1918 – A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR I RELAND ? ON FIRST LOOKING INTO DR. GIBBONS’S REFLECTIONS by Donal Kennedy


THE HAMMERSMITH IRISH CULTURAL CENTRE HOSTS AN ANNUAL LECTURE DURING THE “DECADE OF CENTENERARIES 1912-1922”. THIS YEAR THE LECTURE WAS GIVEN BY IVAN GIBBONS A HISTORY PhD., A DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRE, ON “IRELAND IN 1918 – IRELAND’S MOST PIVOTAL YEAR”. THE IRISH POST (LONDON) SHARED HIS THOUGHTS WITH US ON 27 JULY.

DR GIBBONS SAYS IT’S “ AN INESCAPABLE FACT THAT THE 1916 THE RISING WAS A TOTAL FAILURE.” CONTEMPORARY COMMENTATORS, ACTIVELY HOSTILE TO THE INSURGENTS, THOUGHT OTHERWISE. DR GIBBONS IS A FORMER BRITISH LABOUR COUNCILLOR IN HAMMERSMITH AND THE AUTHOR OF “THE BRITISH LABOUR PARTY AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE IRISH FREE STATE”

 

The letter below has been sent to the Editor of The IRISH POST-

“I read in your columns recently  Dr Ivan Gibbons’s  reflections  on 1918 which he described as a pivotal year for Ireland. It was chock- full of assertions and opinions which raised my eyebrows and kept them in that position so long as I kept reading.

The following opinions may be compared with those of Dr Gibbons –

“There is a growing feeling that out of Rebellion more has been got than by constitutional methods, hence Mr Redmond’s power is on the wane, therefore this desire to curry favour with the people on the part of M.P.s by agitating for the release of Sinn Feiners. It is becoming difficult to differentiate between a Nationalist and a Sinn Feiner. Mourning badges, Sinn Fein flags, demonstrations at Requiem Masses, resolutions of public bodies are all signs of the growth of Sinn Fein, recruiting (for the British war effort) has practically ceased……………..If there was a General Election very few, if any, of existing Nationalist M.P.s would be re-elected so there is a danger that Mr Redmond’s party would be replaced by others less amenable to reason.”

General Sir John Maxwell

June 1916

(quoted in “The Fatal Path” by  Professor Ronan Fanning.)

 

An RIC intelligence report on North Dublin in January 1919 reported –

“The feeling of the people towards the rebels   was on the whole one of sympathy as the Rising developed

….The daring acts of the Rebels gradually won over the sympathy of the lower orders and even of many of

the well-to-do from whom better things might have been expected….When the executions began the

general tone of the working classes and small farmers became one of silent sympathy with the Rebels

and Sinn Fein”

 

from The Road to Independence – Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle play their part. By Philip O’Connor.

 

Another RIC report at the time said “the Republic was on the lips of the young.”

 

It seems that informed Establishment figures at the time regarded the Nationalist Party as Dead Men walking even any candidates associated with the Rising was forward for a by-election. But those who were put forward and elected in 1917 were all re-elected at the 1918 General Election – Count Plunkett, Joe McGuinness, de Valera and W T Cosgrave. In fact de Valera kept getting Elected for East Clare in every election up to and including 1957. He might have held the seat until his death in 1975 had he not been elected to two seven-year terms as President in 1959.

The sources I’ve quoted were all British Establishment Sources as is the next –

 

“The Sinn Fein victory in East Clare is a fact of cardinal significance, and has precipitated events.

Following as it does on a course of extreme leniency and conciliation which culminated in the general

amnesty of political prisoners and tacit tolerance of seditious and secessionist propaganda, it marks

the definite failure of the policy to rehabilitate constitutional nationalism or disarm Sinn Fein defiance

to English rule. After making all deductions for local influence and the general revolt against the Redmondite

party machine, the fact remains that in a remarkably well-conducted political contest sustained by excellent

candidates on both sides, the electors, on a singularly frank issue of self-government within the Empire

versus an independent Irish Republic, have overwhelmingly pronounced for the latter.” 

Ivor Churchill, Lord Wimborne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in a secret memo to the British Cabinet,

July 14 1917.

 

Quoted in “Changing Times – Ireland since 1898 as seen by Edward MacLysaght”  (1978)

 

General Maxwell  was responsible for shooting the insurgent leaders in May 1916 and by June was

describing the insurgents in having achieved more in six days fighting that the Nationalist Party

had in over thirty years of Parliamentary Manoeuvres.

 

The winner in East Clare, Eamon de Valera, went on to lead 10 Irish Governments and was in the second  year

of his second seven-year term as Ireland’s Head of State, when, in 1967, Lord Wimborne’s secret memo

was released to the Public Records Office in Kew. (By that time Lord Wimborne was long forgotten)

 

It seems to me that far from being “a complete failure” as described by Doctor Gibbons the 1916 Rising

was an amazing success, and that “the Angelus Bells o’er  the Liffey’’s swell” were tolling for The Decline

and Fall of the British Empire..

 

Lenin, in Zurich at the time of the  Rising  commented that a blow struck against the British

In Ireland had a hundred times more political influence than a blow of equal weight would have

In have in Asia or Africa. (cited by Conor Cruise O’Brien in The Irish Times 7 April 1966.)

 

National Independence and liberation movements world-wide were inspired by the Irish

Insurgents. When Irish voters in 1948 gave de Valera a rare break from Government responsibility he visited

newly independent India. The world’s most populous democracy gave him a hero’s welcome.

Winston Churchill was also enjoying a break from Government, presented by British voters. He did

not choose to pay his respect to the great democracy, where he would most likely have been lynched.

It is unlikely that British Labour’s Clement Attlee would have fared much better.

 

Donal Kennedy

London

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