We move into the 1916 centenary commemorations
One question has always bothered me.
This decision largely frustrated the Rising outside Dublin.
So why did he do it? As an Ulsterman, was he secretly a Unionist?
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 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
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
McNeill advocated the formation of a national volunteer force on the lines of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
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: Why did MacNeill countermand the orders of the IRB Military Council for manoeuvres on Easter Sunday?
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.
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.
” 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.
Queries: Was MacNeill peeved 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?