Over the last few years interest in the roles that women played throughout Irish history has finally picked up. We now know that there were far more women who took part in the Easter Rising than previously thought. Estimates have put their numbers anywhere from seventy-seven to several hundred and many are finally getting the recognition that they have deserved for so long. Sorcha MacMahon was one of those women and without her, the 1916 uprising may have been very different indeed.
Piaras Béaslaí may have been born in England, but that didn’t stop him from being profoundly Irish. His Irish Catholic parents emigrated to Liverpool before Piaras was born but he grew up with a strong love for his heritage. By the time he was a teenager he was fluent in Irish and obsessed with Ireland’s struggle for independence. He wrote fiery newspaper articles and rebellious poetry that highlighted the Irish Republican cause and eventually led him into the Gaelic League and the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood. He developed close friendships and worked side by side with many prominent revolutionaries like Ned Daly, Thomas Ashe, and Michael Collins, just to name a few.
Humans are animals. It’s not something we like to admit, but it is true. Our animalistic instincts come out when we are hurting and angry, when we need to protect ourselves or our loved ones, or when we are desperate and afraid. Over time we learn to control them, not letting that dark side rear its ugly head just because our toy was taken away at the playground and if we’re lucky that animal fades into the background of our minds, never needing to come out.
When James Martin Pacelli McGuinness was growing up in Derry a lot was wrong in his world. The boy who would come to be known as Martin was partially named after a pope in a society that was violently sectarian and discriminatory against Catholic communities like his. He saw things most of us thankfully never will. War raged in the streets as he grew up. He witnessed friends being mowed down by soldiers without consequence. He saw authorities break the law over and over without punishment. That animal inside him grew and raged, like many others in the region and Martin found his way into the Irish Republican Army at a relatively young age. He stayed for a heavily disputed amount of time. Let’s just call it many years.
Love him or hate him, Eamon De Valera was perhaps the most influential man in Irish History, despite the fact that he was born in the United States. He helped create the political machine of modern Ireland and his influence is still being felt (and untangled) today, forty-one years after his death.
The English government could never really figure out how to deal with Sinn Fein or its increasing popularity after the Easter Rising of 1916. They blamed the insurrection on the “Shinners” even though the burgeoning political party had little to do with the battle and they were surprised when much of the Irish population flocked to the organization after the government executed all the leaders of the Rising. They tried to downplay Sinn Fein’s popularity and remove its influence on many occasions, but most of the time whatever they tried had the opposite result. The same was true when the government decided to arrest nearly every leading ‘Shinner’ in Ireland ninety-eight years ago today.
Today in 1872, Arthur Griffith was born in Dublin. He was passionate about Irish history, which drove him to become a member of the Gaelic League where he rubbed shoulders with other Irish activists and cultural leaders. He was a bit of an anomaly. His devotion to the Gaelic League led to Griffith joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood where he was surrounded by many ideological opposites. He was inspired by Charles Parnell and wrote for many radical papers while he was growing up, but he was also ultra-conservative and widely reported to be an anti-Semite. While his IRB friends were planning a complete revolution, he was more in favor of a dual monarchy system, a sort of co-partnership with England. He was against any form of communism or socialism and was largely anti-union, but was in a room talking policies with James Connolly—the driving force behind Irish socialism at the time—on many occasions.
Thomas Ashe was a teacher, a piper, an Irish language enthusiast, a soldier, a devout man of faith and one of the pioneers of the modern Republican Hunger Strike. His life began 130 years ago, on this day in 1885.