Who do you blame for Ireland1917?
The leadership in militant
Ireland had been silenced between
May 3rd and 12th 1916. Those who survived were now trust
forward into a spotlight that startled them and yet they embraced it. In early 1917
many of these future leaders were still being held at the pleasure of His
Majesty but as the year wore on more and more ‘rebels’ were being granted an
amnesty as being jailed without charge or trial. .
In the aftermath of four previous rebellions, 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867, the British transported many of the militant leaders out of
Ireland to colony’s like Australia and New Zealand but these avenues were
now closed. Instead of a five month journey to the other side of the world the
captured men were now just five hours across the Irish Sea in Wales. While captive in places like
Frongoch, the men who survived the Easter Rising were planning a new campaign
with a different military direction and tactics.
The political landscape was changing as the old guard of
Redmond was being swept
aside by an even more nationalist yet untested leadership of the Irish
Within months the militant nationalists now under the banner of Sinn Fein won a series of by elections, Count Plunkett whose son Joseph was one of the executed leaders won a by election in Roscommon, Joseph McGuinness in Longford, DeValera in Clare and W T Cosgrave in Kilkenny. By October Sinn Fein was gathering in great numbers at the Mansion House to demand independence while the British attempt to solve the Irish question, The Irish Convention that met at the old Parliament building on College Green was quagmire in deadlock. But the prospect of conscription and partition was on the lips of everyone. The Irish Conscription Act had got through the House of Commons in April 1917.
As though ignoring the old adage ‘divide and conquer’, the British blundered and bumbled through Irish life. Instead of dividing and reasserting its dominance,
was adding fuel to the feeling that they cared little about Ireland except
for stripping its land of food and men to feed their war effort. In 1917 Ireland was
divided more than ever. The northern part of the island remained loyal to the Union and to the bloody mud fields of the Western Front.
A section of the remaining part of the island also supported the battle against
the Axis powers. Despite the reaction to the events of Easter week, Irishmen
both north and south an estimated 15,000 had volunteered to join the British
army although that enlistment slowed later in 1917 after the Battle of Passchendaele.
That battle was another huge loss of life despite the best efforts of both the
press and the censor to portray it as a victory. The Irish families were
becoming increasingly aware of the growing loss of life. Ireland was still very parochial and as the
losses became more evident in every community especially in rural Ireland, farmer’s
sons were more in demand for the harvest than the front. Some sought a peaceful
resolution of the Irish question while others still planned a military campaign.
Life went on. The All Ireland football final took place in December in Croke Park in from of 6,500 spectators who cheered as Wexford won their third final in a row, while the hurling had been played earlier in October and saw a Dublin team come out on top of Tipperary while the very British game of association football had been suspended because of the First World War. Airfields were opened all over Ireland for the Royal Flying Corps from Baldonnel to Collinstown to Tallaght aircraft were flying over Dublin every day as the war effort intensified especially with the arrival of the United States into the European conflict.
A famine of sorts was once again striking at the heart of
even more discontent and a rise in industrial militancy. Irish produce
including the potato was being exported to Britain to sustain the war effort
as some Irish starved, although to be balanced some Irish farmers were
profiteering from the increased artificially high prices of some food items. As
animal livestock was about to be exported Dublin Dockers refused to load cargo
vessels and provided welcome relief to some of the underprivileged and
undernourished Dubliners. There were headline grabbing riots in Cork as families who had
one family member incarcerated as a result of Easter week and another serving
in the British army demanded the release of their family to help with harvests.
The cost of living in an already depressed economy increased. Food, travel and even
the price of drink increased though a ban on whiskey led to a booming poteen
market in the west of Ireland.
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