Earlier today, I watched a very impressive Easter march through the city from Kilmainham Gaol to Arbour Hill, commemorating the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising. It seems in spite of the onslaught of Geldof and Bruton (we’ve had enough of both, thanks), plenty of people still think the 1916 Rising is something we should take pride in, and I share their sentiment wholeheartedly. The turnout included many families and children, which was wonderful to see, and a variety of banners including trade unionists from the United States.
If there’s always a cloud willing to rain on the finest of parades, the honour in this case goes to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who paraded through the streets behind the flag of the Vatican. While the vast majority of the participants of the 1916 Rising were Catholic, and while this was undeniably a factor in shaping the political conscientious and ideology of many of the rebels, the Rising was not an exclusively Catholic affair. Indeed, from its early planning to the event itself, there were many Protestants in the ranks of the rebel forces. This article looks at a few of these Protestant rebels briefly, and also the reactionary role of the Hibernians in the Ireland of a century ago. Terence MacSweeney, the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike during the War of Independence, denounced ‘Hibernianism’ as a divisive sectarian ideology, writing that “English politicians to serve the end of dividing Ireland have worked on religious feelings in the north with the aim of destroying Irish unity…Hibernianism created an unnatural atmosphere of sectarian rivalry in Ireland.”
One of the very last articles published in James Connolly’s newspaper, The Workers’ Republic, was entitled ‘Hands Across The Boyne’, and was penned by the Protestant Irish Citizen Army member Seamus McGowan. Writing an appeal to “an Irish working class Unionist”, he argued that men and women of all creeds experienced the same exploitation from their employers:
The one employer exploited us both, and robbed us of the profits of our labour. He may have been a Catholic or a Protestant, a Nationalist or a Unionist, yet it made little difference to either of us. We had to work for a living and very often on his terms….The only course then for us to adopt was to realise the fact that by the unchanging and unchangeable laws of God, of Nature and of Nations, we were brothers, children of the same mother, begotten in the same way.
McGowan joined the Irish Citizen Army in 1914, and as Jimmy Wren notes in his recent history of the GPO Garrison in 1916, “as sergeant and assistant quartermaster, he was in charge of bomb making in Liberty Hall, where large quantities of homemade bombs were made and stored.” McGowan remained a committed ICA man in the years that followed. He was involved in a very daring raid of the American transport vessel the Defiance in 1918. As recounted in R.M Fox’s history of the ICA:
Dublin dockers at work loading up the boat wondered at the extraordinary precautions taken. By each gangway was an armed guard of United States Marines. Other guards were placed in position by the deck and the hold. No man could get off the ship without a permit, and he had to run the gauntlet of the guards. The dockers looked round and discovered the hold contained piled up cases of revolvers, rifles and ammunition that were being shipped from England back to America. The Citizen Army was instantly on the alert. Seamus McGowan, the arms expert, was smuggled in as a docker, to arrange about getting some of this stuff ashore.
McGowan later took part in the occupation of Findlater’s Stores during the Civil War, fighting on the Republican side alongside other ICA comrades (it should be noted that a significant number of ICA men also joined the Army of the new Free State).He was later central to unsuccessful attempts to revitalise the Citizen Army in the 1930s.
McGowan is buried in the Protestant cemetery in Drumcondra, where his grave is decorated with the Starry Plough, the symbol of his beloved Citizen Army:
The Norgrove Family, also active within the ranks of the ICA, were quite remarkable owing to their contribution to the rebellion in terms of numbers; five members of this one family participated in the rebellion. The Norgrove family made headlines in 2011 when ammunition was discovered under the floorboards of 15 Strandville Avenue,off the North Strand.
Annie and Emily Norgrove were part of the City Hall Garrison in the early stages of the insurrection, while there were also members of the family at the General Post Office. Fred Norgrove, a young member of the Citizen Army Boy Scouts, was sent home from the GPO by James Connolly on account of his age, though his father Alfred wasn’t quite as fortunate, and was later interned in Frongoch for his activities. Fred Norgrove later served as Church of Ireland warden in St. Canice’s Parish, Finglas and St. Matthew’s of Irishtown. Like with Seamus McGowan, several members of the Norgrove family took an active role in the fighting of the Civil War in Dublin, and remained committed to the Citizen Army.
The centenary of the Rising has witnessed an enormous emerging field of studies on the role of women in the rebellion, and much of the popular commemorative events and media output has focused on this aspect of the Rising. One figure who is receiving long-overdue recognition is Kathleen Lynn, Chief Medical Officer to the Citizen Army. Born in Cong, Mayo in 1874, Lynn was the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergymen.
In the recent study We Were There: 77 Women of the Easter Rising, Lynn’s impressive medical career is detailed; she was refused a post at the Adelaide Hospital on account of her gender,but did become the first female resident of Dublin’s Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in 1910.An active suffrage campaigner, she was also resolute in her nationalism and her feminism. It was through her involvement in radical nationalist circles that she met her partner, Madeline ffrench-Mullen, remembering that:
After the Citizen Army was founded in 1913, I attended Liberty Hall and gave lectures in first aid and I also lectured to Cumann na mBan in 6 Harcourt St after its establishment. It was there I met Ms ffrench-Mullen, who became my closest friend. She lived with me for 30 years – until her death. She and I, with the help of others – mostly republicans – founded St Ultan’s Hospital – Teach Ultain – for infants in 1919.
One 1916 protagonist we looked at on the site lately was the great Arthur Shields, the actor in the Abbey Theatre who was later destined to star in the Academy Award winning film How Green Was My Valley? Shields was the son of Adolphus Shields, one of the great pioneers of Irish Socialism, who was in no-small-part responsible for bringing Edinburgh Marxist James Connolly to Dublin in the late nineteenth century.
The Shields children were raised in the Church of Ireland faith. In the GPO, James Connolly told Arthur that “I hope you will prove as good a man as your father.” He spent some of the week in the Hibernian Bank on the corner of O’Connell Street and Abbey Street, serving alongside Thomas Weafer (a plaque on the street today marks Weafer’s death in the building) and Leslie Price, who would later marry the renowned Cork rebel leader Tom Barry. Leslie recalled in her statement to the Bureau of Military History that “I remember Arthur Shields was in the Hibernian Bank. I did not know him at all but I remember,when Tom Weafer was shot, we all knelt down to say a prater and Arthur Shields stood in a corner because he was not a Catholic.”
Arthur retrieved his riffle from under the stage of the Abbey before taking part in the fight at Easter. The Abbey suffered the loss of one of its most talented young actors, Seán Connolly, as a result of the fighting, while Helena Molony, Peadar Kearney and numerous other figures associated with the theatre were imprisoned for their role in the fighting. The Abbey was founded by William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and others in 1904, as part of the cultural nationalist revival in which Protestants played no small role. The Gaelic League was founded by Douglas Hyde, Trinity College academic and son of a Church of Ireland clergyman from Roscommon. Likewise, it was Sam Maguire of the Gaelic Athletic Association who swore Michael Collins into the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
One interesting radical from the revolutionary period who didn’t take part in the 1916 Rising was Bulmer Hobson, a northern Quaker who was centrally involved in the re-organisation of the Fenian Irish Republican Brotherhood in the early twentieth century.
British intelligence once described Bulmer Hobson as the “most dangerous man” in Ireland as he had played a pivotal role in republican politics in the early 1900s. Yet Hobson spent the first hours of the Rising a prisoner of the IRB, under armed guard in a house in Cabra Park. Because of his opposition to the tactic of insurrection, the rebel planners kidnapped him temporarily to keep him from interrupting their plans.
Bulmer Hobson was born in Belfast in 1883, the son of Benjamin Hobson, a greengrocer and a Quaker. As a young man he had involved himself in the Gaelic League, as well as serving as secretary to the Antrim board of the Gaelic Athletic Association. His involvement with the IRB began in 1904, when he was introduced into the body by Denis McCollough, another Belfast radical who had, in turn, been sworn into the body by his own father. McCollough and Hobson both sought to rejuvenate the movement and did remarkable work in this regard. In the case of his home city, Hobson remembered that:
At this time, 1904, the I.R.B. in Belfast consisted mainly of older men and it was quite inactive. McCullough and myself tried to infuse new life into it by recruiting young members, and in this we were fairly successful.
In the years preceding the Easter Rising, the IRB was in something of a crisis, and Hobson would recall that “the membership of the whole I.R.B. at this time, 1911, was, I think, about 600–700 in Dublin and about 300–400 elsewhere, the total being probably about 1,000 and certainly not more than 1,500.” Hobson was centrally involved in reviving the IRB, and in influencing the Irish Volunteer movement towards a separatist ideology. He was also a founding member of Na Fianna Éireann, the republican boyscouts, along with Countess Markievicz (Countess Markievicz, born Constance Gore-Booth, was born into a Protestant family, but would later convert to Catholicism. Roger Casement was another high-profile Protestant revolutionary to convert.)
As Shane Browne noted in a recent article on Hobson, he saw the Volunteers “as purely a defensive force, but the radical separatists were of a different ilk, believing it should become “an instrument for insurrection”.” In a 1909 pamphlet entitled Defensive Warfare: A Handbook for Irish Nationalists, Hobson maintained that:”We must not fight to make a display of heroism, but fight to win.” Hobson played no further part in the revolutionary movement post-1916, but did become an important figure in the writing of the history of the revolution, contributing very important insights to the Bureau of Military History. He had little good to say of P.H Pearse, remembering him as a “sentimental egotist, full of curious Old Testament theories….”
One of the most interesting Protestant rebels of the period was Harry Nicholls, who despite being a member of the Irish Volunteers served with the Irish Citizen Army at Stephen’s Green during the insurrection. Owing to the confusion of orders and counter-orders in the early stages of the Rising, some men and women ended up serving in different garrisons from the rest of their units.
Nicholls was a graduate of Trinity College Dublin,something that Martin Maguire, author of an article available to read in full here, contends makes him unique among the rebel participants in the fighting. On Saint Patrick’s Day 1916, when Volunteers attended mass right across the city of Dublin armed and in uniform, Nicholls and his fellow Protestant Volunteer George Irvine were instead to be found attending service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.When Nicholls was released from the Frongoch internment camp following the Rising, one of the guarantors who put forward funds towards his release was the Rev. E.H Lewis-Crospy of the Rathmines Protestant church.Nicholls married Kathleen Emerson, who had been an active participant in the Irish Women’s Franchise League, and who served two months imprisonment in England for smashing windows in support of the right of women to vote. This was a publicity-grabber for suffrage campaigners on both sides of the Irish Sea, in fact the windows of the General Post Office were once the victim of the women! Emerson shared platforms with speakers such as Thomas MacDonagh and Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington during the revolutionary period.
Also active at Stephen’s Green during the rebellion was William John Scott, a bricklayer and a member of the ICA born into a working class Church of Ireland family in Fermanagh in 1876. Owing to sustaining an injury during the course of the fighting, Scott was taken to the bricklayers’ hall on Cuffe Street to recuperate, which meant he avoided arrest. A great biographical post here notes that:
Not imprisoned for his participation in the Rising, the following year, he and his eldest son, Alexander, joined F-Company, 4th Battalion, Dublin brigade of the IRA and took part in anti-conscription activities, election protection, raids for arms and drilling, He was imprisoned in 1919 for 3 months after also been fired upon by the R.I.C. for drilling at the 6th lock. During the Civil War he was in the Four Courts but received permission to leave before the bombardment , he also maintained dumps and moved weapons to different places during this time, due to his trade William was known to take up to 14 days to cut and build dump holes in houses to store guns in places which would never be found.
His son, Bill Scott, would later join the International Brigades, fighting in the defence of the Spanish Republic during the Franco-led coup of the 1930s.
And what did the rebels carry into battle in 1916? For many, they depended upon their ‘Howth rifles’, weapons landed in 1914 by Erskine Childers and others upon his yacht, the Asgard. Childers, his wife Molly and others succeeded in landing 900 Mauser M71 rifles at Howth in late July 1914. In private correspondence, Patrick Pearse would admit the rifle was already something of an ‘antique’, dating from the Franco-Prussian War, but an outdated rifle was better than none to the Volunteer movement, and the landing of the Howth rifles in such a spectacularly public fashion was very much a response to the Ulster Volunteer Force arming itself as much as anything else.
The financing of the gun-running came from individuals including Alice Stopford Green, and Mary Spring Rice. Significantly, all the major players involved in the planning of this affair came from Protestant Anglo-Irish backgrounds, and the plan was decided upon at a meeting in Grosvenor Road in London, home to Stopford Green, who was herself the daughter of the Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Meath. Also central to the plan was Roger Casement, born into an Anglo-Irish family in Dublin’s Sandycove in 1864, but very much associated with the north of Ireland, where he spent his formative years. Casement was one of those who put his name to the ‘Alternative Ulster Covenant’ in late 1913, a response to reactionary Carsonism by liberal Protestants. Among other Protestants to distance themselves from Carsonism was Captain Jack White DSO, the son of Field Marshall Sir George White. Like his father, Captain White served in the Second Boer War in the British armed forces, but he later became a founding member of the Irish Citizen Army and a committed Socialist. He was by no means unique as a Protestant in the formative stages of the Citizen Army; the Manifesto of the workers’ militia was largely drafted by Seán O’Casey.
These names are merely a small selection of the Protestant radicals who played their parts in the revolutionary movement of a century ago. Robert Montieth, the Gifford sisters, Alice Milligan,the Gilmore brothers and many others come to mind in the context of the revolutionary period.
What of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who paraded through Dublin city today? Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc has written an excellent article on the Hibernian Rifles who fought in the 1916 Rising, noting that the AOH was split between two rival factions in the early twentieth century, and that the Hibernian Rifles actively advertised in labour newspapers and supported lockedout workers in 1913, while “their rivals in Hibernianism…and the Roman Catholic bishops both actively condemned the strike and supported the employers.” The Ancient Order of Hibernians were involved in the pathetic scenes of trying to prevent the children of locked-out workers leaving for temporary homes in England during the dispute. Evidently, the AOH believed children were better hungry than raised by sympathetic English trade union families, even on a temporary basis.Better religion in the heart than food in the belly perhaps.
Vocally opposed to the cause of women’s suffrage, the AOH were central to attempts to shut-down Irish Women’s Franchise League meetings in Dublin. On one occasion in August 1912, a huge crowd assembled in the Phoenix Park to hear a number of male and female speakers discuss the need for votes for Irish women. The Irish Times commented that “uproar and considerable interruption were a leading feature” of the event, with the paper noting that “several attempts were made to rush the platform”.
Vigorous hissing, booing and groaning greeted the speakers at almost every stage of the proceedings, which were opened by the police taking the precaution of forming a wide space between the mob and the position taken up by the suffragists.
One of those to speak was Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a prominent figure in Dublin at the time who was later murdered during the Rising, and “who was accorded a very hostile reception, which he appeared to regard with considerable satisfaction.” Skeffington caused pandemonium by addressing the crowd as “Ladies, Gentlemen and members of the Ancient Order of Hooligans.”
The last word for me goes to another historian, the previously mentioned Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc. I share his belief that:
Hibernianism is effectively a green version of ‘Orangeism’ and its political character apart from its support for Irish independence has little in common with Irish republicanism, which is a far more radical and non-sectarian philosophy.