Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Build Up to April

“In the presence of God, I Tom Clarke do solemnly swear that I will do my utmost to establish the national independence of Ireland and that I will bear true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Government of the Irish Republic and implicitly obey the constitution of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and all my superior officers and that I will preserve inviolable the secret of the organization”.

Despite the worthy ideals, the I.R.B. in Ireland in the late eighteen hundreds had almost become a dormant organization.  The high ground in the quest for a national identity as Ireland entered a new century was taken by democratic politics led by the Irish Parliamentary Party.  Under the eloquent leadership of John Redmond (b. Wexford 1856-1918), the party continually pressed the Westminster Government for Home Rule for Ireland.  After the 1911 General Election, the Liberal Party in London found that they would require the support of the Irish party if they wished to remain in power and the price of that support of forty plus seats was the re-introduction of the Home Rule Bill.  The Bill having been rejected twice by the Parliament could not be rejected again and therefore would automatically be placed on the statute books.

But Home Rule for Ireland, a kind of watered down independence, was not to everyone’s liking especially the Unionists in Ulster who wished to remain firmly under the King’s rule.  The Unionists promised that they would fight the introduction of Home Rule in Ireland by force if necessary.  To this end the Ulster Unionists signed a covenant pledging that they would set up a Provisional Government in Belfast rather than be governed by ‘Home Rule, which was Rome rule’.  The Unionists under Edward Carson readied a volunteer army for the fight openly importing arms and launching recruitment drives and training those volunteers in a strict military fashion.  I July 1914, a summit was held at Buckingham Palace and in order to avoid a potential civil war in Ireland, Home Rule although placed on the statute books was delayed in implementation until an agreement could be reached and the Unionists accommodated in a possible partitionist solution, Redmond conceded that a partitioned Ireland would now be the likely outcome of the Home Rule act.  Further implications came for the Home Rule movement when Germany declared war and World War One, the war to end all wars, began.

Seven years into the new century, Tom Clarke returned to Ireland to reorganize the I.R.B. and as he traveled back across the Atlantic Ocean, he prayed that this would be the last century that the British would have control over this country.  Clarke opened a small tobacconists shop on Parnell Street (then known as Great Britain Street) and from this humble location and with the assistance of the Brotherhoods sister organization in the United States, Clan Na Gael, itself founded by Jerome Collins in New York in 1867 and the Clans leader John Devoy, Clarke set about his task with efficiency and method.

The old leaders of the I.R.B. like Fred Allen, P.T. Daly and John Hanlon were pushed aside.  These activities did not go un-noticed by the British authorities in their Irish headquarters in Dublin Castle as Clarke quickly found himself at the head of their most wanted list. 

Dublin at the turn of the century was the capital of a country still getting over the trauma of the Great Famine.  Architecturally a jewel in the crown of the British Empire but the city was divided in those with and the majority of the populous those without.   The slums and the ghettos housed the majority of its citizens and what work was available was ruthlessly exploited by a handful of powerful employers.

The Irish Transport and General Workers Union was founded in January 1909 on the principle of protecting workers rights who in the main were utilized as slave labour rather than genuine employees.  The slogan of the I.T.G.W.U. was ‘an injury to one is a concern to all’.

Following the docks strike in Belfast, Jim Larkin (b. Liverpool 1876-1947) a powerfully built man whose character and personality influenced the easily led workers with his power of oration, moved down to Dublin.  The transport strike of 1914 aimed at the exploitive employers such as Martin Murphy of the Dublin Tramway Company, gained widespread support amongst the lower classes.  Murphy used every method including violence and intimidation carried out by the biased police force to break the union and the strike.  The Unions demands for union recognition and a fair wage for employees would not be conceded to.  The workers demonstrated a great will to hold out against the odds and against starvation and deprivation as the union funds were quickly exhausted.  The violence by the police culminated on August 31st 1913 in what became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ but the workers continued to remain on the picket lines.  The strike eventually ended in a stalemate with the starving workers agreeing separate deals with employers, the best that they believed that they could get.  To counteract the police brutality, the I.T.G.W.U. formed the Citizens Army as a defense force to protect the workers and the ordinary Dublin citizens.  Another militia was about to enter the Irish melting pot.  Jim Larkin himself helped to sow the seeds of revolution in those who followed him.  He once said,

“It is the right of the man in Ulster to arm, who should it not be right and legal for the men of Dublin to arm themselves to protect themselves?  You will need it, I do not offer advice which I am not prepared to adopt myself.  So arm and I’ll arm.  But whether you form a Provisional Government or not you will require arms”.

Following the collapse of the strike, the coffers of the I.T.G.W.U. were dry and Larkin decided to travel to the United States in search of funds.  As he left across the Atlantic, his second in command, James Connolly (b. Edinburgh 1868-1916) took control of the Union.  Connolly, who had been the Unions organizer in Belfast after the docks strike there, concentrated his energies on the Citizens Army for whom he had another agenda rather than solely for the protection of the workers.  After the strike stalemate, the Citizens Army lay in a state of chaos and inactivity as once again the employers dominated the labour scene especially in Dublin, but under the direction of Connolly, the Citizens Army re-emerged between Marsh and June 1914 with a new constitution and a strong nationalist direction.

James Connolly was born in Scotland and although he had left school at the age of eleven he was a widely read man.  His political philosophy stemmed from the Marxist socialist beliefs.  In 1898, he had founded the Socialist Republican Party, which encompassed both of his true ideals.  Connolly was a small robust man, his round fact dominated by a bushy moustache.  Although at times not an eloquent speaker he was very capable of forcing home any point he wishes to make even if that statement had its critics.

In November 1913, The Irish Volunteers were formed and a Professor of History at University College Dublin was elected its first leader, Eoin McNeill (b. Antrim 1867-1945) was in many respects a naïve man who was to be misled and manipulated by the leaders of the planned rebellion.  He was unaware that three members of the I.R.B. were also members of the Executive of the Volunteers and that these men planned at some stage to take over the Volunteers and use the organization to meet their own goals.  Little did any of these people now gathering in Dublin that they would not along lead a rebellion against the British but that they would create broadcasting history.  The three men were Padraig Pearse (b. Dublin 1879-1916) a schoolteacher from Rathfarnham, Tom McDermott (b. Leitrim 1884-1916) and Eamonn Ceannt (b. Galway 1881–1916).  Eoin McNeill watched the events of Easter Week unfold in horror realising that whatever action he would take would be conceived in some quarters as the wrong action having lost control of his organization to the I.R.B.  The Supreme Council of the I.R.B. had appointed an inner military council to oversee the plans for the rebellion.  In May 1915, Messrs. Clarke, McDermott, Pearse, Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett (b. Dublin 1887-1916) were appointed to that inner circle by the Supreme Council at that time presided over by Belfast man Denis McCullough.  Each of the appointees were handed specific responsibilities in the planning operation with Joseph Plunkett appointed Director of Communications.

Two others were to join this select band of rebels, Thomas McDonagh (b. Tipperary 1878-1916) joined in April 1916 just before the rising but it was the co-opting of James Connolly that seemed the most mysterious even to this day.  In the latter months of 1915 Connolly was becoming more and more outspoken about rebelling against the British even speaking about going it alone with his Citizens Army.  The Military Council were afraid that his attitudes would cause the British authorities in Dublin Castle undue concern and lead to a crackdown that might destroy the plans that had already been drawn up and set in motion for the rising the following year.


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