Easter 1916 rebels did not care

Easter 1916 rebels did not care for mandates or shirk from violence

by David Hume

THE Easter Proclamation of 1916 was signed by seven men.

The Ulster Covenant of 1912 and the Women’s Declaration attached to it were signed by 471,717 men and women.

For me the figures stack up.

 While the Covenant was a document presented through the unionist leaders of the day and endorsed by a majority of the Protestant community in the nine-county Ulster, the Easter Proclamation came from a different political stable.

David-HumeThe men who drafted it, and were prepared to fight for it, were undoubtedly deeply committed to what it espoused, which was a separatist agenda.

But they could hardly have been said to represent the majority of nationalists or Roman Catholics in Ireland. In fact the seven men who led this revolutionary attempt were a small group within a small group, the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

One of them at least, Padraig Pearse, was worryingly fixated on the idea of blood sacrifice. The others, at their court martials, made clear that they accepted they would be executed. They believed that this would awaken ‘the Irish spirit’.

For a variety of subsequent reasons, political isolation of the 1916 rebels did not last.

In the 1918 general election Sinn Fein swept to victory, only Ulster remaining any way different from the trend.

But there is one issue which is key in respect of Easter 1916.

This is that a small radical group staged a violent action unrepresentative of their fellow countrymen.

The revolt in Dublin involved people who do not appear to have cared for democratic mandates and did not shirk from violence.

This foreshadowed what would follow; Constable McGee, a native of Donegal and unarmed, was shot four times by republicans at Castlebellingham.

Seven policemen were shot dead and 18 injured in attacks in Meath.

At Oranmore in Galway a policeman had also been shot dead.

The Proclamation made much of talk about cherishing all the sons and daughters of the nation.

But the matter of defining ‘the nation’ was in the hands of the revolutionaries.

And those sons of the nation who choose a different interpretation of loyalty were not cherished, but gunned down.

As commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards noted recently, the events of Easter 1916 beg the question as to whether it is OK to have a revolution just because you want to.

She went on in an incisive article to remind readers that the seven drafters said Ireland’s children were being summoned to her flag in the name of “the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood”.

“Can dead people tell you what to do? Which ones? Didn’t Daniel O’Connell say that a single drop of blood was too much to pay for liberty?” Dudley Edwards asks.

It is a valid question.

So perhaps it is time for everyone, not least republicans, to reconsider the issues which the event raises.

The Larne Times and Weekly Telegraph of May 6th 1916 said charitably of the rebels “Many of them fought with a courage that merited a better cause …”

Maybe a century on, their political descendants will consider how best to bring about a united Ireland, not through political unity (that most unlikely of all outcomes) but by building a peaceful, comfortable, secure future for all the sons and daughters of both nations on the island of Ireland.

That would be a far greater legacy for the future than the flawed foundations of the past.

• Dr David Hume MBE is director of services, Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland

Copyright Newsletter 2015