Today in 1916, Dublin – Easter Sunday – A bit of a mess

Easter Sunday (23rd April 1916)

Marked the day by going to the National Film Theatre to see The Trial of Sir Roger Casement, a television play from 1960 (on Granada) starring Peter Wyngarde as Roger Casement, who was hanged for treason 100 years ago not a million miles from here (in Pentonville prison) and even more shamefully chucked into a pit of lime. That’s Peter Wyngarde of Jason King and Department S fame. It was 56 minutes of skilfully crafted court room drama, with a contemporary commentary well integrated into the flow. Casement was arrested on Good Friday 100 years ago…

Scroll forward two days and it is as much a confused fiasco as Casement’s bumbling efforts on the Kerry coast. Had the arms shipment from Germany brokered by Casement arrived as intended, Eoin MacNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers, might have supported the Easter Rising but as it was, considering the rebels to be underarmed and to have no chance of victory, he countermands the order to gather and ultimately rise up against the English and thereby creates confusion across the country. The plan had been to assemble armed men (and women) of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army across Ireland as cover for the start of the Easter Rising.

MacNeill’s withdrawal of the order for ‘manoeuvres’, indeed “all orders given to Irish Volunteers for tomorrow, Easter Sunday”, is published in the Sunday Independent.

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The Countermand Order

Significant numbers of IV and ICA gather in Dublin and across the country but are uncertain what’s to happen. Needless to say it’s raining in much of the country as the volunteers hang around awaiting orders. Most end up dispersing (although many are still set to mobilise the next day if so commanded).

The rebel leaders decide just to postpone the uprising until Easter Monday despite MacNeill’s countermanding order.

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Eamonn Ceannt

Eamonn Ceannt, one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of Independence which was read out today (2016) in front of the GPO in Dublin, as it is every year on Easter Sunday, was on the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) Military Council with Joseph Plunkett and Sean MacDiarmada. He was appointed Director of Communications as well as commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers. During the Rising his battalion of over 100 men was stationed at the South Dublin Union, with Cathal Brugha as his second-in-command.

Ceannt returns home at 2am on Sunday and tells his wife Aine: “MacNeill has ruined us – he has stopped the Rising.” In the morning he heads to Liberty Hall to consult with Connolly and the others. His battalion meanwhile gathers at his house, the bicycles stacked four deep in the front garden. Ceannt returns to the house in the evening and begins filling out mobilisation orders. The bundle of papers commands his men to assemble again on Easter Monday. The decision to proceed is in motion…

Once the GPO fell and the rebels surrendered, Ceannt, like the other leaders, found himself in Kilmainham Gaol. He was shot like the rest in the stonebreaking yard on 8th May. He was 34. He wrote a last message a few hours before in cell 88:

I leave for the guidance of other Irish Revolutionaries who may tread the path which I have trod this advice, never to treat with the enemy, never to surrender at his mercy, but to fight to a finish… Ireland has shown she is a nation. This generation can claim to have raised sons as brave as any that went before. And in the years to come Ireland will honour those who risked all for her honour at Easter 1916.

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Today (2016) the Irish tricolour was raised above the roof of the GPO with planes of the Irish Air Force flying overhead trailing green, white and orange. What would Ceannt have made of that?

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The ceremony in the Stonebreakers’ yard in Kilmainham Gaol today with The President of Ireland and the flag of the state

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The ceremony in our kitchen today with the flag of the state

 

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2 comments so far

  1. […] to the start of this resonant day. Rebels turn out in Dublin but in reduced numbers after the chaos of Easter Sunday. They gather in the guise of Irish Volunteers on manoeuvres but at noon transform into determined […]

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  2. […] Yesterday in 1916 was supposed to be the day of the Easter Rising. However, because Eoin MacNeill countermanded the order, the rebellion was delayed by a day amid confusion. I marked the eve of the momentous event in Irish history with a day in Dublin of much more coherence. […]

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