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)”

Hallowe’en: Customs, Myths and Messiness

“Customs vary wi’ the times, At Hallowe’en..” So wrote John Mayne in his poem Hallowe’en which was published in 1780. This work was a major influence on Robert Burns’ more famous poem of the same name which appeared in 1785. Mayne’s wise observation that Halloween customs vary (like all cultures and languages) with the times, has not been widely accepted. Instead Halloween has become a sort of battleground over identity, politics and nationality, with dubious claims thrown into the mix that its origin harks back to the pre-Christian age.

It is perhaps not a surprise that the nation which dominates the present Halloween narrative is Ireland, it being the only one of the four nations to have a massive, influential cultural revolution in the shape of the Gaelic Revival, which merged nationalism, mythology and eventually (after much bloodshed) polity. These customs date back many centuries, spanning the British Isles and transcending the homogeneous “nation”. They pre-date standardised education systems and thus buckle the now coalesced narrative. When they become political, history tends to be the first victim.

All of this means that our understanding of Halloween is blurred. It’s time to focus the lens.

“Snap-apple Night, or All-Hallow Eve in Ireland” by Daniel Maclise (1833)

There are so many unsubstantiated claims and assumptions relating to this festival, it’s difficult to know where to begin. My main research focus has been on the Jack O’Lantern. Let’s start with that…

Continue reading “Hallowe’en: Customs, Myths and Messiness”

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

signature

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)”

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)”