As this is the week of the famous Easter Rising, I think it is important to debunk the myth of blood sacrifice for two reasons. One reason is from a pure historical point of view. The fact that the Rising was not a suicide mission needs to be pointed out. Secondly, coming up to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the revisionists will no doubt be trying to promulgate the fallacy of a blood sacrifice to disgrace the men of 1916 and also Irish republicanism in general.
Jingoism in Europe
A good place to start with is World War 1. We are told that the men of 1916 were blood thirsty and celebrated death and that this was somehow unique. However, when you look through the crevice and show what others were like, you begin to see that it was not just the men of 1916 (or, it should be said, Padraig Pearse) who were celebrating war, but all of Europe.
There is no better way of expressing the beauty of life or the pain of life than through poetry. On the outbreak of WW1, it was celebrated with wild and ineffable jingoism. During the early stages of the war, 50,000 poems a day were written by soldiers in Germany and England. Nearly all of these (I have read them all……..) celebrated the outbreak of war and the call to fight for one’s country.
This was done by two poets in particular, Jessie Pope and Rupert Brooke. In Pope’s ‘The Call’, he asked ‘Who’s fretting to begin/who’s going out to win?’ He also wanted people to sacrifice themselves for the British Empire or endeavor to win for the empire, ‘Who’ll earn the Empire’s thanks-/Will you, my laddie?’ Rupert Brooke also had similar sentiments in ‘Nineteen-Fourteen: The Soldier’. This was another wholly jingoistic poem that captured the current thinking at the time and appealed to a certain audience at the time.
Now, we are told that the men of 1916 went out and got killed because they were suicidal and wanted to sacrifice themselves in the hope that the country would rise up and overthrow the British. Even if you take that view, which is erroneous, you cannot then, hold a position that they were dreamers or idealists, when the current thinking of the time was of sacrificing yourself for the British or German empire in a bloodbath for absolutely nothing at all.
In fact, many of the men of 1916, in particular James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army would have been utterly opposed to any warfare, especially for Germany or England: ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser’. James Connolly had indeed, for years and years, written about the insanity of wars for kings and aristocrats whilst the workers would be the cannon fodder for imperialistic adventures. Connolly was beaten out of meetings by pro-war workers in the North of this country and he actually spoke of the dangers of war and for who war was being fought for: ‘All these mountains of Irish dead….. All these horrors buried in Flanders or the Gallipoli Peninsula, are all items in the price Ireland pays for being part of the British Empire.’ Connolly, while obviously not a pacifist, understood when war should be fought (if you’re under occupation or if an enemy attacks you) and what it should not: ‘
The Myth‘War is ever the enemy of progress….The poor of the world would be well advised, upon the declaration of war in any country, as their first steps to peace, to hang the Foreign Minister and Cabinet whose secret diplomacy produced such as result…..and if a jingo editor were hanged each week it lasted, the most jingo being first to hang, not many angry passions would be stirred up to make the work of peaceful understanding difficult.’
So, Óglaigh na hÉireann and the I.C.A. were not alone in talking sanguinely about war and for their country. This leads to the ultimate question though, when analysis 1916: Did they actually go out and sacrifice themselves?
It was often said by Irish patriots that ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.’ A bit of a platitude, sure, but when you think about it, one that really did make sense. It was a perfectly logical thing to attack England when they were fighting a brutal war. There was also talk in early 1916 that the British were actually considering peace.
Leaving all of that aside, the leaders of 1916, in particular, Plunkett and Connolly, were extraordinarily well read men and the rest of the leaders were all well versed in Irish history. Surely, they would have read failed rebellions before in Ireland? From Emmett to 1867. Was there ever any huge increase for support for Irish revolutionaries? There was not. Sure, even during the Famine, the 1848 rebellion suffered from planning, lack of arms and men ready to fight. If anything, public support for Irish republicanism was being won through propaganda means, for example, Tom Clarke asking O’Donovan Rossa’s body to be sent home, because of the growing support for Irish Republicanism. This lead to Pearse’s famous ‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’.
Now, given that failed rebellions of Ireland had often been dealt with brutally and draconian acts passed after them, why did they not rally the people to war? Was it really just Maxwell’s terror that moved the Irish nation to war? It doesn’t really appear to be like that. Even if it were true, it is unlikely that the men of 1916 would honestly have gone out and gotten themselves killed; knowing that in Ireland, failed rebellions had never aroused mass support for armed insurrection as well as the British way of reacting after the rebellion.
There is always the chance that you are going to lose when fighting against the establishment. Whether it was Polish resistance groups fighting Hitler, Hungarians fighting Stalin, and so on. James Connolly knew this more than anyone. ‘We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times. These are exceptional times.’ He went further: ‘For be it well understood, an insurrection is always doubtful, a thousand to one chance always exists in favor of the established order against the insurgents’.
The Seven Signatures of 1916
What of the seven signatures of 1916? Were they all suicidal men, wanting to go out and get themselves killed? It appears not, except Padraig Pearse.
James Connolly was ‘won over’ by the Irish Volunteers because of their meticulous planning and tactics after the ostensible kidnapping. While in headquarters going over strategies, his position changed from ‘How are you going to do……..’ to ‘how are we going to……….’ and so on. Previous quotes in this thread, as well as a look at the life of James Connolly, show a man who loved life and wanted to end all of its wrongs and sufferings. Connolly did not really evoke the image of someone who loved the notion of a Blood Sacrifice. In fact, Michael Collins admired Connolly for his leadership during the Rising and hated the idea of Blood Sacrifice, which he found to be an odious part of Padraig Pearse.
Thomas Clarke had spent over ten years in an English jail and survived draconian conditions, whilst many of his comrades snapped with insanity because of the pressure. Did Clarke want to kill himself and become a martyr when he could have done it a long time ago?
Plunkett and MacDonagh were intellectuals and the former was admired by Connolly for his erudition in science and life in general, telling his son to respect Mary Plunkett after Roddy had questioned his odd appearance in the GPO.. Although Plunkett only had a few weeks to live anyway, he did not do any fighting as he was unable to. He also got married before he died. MacDonagh was an actor and he had an ineffable love of life and beauty. There doesn’t appear to have been anything suicidal about these men.
Eamon Ceannt was an accountant and someone who had supported the workers during 1913. He talked openly about never surrendering and continuing the fight for freedom. He said ‘I see nothing gained bit grave disaster caused by the surrender which has marked the end of the Irish insurrection of 1916 – so far as Dublin is concerned.’ Not really suicidal sentiments.
Sean MacDiarmada was someone who again, expressed nothing about sacrificing oneself for Ireland and he toured Ireland on a bicycle trying to spread connections for the I.R.B. Not really the archetypal suicidal person.
The person who spoke of suicide and the joy of dying was Padraig Pearse. That infamous quote about killing people until the right people are killed speaks for itself. However, as was shown, Pearse was not alone in his sentiments about the glories of war.
Also, it is very hard to imagine the socialists in the I.C.A. going out to get themselves killed for some romantic notion of sacrificing oneself for his country.
So, when you look at 1916 in its time and the leaders of it, to call it a botched, blood sacrifice is very misleading, indeed. There doesn’t appear to be anything uniquely Irish about 1916 or completely out of the blue. Take Thomas Jefferson for example; who said ‘The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed form time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’ What that means is that basically, people are going to have to die from time to time to save freedom. Jefferson is hardly renowned as a lunatic or a suicidal person by his country and is still obviously admired today.
For a much more thorough explanation of this, Desmond Greaves ‘The Myth of The Blood Sacrifice’ is worth looking at. It’s on the éirigí website, for seven euro. Hard to find in most chops.
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