the Crown, and threatened unrestrained warfare on the democractically elected government if they refused the offer, and manipulated those who accepted the offer into making war on those who rejected it. The Army who fought the British to the negotating table were crushed with weaponary supplied from London.

    Michael Collins recognized that his acceptance of the Treaty was made under duress (which as a plenipotentiary he had no authority to do), which is why he showed no scruple in ordering the killing of Sir Henry Wilson, heavily arming the Belfast IRA (while scrupulously ensuring the weapons could not be identified as British), and infilitrating the RUC and B-specials with IRA spies after the Craig-Collins Pact. He wanted to use the machinery of the southern Irish state to destroy the northern state, which is something no southern government has since attempted. A very cunning man.

    Although their anguish and fury at the plight of northern Catholics led Collins and Mulcahy to continue supplying them with arms (albeit secretly and indirectly through the IRA) the process already described whereby they became locked ever more tightly into the treaty in the early summer of 1922 rendered enterprises jeopardising the treaty settlement increasingly foolhardy. It has been well said that ‘the Republicans had nothing to lose by attacking the North, the Free Staters everything’ and we have seen how the IRA forces in the Four Courts decided to attack the north in a last gamble to overthrow the treaty in the days before civil war began. Until then active non-cooperation remained Collins’s order of the day” (J. M. Curran, “The Birth Of The Irish Free State 1921-23”, p179).

  6. “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it will be recorded at my expense.”

    ~ Eamon de Valera

    Don, I won’t be as reticent about passing judgment on de Valera, but I’ll allow the words of our friend Dale Price to suffice for my own:

    “Eamonn de Valera was a grade-A certified sack of what I know from shinola… morally withered descendent of Armada boat trash.”

    Yep, that about covers it.

  7. I’d like to hear some application of “just war” theology to the Easter Rising. The IRB and their allies had no chance of success, and they knew it. Besides the loss of life, they created heavy damage to central Dublin, and caused serious hunger among the spouses and widows of Irish solidiers, who were living hand to mouth in Dublin at the time. Home Rule was already the law, the implementation of which was postponed due to the start of the Great War immediately after its passage. The Rising only served as an excuse, after the War, to go backwards, since “the Irish” had now stabbed their country (as the Brits saw it) in the back, with the help of the Germans.

    The Civil War was clearly an unjust war, since the anti-treaty side had lost, overwhelmingly, the referendum on approval of the treaty with Britain.

    Dev’s character was clearly manifested by his opportunistic split with the IRA, to enter the Dail as the leader of Fianna Fail, swearing allegiance to the British King. When challenged about how he could have done that, he explained that when he did so “my hand never actually touched the Bible.”

    Politicians. No matter the country or the party, you can not trust them.

  8. “Home Rule was already the law, the implementation of which was postponed due to the start of the Great War immediately after its passage.”

    Actually the implementation of Home Rule caused a threatened rebellion by Protestants just before the outbreak of WWI. Segments of the Royal Army had agreed to mutiny if the British government used troops against the Protestants in Belfast. I can’t blame Irish nationalists for being skeptical as to whether Home Rule would be implemented after the War.

    “The Rising only served as an excuse, after the War, to go backwards, since “the Irish” had now stabbed their country (as the Brits saw it) in the back, with the help of the Germans.”

    The Brits already had plenty of reason to go backwards since the Protestants in Belfast had indicated prior to World War I that they would rather fight than submit to Home Rule. The huge overreaction by the British to the Easter rising played completely into the hands of the Irish Republicans.

    “The IRB and their allies had no chance of success, and they knew it.”

    Yep, it was doomed from the first. I can think of few military adventures that were less likely to succeed. It was crushed with relative ease by the British. Yet, it set in motion events which led to independence for most of Ireland. When it comes to predicting the future from what we know today, the 1916 uprising and its aftermath teaches us all humility on that score.

    “The Civil War was clearly an unjust war, since the anti-treaty side had lost, overwhelmingly, the referendum on approval of the treaty with Britain.”

    Unjust and completely futile.

    “Politicians. No matter the country or the party, you can not trust them.”

    Certainly I would agree as to the vast majority of them.

  9. “The Rising only served as an excuse, after the War, to go backwards, since “the Irish” had now stabbed their country (as the Brits saw it) in the back, with the help of the Germans.”

    The 1916 Rising took place in the context of the British Government having rewarded those who had openly, ostentatiously, and remorselessly committed treason (the Ulster Unionists) by putting them in government. Formerly, in 1912, Home Rule had the backing of the vast majority of people in Ireland, including many of the 1916 rebels such as Patrick Pearse, who actually then supported the Home Rule Bill. Ulster Unionists, backed by the British Conservative Party and the Liberal Unionists threatened the Liberal Governemnt with civil war. (Fenianism by 1912 as a military force was all but dead). Andrew Bonar Law showed his utter contempt for the democratic process when he declared that: “Unionsits would be justified in resisting by all means in their power including force” and that he could “imagine no lenth of resistance to which Ulster will go in which I will not be reasy to support them”. This changed the scenario completely. The government’s backing away from the Parliamentary procedure to establish Home Rule when the Unionists threatened it with civil war allowed Republicans to demand equal treatment. If Britain was stabbed in the back (she wasn’t) it was entirely her own fault.

    RE: “the loss of life”

    The handful of people killed in the Easter Rising immediately resulted in an instant collapse in recruitment for the mass killing in the futile trench war in France – a war which had been marketed in Ireland as being undertaken for the “freedom of small nations”, a rationale now exposed as a lie. Overall the Rising saved incalculable thousands of lives.

    Patrick esteems the 1922 Election as democratic but does not refer to the 1918 election when Sinn Fein won an overwhelming electoral mandate for complete seperation. Britain’s response to that decision was to threaten the country with a brutal conquest. The 1922 Election was held under the threat that the British Empire would undertake massive force to subdue Ireland if she voted the wrong way. An election held on those terms is hardly democratic and would not be recognized as so today.

    DeValera was not being ‘opportunistic’ by taking the oath, he was being pragmatic. There was no other way to take his seat, and Fine Gael had threatened his party with proscription if he failed to do so. De Valera had widely consulted theologians and ethicists before doing so. The Bishop of Galway, Michael Browne, advised him that his course of action was perfectly permissible so long as he made it clear before hand that he was merely repeating a prescribed formula and was not actually giving it internal assent. And that was precisely what he did.

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