Casting a cold eye on 1916 (and 1966) 

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2016), Letters, Volume 24

Sir,—Following Dennis Kennedy’s advice in his response to my letter (HI 24.1, Jan./Feb. 2016), I have re-read his ‘Casting a cold eye on 1916’ article in ‘a calmer state of mind’ and arrived at the conclusion that perhaps he might at least allow that the 1916 Rising was one small step for the Irish, one giant step toward Ireland’s independence.
The archives of History Ireland provide a wealth of historical perspective. It was not those minority Irish rebels who first abandoned ‘parliamentary politics’ and introduced the gun into the struggle to gain independence from Empire:

‘By June 1914 Augustine Birrell, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, after a tour of Ulster submitted an overwhelmingly gloomy assessment of the situation to the cabinet. He had found the UVF well armed and drilled and eager for some resolution of the Home Rule crisis’
(‘Ulster Unionist propaganda against Home Rule 1912–14’ by Michael Foy, Methodist College, Belfast, in HI 4.1, Spring 1996).

Further:

‘It would be utterly misleading to undervalue the commitment of the loyalists in 1914, and pointless to bewail the role that their actions play, and have played, in the historical perceptions of loyalism. Judged as a response to British government policy, judged in terms of the personal devotion involved, or in terms of logistics, the gunrunning was a spectacular tactical success; its subsequent celebration in loyalist popular culture (song, ballads, community history) is not difficult to understand . . . the Larne episode emerges as one further stage in the process by which unionists backed themselves into an impasse . . . Police reports of unionist gatherings in 1913 and early 1914 suggest that the hard-liners were decidedly in the minority’ (‘Larne gunrunning of 1914’ by Alvin Jackson, Queen’s University, Belfast, in HI 1.1, Spring 1993).

This hard-line unionist minority, ‘a secret society intent on violence’, made the partition of Ireland a fait accompli long before the Rising of 1916. I am looking forward to History Ireland’s commemorative supplement, 1916: Dream and Death, to shed further light on these issues.—Yours calmly,

ROBERT F. LYONS
Kennebunkport, Maine

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