While the Gaelic League was strictly non-political and the membership included some unionists, the majority of members were nationalists - in the decades leading up to 1916 most would have been moderates who regarded Home Rule as the only viable objective. The membership also included extreme nationalists, including a number of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, who were particularly influential within the organisation. While these eventually gained control in 1915, the main contribution of the Gaelic League to the 1916 Rising had already been made: over a generation the Gaelic League had accomplished significant cultural change in the nationalist population. The young men of the 1916 generation were proud to be Irish and heirs to one of the oldest civilisations in Europe; many of them spoke the Irish language; they cherished their cultural traditions; and, moreover, they were aware of their national historyâa history in which Ireland had been unjustly dominated for centuries. While the majority would settle for Home Rule, some believed Ireland was entitled to full independence, an objective for which they were prepared to fight.
And could I not sense this a few metres away from Wynn’s – still, by the way, a hotel – where the Abbey Theatre was last week staging another version of James Plunkett’s The Risen People. A collection of stories on the 1913 Dublin lockout by Jimmy Fay from a version by Jim Sheridan with characters from Plunkett’s original Strumpet City, it told the story – from the workers’ point of view – of the great anti-trade union struggle of William Martin Murphy, an immensely wealthy Irish businessman and owner of the Irish Independent newspaper, who colluded with other employers to refuse work to anyone joining Jim Larkin’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Up to 100,000 Irish men and women were put out of work in a city of 305,000 people, of whom 87,000 lived in tenements and where infant mortality was the highest in Europe.
History of the Protestant Reformation
Thus one side in the putative civil war which dominated the British empire in the early months of 1914 took up arms against it two years later. For the British, who had gone to war for the freedom of little Belgium, the firing squads of 1916 were a mere footnote in the Great War. For the Irish, they were the start of the final struggle for the freedom of another little country. And just over two months later came the Somme.