IN DUBLIN HONOURING THE SIXTEEN MARTYRS

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 5 mins)

On a gloomy wet and windy day today, Republicans and other anti-imperialists held a commemoration in Dublin’s Arbour Hill of the 14 executed martyrs in Dublin and the remaining two: Thomas Kent shot in Cork and Roger Casement hanged in Pentonville Jail, London. A heavy downpour interrupted the speaker but the event resumed after the cloudburst eased off though it was still raining. Sixteen lilies were laid on the grave patch and a song was sung that named seven of the martyrs, the signatories of the Proclamation.

The event was organised by Irish Socialist Republicans and Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland. In addressing the attendance Pádraig Drummond, chairing the event, pointed out that they were commemorating the Sixteen executed Martyrs of the 1916 Rising but that 15 of them had been murdered. Those had been tried by military court and even the British reviewing the actions later had agreed that the executions had been illegal; therefore Drummond said those 15 had been murdered and General Maxwell1 was a war criminal.

The 1916 Proclamation being read in Arbour Hill, 3rd May 2021. (Photos from AIA with thanks)

In addition, the chairperson continued, Maxwell had refused the relatives access to the bodies and had them buried without coffins in a quicklime pit in order to prevent their graves becoming martyrs’ shrines2.

When it came to the executions, Drummond said, Maxwell gave firing party duties to soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters, who had been decimated by Irish Volunteers at the battle of Mount Street Bridge on 26th April, seemingly to encourage them to avenge themselves for their regiment’s dead on unarmed prisoners condemned to die.

Pádraig Drummond called on one of the attendance to read out the Proclamation and, after he had done so, sixteen single Cala Lillies were laid on the plot above the quicklime pit.

Single lillies for each of the 14 martyrs buried here in Arbour Hill, 3rd May 2021. And two beneath the photos of the other two 1916 executed martyrs, Thomas Kent, shot by British firing squad in Cork and Roger Casement, sentenced to hang by British judge with sentence carried out by British hangman in Pentonville Jail. (Photos from AIA with thanks)

Diarmuid Breatnach was then called forward to address the attendance; speaking first in Irish and then in English, Breatnach said that he had been asked to make some remarks on the history of Irish uprisings in relation to assistance given from abroad but in doing so, he was not laying down any dictates or anything of the sort, only some reflections. “We should learn from our successes,” Breatnach said but also from our failures and perhaps to focus even more closely on the latter.

Breatnach had not been speaking long when the rainfall intensified. He was protected by umbrella but others in attendance were not; he faltered and looked for guidance to the chairperson of the event when the heavens seemed to burst open and with a nod, the whole ensemble headed for the shelter of a nearby horse-chestnut tree.

ALLIES

When the rain had eased off somewhat Breatnach returned to his theme, recounting how (Hugh) Aodh Ó Néill and Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill (Hugh Roe O’Donnell) had waged a guerrilla campaign in Ulster but relied on help from imperial Spain to free the whole country from England. Later the Irish resistance had sided with English monarchs against the English Parliament in the mid and late 17th Century, when they believed the monarchs would give them religious freedom and perhaps some of their lands back. The Papacy had supported the Irish in opposition to Cromwell and Imperial France gave military assistance against William of Orange later in the same century.

Diarmuid Breatnach addressing the gathering in Arbour Hill, 3rd May 2021; Pádraig Drummond, who chaired the event, standing to his left. (Photo from AIA with thanks)

The United Irishmen in the 1790s had looked for help to Republican France, Breatnach recalled but the flotilla under Hoche failed to land in 1796 and after the Rising was provoked prematurely by the British, by the time General Humbert landed in Mayo with not enough troops, the rising was nearly finished. In 1803, Emmet’s rising took place without the expectation of foreign assistance but was quickly over.

The Young Irelanders apparently believed in 1848, the Year of Revolutions all over Europe that an insurrectionary mobilisation could be achieved peacefully in Ireland and did not look for help from abroad — but were quickly suppressed, the speaker said.

On St. Patrick’s Day 1858 the Irish Republican Brotherhood was founded simultaneously in Ireland and in the United States. In 1866 the Fenians invaded Canada and in 1867 carried out a campaign in Britain, then had a brief unsuccessful rising in Ireland. They had not asked for troops from outside but in their Provisional Proclamation called on the English working class to rise against their exploiters.

The IRB was reformed and re-energised at the beginning of the last century and intended to lead a rising when England was in a war, which was expected soon. WW1 began in 1914 and in 1916 the Irish rose expecting help from Imperial Germany (which they received in armaments but nothing else) and from the USA in political support of which they received little.

The speaker remarked that looking back on all these instances in Irish history, those risings which had not had help from abroad, as with Emmet’s and the Young Irelanders, had lasted the least time.

It would be unrealistic, Breatnach continued, to expect to defeat a powerful enemy such as the UK with its army, navy and air force, without help from an external force. Unless of course the rulers of the UK were struggling with insurrectionary struggles from their own working class.

SOLIDARITY

Looking ahead, the closest areas from which help could come to an Irish insurrection are Britain and the European mainland. In looking for allies it would be necessary to evaluate the benefits and costs of particular alliances. Breatnach felt that when a part of the Irish leadership accepted the deal they were offered in 1921, they had an alternative option of linking with the struggles of the working class in Britain. In 1926 there was a general strike throughout Britain and earlier, in 1921 there had been strike struggles including one in Glasgow, where the local military unit was under lock and key by their own officers in fear that they would join the resistance. Large numbers of British soldiers who wanted to be demobbed after the War were being held back because their rulers knew they would need them to suppress liberation struggles throughout the world. These soldiers were rioting in some areas in Britain. Breatnach remarked that it is difficult to be certain but that if the Irish resistance had combined with the British workers in that period our whole history might have turned out very differently.

Some of the attendance in Arbour Hill, 3rd May 2021, standing in homage to the 16 executed 1916 Martyrs, 14 of whose bodies were buried in a quicklime pit (located underneath the green stretch. (Photo from AIA with thanks)

In conclusion Breatnach went on to talk briefly about internationalist solidarity, which can be a different issue than alliances; solidarity can be a moral issue but it can also be a practical one, as it is workers that would be required to produce material and load ships being sent against us. He had also noted, he remarked, that often internationalist solidarity would be the first thing dropped by those intending to abandon the revolutionary path; Breatnach exhorted the attendance to treat internationalist solidarity as a duty, a pleasure and a practical help.

Pádraig Drummond thanked Breatnach for his remarks and asked him to sing the Larkin Ballad as a conclusion to the event, which Diarmuid did.

In Dublin City in 1913,

The boss was rich and the poor were slaves ….”

The lyrics were written by Donagh Mac Donagh, orphan son of one of the executed Signatories of the Proclamation. The narrative begins with the union militancy under Larkin’s leadership, followed by the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and ends with the execution of the Signatories. The participation in the Rising of the workers’ defence militia, the Irish Citizen Army, along with James Connolly being one of the Seven Signatories of the Proclamation, provided an organic link between the Lockout and the Rising.

After the event people took photos and socialised briefly before heading for their homes through persistent rain.

FOOTNOTES

1. General John Maxwell, a veteran of colonial wars, was the officer charged with the suppression of the Rising; he set up the martial tribunals that handed down nearly 100 death sentence to participants, of which 15 leading revolutionaries were actually put to death, the others having their death sentences commuted to prison sentences.

Wikipedia: “Maxwell arrived in Ireland on Friday 28 April as “military governor” with “plenary powers” under Martial law, replacing Lovick Friend as the primary British military commander in Ireland. He set about dealing with the rebellion under his understanding of Martial law. During the week of 2–9 May, Maxwell was in sole charge of trials and sentences by “field general court martial”, in which trials were conducted in camera, without defence counsel or jury. He had 3,400 people arrested and 183 civilians tried, 90 of whom were sentenced to death. Fifteen were shot between 3rd and 12th May. H.H Asquith and his government became concerned with the speed and secrecy of events, and intervened in order to stop more executions. In particular, there was concern that DORA (Defence of the Realm Act, wartime legislation –CS) regulations for general courts martial were not being applied. These regulations called for a full court of thirteen members, a professional judge, a legal advocate, and for the proceedings to be held in public, provisions which could have prevented some of the executions. Maxwell admitted in a report to Asquith in June that the impression that the leaders were killed in cold blood and without a trial had resulted in a “revulsion of feeling” that had emerged in favour of the rebels, and was the result of the confusion between applying DORA as opposed to Martial law (which Maxwell had actually pressed for from the beginning). As a result, Maxwell had the remaining death sentences commuted to penal servitude. Although Asquith had promised to publish the court martial proceedings, the transcripts were not made public until 1999.”


However, it is known that Maxwell insisted on executing two more after Asquith’s caution and these were Sean Mac Diarmada (McDermot) and James Connolly, to which Asquith agreed.

2 In that, Maxwell was signally unsuccessful and between 1955 and 1966 the Arbour Hill site was developed as an important Irish historical monument and at this time of year will be visited by organisations and individuals, precisely in commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

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