6/3/1918 John Redmond dies, once Ireland’s leading politician, now almost an irrelevance #1918Live

Before the war John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, dominated Irish politics. Through his alliance with Asquith and the Liberals he appeared to be on the brink of achieving self-government for Ireland, with Asquith committed to introducing Home Rule despite the opposition of the House of Lords, Ulster Unionists and elements within the British army. The outbreak of war allowed Asquith to delay Home Rule for the conflict’s duration. To hasten the war’s end and to win Ireland favour with the British government, Redmond encouraged Irishmen to join the British army, which they did in great numbers.

Today Redmond dies, of complications following an operation. The political tide has gone out for him and on his deathbed he reputedly tells a visiting priest that he is a broken-hearted man. The war has claimed the life of his brother, while the ever-lengthening casualty lists have engendered hostility to people like Redmond who encouraged enlistment. The British response to the Easter Rising of 1916 has turned many against any link to London. The rise of Sinn Féin means that Redmond’s support for Home Rule (limited self-government within the United Kingdom) seems like a feeble half-step. As Redmond dies he is now almost an irrelevance.

Redmond had already stepped down as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. His successor is John Dillon, who will have his work cut out if he is to arrest the rise of Sinn Féin and ensure his party’s remains at the centre of Irish politics.

image source (Wikipedia)

12/5/1916 Dublin: the last rebels executed

In Dublin the courts-martial and executions of participants in the recent rebellion have been continuing. Each execution must first be approved by General Maxwell, the military governor. Execution is meant to be reserved for ringleaders of the revolt, but Maxwell takes a generous view of who counts as a commander of rebellion.

Pearse, Connolly, Clarke and the other signatories of the rebels’ proclamation of independence have all now been shot, but so have some of the Rising’s smaller fish. Seán Heuston commanded a small detachment that was forced to surrender early in the revolt; he is now dead. James MacBride was only second-in-command of the rebel garrison at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, but he has long been a thorn in the side of the British so they are happy to send him to the firing squad. And Willie Pearse’s role in the revolt was pretty insignificant, but he is executed essentially for being Patrick Pearse’s brother.

The executions have led to increasing disquiet in Ireland and have begun to engender a sympathy for the rebels that was lacking during their revolt. In London, John Dillon of the Irish Parliamentary Party condemns the executions in the House of Commons while his party’s leader John Redmond makes representations to Asquith, the prime minister. Asquith is slow to act but now he obliges Maxwell to halt the firing squads. Seán Mac Diarmada and James Connolly die today, the firing squads’ last victims; Connolly is executed sitting in a chair as wounds sustained in the rebellion prevent him from standing.
The remaining rebels who were facing death have their sentences commuted to penal servitude for life. The most senior remaining rebel is Éamon de Valera, who had commanded the garrison at Boland’s Mill. Another prominent survivor is Constance Markievicz of the Irish Citizen Army, who was second in command at St. Stephen’s Green.

image sources:

Execution (Militaria Archive)

James Connolly execution (The Daily Edge)

19/3/1916 Ireland moves towards rebellion

Many Irishmen are serving in the British armed forces, fighting and dying on the Western Front and further afield. Ireland itself has been spared the destruction war has brought to Europe. That may be about to change.

Before war came to Europe in 1914 Ireland stood at the brink of civil war. The country was divided between supporters and opponents of the Home Rule that the British government had agreed to grant the island. In the north east of the island the Ulster Volunteers had formed to oppose Home Rule while throughout the country the Irish Volunteers formed to defend its introduction. Both of these militias imported arms from Germany and prepared to fight.

The outbreak of war in Europe allowed the British government to suspend Home Rule for the war’s duration. The Irish Volunteers split into pro- and anti- war factions. The larger National Volunteers supported the British war effort. Many of them heeded the call to join the British army of Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond. As time went on the remaining National Volunteer organisation became largely moribund.

The smaller anti-war faction kept the name Irish Volunteers and has remained active. Many of their leading officers are covert members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret society intent on making Ireland fully independent of Britain. The IRB’s Military Council has decided to stage an uprising against Britain, using the men of the Irish Volunteers to do so. Although the Volunteers’ leader, Eoin MacNeill, is not a member of the IRB, the Military Council hope to secure his support for the rising by using forgeries of British documents to make him think that the suppression of the Volunteers is imminent.

The IRB have also formed an alliance with the Irish Citizen Army, a small socialist militia, whose leader James Connolly has been sworn into the IRB. He agrees that the Irish Citizen Army will join the rising.

The rising is to begin on Easter Sunday, the 23rd of April. For the rebels, taking on the might of the British Empire will be a bold step. They are hoping for a further shipment of arms from Germany, but the IRB leadership must know that they have little chance of victory.

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Irish Volunteers parade in Cork, St. Patrick’s Day 1916 (RTE)

Irish Citizen Army members at Croydon Park (National Library of Ireland)

3/8/1914 Grey wins over the House of Commons

In the morning Lichnowsky and Grey meet once more. To win British neutrality, the German ambassador says that Germany will not send its fleet to attack the French coast. Germany will also restore Belgium to its full sovereignty after the war. Grey makes no promises.

It is a bank holiday Monday, yet the cabinet is meeting again. The House of Commons will also be sitting in the afternoon. Germany’s ultimatum to Belgium has won most of the cabinet to war, though some ministers are opposed to war in any circumstances and tender their resignations.

In the afternoon Grey addresses the House of Commons. In a long and boring introduction he rambles on about how the crisis has developed and reveals that Britain has agreed to defend France’s coast from the Germans. But after an hour he hits his stride and makes an impassioned plea for his country to come to the defence of plucky Belgium. This provides the perfect mix of national interest (preventing German access to the Belgian coast) and lofty idealism. The foreign secretary finishes to thunderous applause. Two of the anti-interventionist ministers are won over, withdrawing their resignations.

But support is not unanimous. The Labour Party rejects involvement in the war, as do a small bloc of Liberals. And Lichnowsky wires home that the speech still leaves room for negotiation; he suggests that the British leadership are not completely behind war.

Other speakers in the House of Commons include John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He proposes that Britain withdraw its forces from Ireland, as the Irish Volunteers and Ulster Volunteers will jointly defend it. These two militias had been on the brink of fighting each other over the Home Rule question.

The Cabinet meets again in the evening. Grey sends a note of protest to Germany regarding Belgium, though not an ultimatum.

Back in his office in Whitehall, Grey sees the gaslights being lit in St. James’ Park and he comments: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We will not see them again in our lifetime.”

image source