1916 Enigma – Eoin MacNeill’s Countermanding Order

We move into the 1916 centenary commemorations
One question has always bothered me.

one question
Why did Ulsterman Eoin MacNeill countermand the order to the Irish Volunteers to muster for “manoeuvres” on Easter Monday 1916?


This decision largely frustrated the Rising outside Dublin.

So why did he do it?

As an Ulsterman, was he secretly a Unionist?

eoin mac neill

Not at all.

Eoin MacNeill  (1867-1945) was born in Glenarm,  Co. Antrim to Catholic parents. He was educated at  the well-known

st malachy's
St Malachy’s College, Belfast, and then graduated in constitutional history, jurisprudence and political economy in 1888.
He became the first law clerk in Ireland to be appointed through national examinations, rather than patronage.

He was also the first not to be a member of the Church of Ireland.

MacNeill was a strong anti-Parnellite

In 1893, together with Douglas Hyde and others he founded the Gaelic League

gaelic league
In 1898 he nominated Patrick Pearse as a member of the Gaelic League executive, and they worked together on the publications committee.

MacNeill actively supported

st enda's

St Enda’s Pearse’s independent boys’ school, (intended to be a training ground for future generations of nationalists as well as a radical experiment in alternative education).

By 1916, Pearse and MacNeill were long-standing personal friends, sharing and promoting  the Gaelic Ireland ideology.

In an article entitled

the north began

McNeill advocated the formation of a national volunteer force on the lines of the Ulster Volunteer Force.

irish volunteers

He became Chief of Staff.

The Irish Volunteers included members of the Gaelic League, Ancient Order of Hibernians and Sinn Féin and, secretly, the


Query: So why did  MacNeill countermand the orders of the IRB Military Council for manoeuvres on Easter Sunday?  

union flag2

The British : We had learned of the planned uprising. On April 21 we arrested Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement in County Kerry for running arms for the rebels. Eoin MacNeill, the leader of the Irish Volunteers, therefore canceled mobilization orders for the insurgents, but Pearse and Clarke went ahead with about 1,560 Irish Volunteers and a 200-man contingent of the Citizen Army.

irish flag
The Irish: Early in April 1916 the IRB group convinced MacNeill that a crackdown was imminent by producing a forged ‘Castle document’ (possibly based on genuine contingency plans). When he found out it was forged, that Sir Roger Casement had been captured, and the Aud, an arms ship sent from Germany,  scuttled


he sent out messengers around the country ordering a general demobilisation, following  up with an advertisement in the Sunday Independent.

eoin mac neill

” There needs be no doubt about it whatever. I did everything in my power to prevent the Easter Week rising.”


“England saw us drilling, knew of our continuous recruiting, had definite information as to our constantly increasing numbers and let us do it without real interference. England wanted us to commit the blunder ! Thus should we ourselves have settled the Irish question, from England’s viewpoint, for generations to come. We should have been soundly trounced in the field by Carson’s army backed up by whatever British support might be necessary and at the same time have ruined all hopes of a united Ireland. Because England believed we were planning to do the one thing that would vindicate her Ulster policy, our army was allowed to grow.

Much was going forward that I knew nothing of determined upon at secret meetings at which I was not present. Not until after it was all over did I come to learn the momentous decision reached by the seven men who signed and published the declaration of the Irish Republic.

Had I known their plan I am afraid I should still have disapproved it on the grounds that not a Government on earth could be so stupid as to make the ridiculous mistake of treating them seriously.

The Historian:

Queries: Was MacNeill peeved and  annoyed  that his good friend Padraic Pearse had misled him?

Did he feel he had been used and side-lined when  he found out that  IRB orders  were a cover for the Rising — with which he disagreed?

Was his countermanding order sent in a fit of rage and pique as he realized his opinion as Chief of the Irish Volunteers was being disregarded?

Was it triggered by his wounded vanity?

Did the fate of the Irish  nation in 1916 ride on one Ulsterman’s anger with his friends?

Update 7/4/2017:Blue Plaque at St Malachy’s College Belfast for Eoin MacNeill

The plaque is located in a very prominent part of the college and will remind present and future generations of students of Eoin Mac Neill’s important role in the cultural life of Ireland,” .

Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, Chris Spurr, said:

As a co-founder of the Gaelic League, Eoin Mac Neill assured his place in his country’s history, but he was also an eminent scholar, historian, and linguist.

“The Ulster History Circle are delighted to commemorate Eoin Mac Neill with a blue plaque at the college he attended.”







Recovery of Anchors from 1916 Gun Running Ship – ‘The Aud’


Eoin MacNeill: The mind behind the Easter Rising?



http://republican news.org/current/news/2013/11/the_irish_volunteers.html#.VjadNrcveUk



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