Richmond WW1 Diary 28 March 1916

The Easter Rising 24–29 April 1916

For decades, Irish nationalists had been advocating independence from Britain and on 18 September 1914 the Home Rule bill had passed into law. Although its enactment was to be deferred until the end of the war, people expected the war would be soon over.

Six weeks earlier, Britain had declared war on Germany. Influential Westminster MP John Redmond, leader of the Irish Party, had pledged support to Prime Minister Asquith’s Liberal Party in return for the introduction of Home Rule.

Redmond urged Irishmen to honour this by volunteering to fight for Britain in the war.

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Many Irish had already volunteered for militia organisations, taking sides in the Home Rule dispute. In the north, the Ulster Volunteers wanted to remain in the union with Britain. Elsewhere across Ireland, the Irish Volunteers wanted full independence. Despite their differences, 80,000 men from across Ireland enlisted to support Britain in the first 12 months of the war, with Ulster Volunteers and Irish Volunteers serving side by side.

Surviving records from the war office show that not all of those Irish men signed the oath of allegiance to the British King. Many, like volunteers from South Africa, India and elsewhere, were fighting not for the British Empire but for the cause of freedom and self determination for small nations.

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Women workers at the Parkgate munitions factory, Dublin

Over the course of the war 200,000 Irish men volunteered and 50,000 died.

As they served in the trenches, news came that an Irish Republic had been proclaimed on Easter Monday on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin by Pádraig Mac Piarais (known in English as Patrick Pearse). Frustrated by the continuing deferral of Home Rule, concerned by the possibility of conscription, and seeing an opportunity to strike a blow for freedom, Irish republicans had called for armed insurrection. From the 24 – 29 April, there was fighting between the British forces in Dublin and the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army, as well as small skirmishes elsewhere in the country.

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Thomas Kettle served in Westminster as an Irish Party MP from 1906-1910. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913, prepared to take up arms for Irish independence.

Thomas was in Belgium when war broke out in 1914 and witnessed some of the atrocities carried out against the Belgian population by the advancing German Army. He returned to Dublin and enlisted in one of the British Army’s Irish Regiments.

He was one of the many Irish men and women whose loyalties were torn following the Easter Rising and the execution of its leaders. Kettle prophesied that they would be remembered as heroes while Irish serving in the British Army would be deemed traitors.

Despite ill-health, in 1916 Thomas was serving near Ginchy, in the Battle of the Somme, when he was killed on 9 September. An author and poet, Thomas Kettle’s best known poem was written a few days before his death:

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown

To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,

In that desired, delayed, incredible time,

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby throne,

To dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme

And reason: some will call the thing sublime,

And some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,—

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

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