“They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace” – Patrick Pearse
This passionate call to arms and declaration of war was delivered by Patrick Pearse at the graveside of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. It is one of the most famous speeches in Irish history and O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral was a show of military might, a genius stroke of propaganda created by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and one of the catalysts that led to the Easter Rising in 1916. It took place on this day in 102 years ago.
Ireland has always had more than its fair share of feisty women. By 1908 there were already numerous Suffragist groups in Ireland, full of women who wanted equality, the ability to vote, and more freedoms. Many of these groups focused on petitions, publicity, and spreading their message through polite channels and discourse, and they attracted many prominent socialites who used their influence to further the cause. This was not good enough for Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, her husband Francis, and their radical friends. 108 years ago today, they founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League, a group dedicated to equal rights that used agitation and action to spread their message.
On June 30th, 1890 a horrible tragedy struck the O’Connor family in County Dublin. John O’Connor was a well-known journalist and Nationalist politician. He was the M.P. of West Wicklow and a family man who had a loving wife and five young children. This seemingly adoring family was torn apart when almost all of them were fatally poisoned. Only John O’Connor and one of his daughters survived.
On this day in 1939, poet and patriot William Butler Yeats said farewell to the world from the south of France. Yeats spent many of his winters in France and in Italy due to life-long health issues but he always left his heart in Ireland, even after death. He told his wife George to bury him quietly in the hills above Monaco but “to dig me up and plant me in Sligo” a year later when he thought everyone would have forgotten about him. That idea is laughable given that he is still revered and remembered today.
Now that some of the Women of 1916 have been highlighted, it’s time to move on to another group that has been largely left out of the history books when it comes to The Easter Rising. Many brave rebels are celebrated throughout the world every year at this time…but what is ignored by most is that the fighters were not exclusively Irish. There were more than a hundred foreign soldiers who assisted in the Rising and while some were 2nd or 3rd generation Irish there were others who had no Irish blood whatsoever. They came from all over Europe and the rest of the world to join forces against the English and were some of the fiercest warriors in the conflict.
She stepped off the boat to a throng of admirers and reporters. The Countess was a romantic heroine that had captured hearts and minds across the world and America was no exception. When Constance Markievicz arrived with Kathleen Barry at the Cunard pier in New York City on this day in 1922, a massive crowd greeted her with adoration and cheers.
Approximately 50 journalists and photographers had already boarded the ladies’ boat, the Aquitania, when it was stopped at the quarantine station. The Countess captivated every one of them and their glowing reports spread out all over the nation. They described everything in the greatest detail about her clothing and style and marveled that such a small woman could have done so much in the cause for Irish Freedom. They ate her stories up completely, as did her audiences whenever she spoke.
On this date in 1868, one of Irish history’s most famous women was born…in London. Constance Gore-Booth was an aristocratic socialite who fell in love with Irish politics and went on to be one of the most beloved and recognized names in Nationalist history. She fought for women’s rights in Ireland and was a devoted Republican fighter who would have been executed for her role in the Easter Rising, had she not been a woman. Her most famous advice to women was to “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.” In honor of her birthday today, here are my top ten favorite facts you may or may not already know about her life.
“I do wish you lot had the decency to shoot me.” -Constance Markievicz, 1916.
Constance Markievicz may have wanted to die like her compatriots for her role in the Easter Rising but the English wouldn’t execute a woman. In the end, they may have wished they had, for the Countess had another 11 years to continue being a thorn in their side. She went straight into an even more political role, creating a world where women were more equal to the men, remaining staunchly Republican and inspiring thousands of people, including myself, throughout the years since. She is one of my favorite heroes. Continue reading →
On this day in 1897 Thomas Bernadine Barry was born in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, one of a whopping 14 children. Eighteen years later or so he joined the British Army – an unlikely move that would aid in his future as one of the most respected and strategic IRA commanders in history. While serving in the British army he received news of the 1916 Rising but was unable to return to Ireland until the war he was fighting for Britain had come to an end in 1919.
Upon his return, he got involved in the Volunteer movement. One year later became the commander of the Flying Column 3rd West Cork brigade. He had asked for total autonomy in decision-making and it was given, with a warning that any success or failure would be his responsibility alone. (No pressure!) He then began planning the Kilmichael ambush, a significant political and strategic move that became a touchstone in the War of Independence.
The ambush occurred one week after the first Bloody Sunday. (Yes, I said the first – there have been multiple, unfortunately) It boosted IRA morale and garnered even more respect for Tom Barry and his tactics. It also brought him to the attention of Michael Collins, who was suddenly aware that he had both a strong ally and some fierce competition.
Michael Collins called for Barry to come to both Dublin and London during the Treaty negotiations. It is said that one of the first things the British wanted was Tom Barry himself. Michael Collins refused, though he later claimed that he had been tempted to give Barry to them. When the treaty was ratified – over Barry’s objections due to the partitioning of the Island – he continued to fight on the behalf of the Anti-Treaty IRA until he was imprisoned by Collins’ Irish Free State Army. He escaped and continued to command in various locations until the Anti-Treaty IRA was defeated and he was captured once again.
Upon his release, he spent a term as the IRA Chief-of-Staff and served as general superintendent of the Cork Harbor Commission for nearly 40 years. Still an unrepentant Republican, at the age 62 he traveled to the United States in the hopes of gaining funds and support for a united Ireland. His one wish and lifetime goal was to end the partition of Ireland. He died in 1980 and was buried at St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Though St. Finbarr’s cemetery has one of the largest Republican plots in the area, Tom Barry is not interned in it but instead is buried nearby.
On this day in 1916, Roger Casement (once Sir Roger Casement) was convicted by the British crown for high treason. Roger Casement was an anomaly. He was a foreign office diplomat who could never quite get what he was after. He was knighted for his humanitarianism but was trying to broker arms deals. He believed in Irish Republicanism but some of his comrades believed he was too moderate while others believed he was too extreme. He was a rumored sex tourist who traveled to hide and indulge in his homosexuality. And despite having no foreknowledge of the upcoming Easter Rising – being that he was NOT a member of the IRB and they did not fully trust him – he was still convicted of high treason and some of the charges that led to his death were that he helped to plan the rebellion.
It was surprising that he heard of it at all. Casement had been out of the country and then was in the north and kept in the dark by the Republican Brotherhood. He was arrested 3 days before the Rising began – after failing to get Germany to agree to send reinforcements into Ireland to fight the British – and after a whole shipment of German arms heading into Ireland was intercepted. His case was difficult because he was in Germany when such ‘crimes’ happened, but they were relentless in his prosecution.
His supporters at trial were the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W.B.Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps the revolutionaries weren’t sure about him, but the popular writers of the day sure seemed to be. On June 29th, 1916, he was stripped of knighthood upon his conviction and sentenced to a death by hanging.
His appeals failed. By the time he was hanged, he had converted from Protestant to Catholic and his priest thought he should be considered a saint. He was buried in quicklime at the prison after his death. In 1965, he was repatriated to Ireland and laid to rest with full honors and a state funeral in the Republican Plot at Glasnevin Cemetery. However, Casement’s last wish was to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast and it has yet to be fulfilled. The government released his remains only on condition that they not be brought into Northern Ireland. Oddly enough, the 1965 British Cabinet record of the decision still refers to him as Sir Roger Casement.