If you were paying attention on Saint Patrick’s Day a hundred years ago, there was a clear sign of what was imminently to come. With only weeks to go until Easter, over a thousand uniformed members of the Irish Volunteers paraded in the city in a defiant show of strength at College Green, right beside the historic Parliament building. Not alone did the men parade, but they were carrying arms and ammunition. Joe Good, one of the Volunteers who took part on the day, was as surprised as anyone they were allowed do it. He recalled that they were “armed men on historic ground”, and that “the whole Dublin Brigade of the Volunteers could have been easily captured that day.”
London-born Joe Good was part of the ‘Kimmage Garrison’, a body of men who had traveled from British cities such as London, Liverpool and Glasgow in preparation for revolt. Of Patrick’s Day, he felt that “Dubliners did not appear interested”, something evident from the fact “there was no cheering crowds.” Still, as the men filed past College Green, they were inspected by the leader of the Irish Volunteers, Professor Eoin MacNeill. He himself was clueless that some within the organisation he led (on paper at least) were plotting revolution under his nose. Good recalled that “each man had a lethal weapon, some more deadly than a rifle.”
There were similar scenes in other parts of the country too, as the Irish Volunteer movement sought to show strength. In Cork, over a thousand Volunteers marched, while there were also significant demonstrations of strength in Limerick and Kerry. Writing about armed men marching on Patrick’s Day in the provinces, one intelligence officer felt safe to say:
There can be no doubt that the Irish Volunteer leaders are a pack of rebels who would proclaim their independence in the event of any favourable opportunity but with their present resources and without substantial reinforcements it is difficult to imagine they will make even a brief stand against a small body of troops.
James Connolly used his own newspaper, The Workers’ Republic, to praise the sight of hundreds of armed men on the streets on the national day, as a sign that “despite all the treasons of all the traitors Ireland still remains as pure in heart as ever, and though Empires fall and tyrannies perish, we will rise again.”
Across the city, the Volunteers attended churches on Patrick’s morning. Good remembered going to St. Audeon’s Church with his comrades, and that “the noise of the rifles as we took our seats struck me as irreverent – as if it was taking the joke too far.” At Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the Protestant rebels George Irvine and Harry Nicholls attended service. Nicholls was perhaps the most unusual thing in the Volunteer ranks: A graduate of Trinity College Dublin! While a member of the Volunteers, Nicholls would later fight beside the Citizen Army in the vicinity of St. Stephen’s Green when rebellion came. (There’s a great article on Nicholls worth reading here.)
While John Redmond may have a great view of this years parade from the College Green banner depicting him and others, he was not in Dublin a century ago. He had long split from the movement that was parading in the heart of the city, instead encouraging Irishmen to enlist in the British armed forces and to play a part in bringing the European war to a quick conclusion, and in making Home Rule a reality. Redmond spent Patrick’s Day 1916 in England,reviewing the Irish Guards in the presence of the British King and Lord Kitchener. The King would tell the Irish Guards he is pleased to see them wearing shamrock, as “it is the badge which unites all Irishmen, and you have shown that it stands for loyalty, courage and endurance in adversity. ” Yet unity was far from the agenda by March 1916. It was only weeks later that Redmond would denounce the Rising, laying the blame firmly on Germany:
This attempted deadly blow at Home Rule carried on through this section is made the more wicked and the more insolent by this fact – Germany plotted it, Germany organised it, Germany paid for it. So far as Germany’s share in it is concerned, it is a German invasion of Ireland, as brutal, as selfish, as cynical as Germany’s invasion of Belgium.
So, how was Patrick’s Day in Dublin for those who weren’t Volunteers? Though it had been a public holiday since 1903, thanks to the efforts of Home Rule MP (and later Sinn Féiner) James O’Meara, the public houses of the city were closed, which peculiarly enough was also because of O’Meara! On Patrick’s Day itself, one journalist praised this as “not many years ago it was far from odifying to think that the celebration of the feast day of the National Apostle should take the form of intoxicated dissipation which called for condemnation from pulpit and platform.”There were only a dozen cases of drunkenness before the courts in the aftermath of the day.
The Gael newspaper took the opportunity of Saint Patrick’s Day 1916 to encourage their readers to “take Anglicisation and hurl it back into the sea, as Saint Patrick hurled the snakes from our land… Many a tear Saint Patrick must shed for us in heaven, and great must be his humiliation.” You have to wonder what he’d think of Temple Bar on Thursday.