Francis Sheehy-Skeffington on WW1 and Irish Independence (February 1916)

A Forgotten Small Nationality

Ireland and the War

By Francis Sheehy-Skeffington

(Century Magazine, 1916)people_sheehy_skeffington

England has so successfully hypnotised the world into regarding the neighbouring conquered island as an integral part of Great Britain that even Americans gasp at the mention of Irish independence. Home rule they understand, but independence! “How could Ireland maintain an independent existence?” they ask. “How could you defend yourselves against all the great nations?” I do not feel under any obligation to answer this question, because that objection, if recognised as valid, would make an end of the existence of any small nationality whatever. All of them, from their very nature, are subject to the perils and disadvantages of independent sovereignty. I neither deny nor minimise these. Continue reading “Francis Sheehy-Skeffington on WW1 and Irish Independence (February 1916)”

“War: England, Germany and Ireland” (1913)

In July 1913 the Irish Republican Brotherhood published an anti-enlistment leaflet entitled “War – England, Germany and Ireland”

Among those who distributed the leaflet was IRB member Art O’Donnell, from Tullycrine, Co. Clare. O’Donnell followed in his father’s footsteps when he joined the brotherhood in 1908 and was sworn in by his first cousin Con Colbert (later executed in 1916). Art handed out the anti-enlistment leaflets after Mass on a Sunday. It read..

War is imminent between England and Germany.

England’s cowardly and degenerate population won’t make soldiers.

Not so the Germans.

They are trained and ready.

What will England do?

She will recruit Irishmen to fight Germany for her.

She will then, when finished with them, fling them back to the workhouses of Ireland reeking with foul filthy diseases.

A London daily newspaper, The Morning Post, mistakenly reported that the Dublin Vigilance Committee was behind the leaflet. This inaccurate reporting culminated at the same newspaper in 1920 when it published a series of articles based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Further Reading:

Spotlight: Padraic Colum’s thoughts on Pearse and MacDonagh (1916)

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taken from the Introduction to Poems of the Irish revolutionary brotherhood (Padraic Colum, 1916)

“The years that brought maturity to the [poets] who were foremost to sign, and foremost to take arms to assert, Ireland’s Declaration of Independence, may come to be looked back on as signal days in Irish history. They were days of preparation. The youth of Nationalist Ireland had turned to a task – the task of learning – of learning first the Irish language, of learning then about Irish public affairs, and at the end of learning arms and about the handling of men.

Padraic Colum - from a sketch by Jack B. Yeats
Padraic Colum – from a sketch by Jack B. Yeats

The generation that became conscious twenty years ago turned with hope, faith and reverence to Gaelic Ireland. From the remnant of the Gaelic speaking people they would learn what civilization their country was capable of attaining to. Those who regarded themselves as the historic Irish nation were then rediscovering their origins and their achievements : they were Celts; they were of the race of Brennus and Vercingetorix, of Cuchullain and Maeve, of Columbanus and Scotus Eiriugena; they were of the breed of the warriors who had shaken all empires although they had founded none; of the race of the missionary saints, and of the lovers of learning who had made themselves the patrons and protectors of European culture. The Ireland they willed would not be an autonomous West Britain, but a resurgent Gaelic nationality. And their race-dream was as fantastic perhaps as the race-dream of any other reviving people.

Those who mastered the Irish language began to learn it in classes spontaneously organised in the cities and the villages, and they made themselves fluent by living with fishermen and small farmers in far islands and remote villages. Classwork made a comradeship between young men and women. Their first control was over classes and their first intervention in public affairs was from the lecture platform.

kellsPadraic Pearse was the first of the young men to be seriously spoken of in the Gaelic League. He had learned Irish in one of the few schools where it was then taught, and he took up Irish studies in University College, then part of the old Royal, and now part of the new National, University. He graduated from University College and was called to the bar. Meanwhile he had mastered the language and had learnt about Gaelic life by living for long spaces of time in a cottage he owned in one of the poorest districts of West Connacht.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Padraic Colum’s thoughts on Pearse and MacDonagh (1916)”

“Irishmen All” Jack B. Yeats paints the national ‘types’ (1913)

George A. Bermingham (the pseudonym of clergyman and novelist Rev. James Owen Hannay) published a study of twelve different Irish ‘types’ in 1913. The illustrations of each Irish type were taken from oil paintings by Jack B. Yeats. These descriptive paintings are a contemporary and unique glimpse of pre-war Ireland. Hilary Pyle (a Jack. B. Yeats’ biographer) wrote that

The illustrations are fine achievements, paintings of typical characters making up the Ireland of the day, parish priest, businessman, farmer and so on, the results of carefully trained observation combined with a natural and intuitive creativity, and they demonstrate individuality, good draughtsmanship, a sense of design and gift for dramatic narrative.

Further Reading

Father Fitzgerald vs. John Redmond (Sept 1914)

Father Fitzgerald vs. John Redmond (Sept 1914)

On Friday 27 September 1914 the West Limerick Executive of the United Irish League held a meeting at the Carnegie Hall in Rathkeale, Co. Limerick. The meeting dealt with some cases of evicted tenants before the President of the Executive, Rev. Fitzgerald, made a remarkable speech that denounced both John Redmond‘s call for the Irish Volunteers to join the British Army and the entire plausibility of the effective enactment of Home Rule. What follows is a transcription of his speech that was recorded in the Limerick Leader on the 30th September 1914, and I’ve changed it from third person (as reported) to first person with edits.

I suppose the present state of affairs in the political arena called for a few words…the opinions I am about to express are my own – I do not think that they will coincide with those of the other members present. However, at this meeting we are all free lances and every man is entitled to speak out his own mind. The vital question before us at present- a question which we had so often discussed at previous meetings of the Executive – was the attainment of our National rights, which meant the opening of a native Parliament in Dublin. As we are all aware the Home Rule Bill had received the Royal Assent and had been placed on the Statute Book of England.

That, of course, would be all very fine and would meet with the desires of the Irish race, for, although the Home Rule Bill was not up to our expectations, at the same time it gave us substantially what we had been looking for. But there was a danger in the whole situation, and the danger was the Amending Bill. Of course the situation would not be all bad if we only knew what the Amending Bill was, but we did not know, and, perhaps, it might tear the original Bill to shreds. What they did know was from statements that had been made by prominent Ministers of the Government, and by members of the Opposition Party. Carson and his crowd declared that they would not have Home Rule at all, and, on the other hand, Mr. Asquith and other members of the Government, said they would not force the Bill by force of arms on Ulster, or coerce that province into submission to the Act.

Continue reading “Father Fitzgerald vs. John Redmond (Sept 1914)”

The Launch of the Limerick Volunteers (Jan 1914)

This is my article on the launch of the Limerick City corps of the Irish Volunteers that appeared on The Irish Story

The 25th of January 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Limerick corps of the Irish Volunteers. This inaugural public meeting was held at the Athenaeum Hall on Cecil Street on a cold Sunday night. As the crowds arrived at the hall, handbills were circulated which aimed to reassure those present that the Volunteer movement was not a threat to Home Rule.

The Limerick City Regiment Irish Volunteers Flag (Courtesy of Limerick Museum)
The Limerick City Regiment Irish Volunteers Flag (Courtesy of Limerick Museum)

The handbill stated that the Irish Volunteers were apolitical and open to “Irishmen of every creed and class” which would help to “maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland.” The symbolism on display that night was carefully arranged. Projected on to a screen in the hall was a “lime-light” picture of the Sarsfield Monument as well as a picture of the Assembly of the Volunteers at College Green in 1782.

Both of these evocative images were of Nationalist movements, yet neither was Republican. This is surprising when you consider that the provisional committee included members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) (inc. George Clancy the future Sinn Fein Mayor of Limerick who was murdered by British forces in 1921). It is difficult to say if this was a shrewd, realpolitik decision by the organisers to cloud their true intentions by pre-empting any accusations of “Fenianism”, or simply honest admiration.

The Volunteer membership book in Limerick (Courtesy of Limerick Museum)
The Volunteer membership book in Limerick (Courtesy of Limerick Museum)

Kathleen Clarke maintains that this  was a sleight of hand and part of Tom Clarke’s long term strategy. But another explanation is the strong presence on the committee of the pro-Home Rule Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), which was an unofficial auxiliary of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

In any case, playing down the radical character of the Volunteer movement was wise. One can only imagine what the reaction would have been in the offices of the unionist Limerick Chronicle newspaper if their reporter had returned with an account of a militarist meeting in the city which featured images of Robert Emmett and rebel pikemen.

Continue reading “The Launch of the Limerick Volunteers (Jan 1914)”

Who was Michael Joyce?

Michael Joyce was the MP for Limerick City in 1914. He served the City in the House of Commons as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1900 to 1918. Dr. Tadhg Moloney, author of “Limerick constitutional nationalism, 1898-1918”, tells us more about his career, life and legacy.


Further Reading 

  1. Michael Joyce’s contributions to the House of Commons
  2. ‘Michael Joyce: Squarerigger, Shannon Pilot and M.P.’ by Brian Donnelly (Old Limerick Journal, Vo. 27,  Autumn 1992)
  3. ‘Michael Joyce – Maritime Mayor’ by Ciarán O’Griofa