State papers: Irish officials found no evidence Easter Rising got papal blessing

Count George Plunkett claimed he met Pope Benedict XV in week before Rising

The GPO after the Rising. Photograph:  Getty Images

The GPO after the Rising. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Did Pope Benedict XV give his blessing in advance to the Easter Rising?

Count George Plunkett, the father of Proclamation signatory Joseph Mary Plunkett, claimed he had a two-hour meeting with the then pope during the week before the Easter Rising.

In the course of his conversion, Plunkett divulged to Benedict XV the secret plans for the Rising at which point, according to Plunkett, the pope blessed the Rising and the Volunteers.

Count Plunkett’s claim was the subject of a breathless front page headline in The Irish Press which was published on May 26th, 1933. It was based on a letter that he had sent to the newspaper explaining that he had been sent as an envoy of the Provisional Government to Rome.

“For nigh on two hours we discussed fully the question of the coming struggle for Irish independence. The Pope was much moved . . . the Pope conferred His Apostolic Benediction on the men who were facing death for Ireland’s liberty.”

‘Stirring disclosure’

The claim by Plunkett, a papal count, was described in The Irish Press as a “most stirring disclosure” but it was denied in the most emphatic fashion by the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano – often seen as a surrogate spokesman for the pope himself. It denied Benedict XV would give any such benediction and pointed to the pope’s well-known pacifism.

The episode prompted a letter from Aodogán O’Rahilly, the son of The O’Rahilly who was killed during the Rising. He wrote to the Irish Embassy in Rome asking them to make inquiries on his behalf to determine the veracity of Plunkett’s claimed meeting with the pope.

They, in turn, asked Monsignor John Hanly, the rector of the Irish College in Rome, to investigate, newly released State papers show.

His trawl of the Vatican archives was “inconclusive”. He could find no evidence that Plunkett ever met the pope. However, he cautioned that even if he had done, the Vatican might be circumspect about such a meeting as in 1916 Italy had entered into the first World War on the side of the Allies including Britain.

A note in the margins states that the secret Vatican files had been closed since 1903 so there was no way of knowing for certain that the meeting hadn’t taken place.