Former taoiseach John Bruton criticised for comments about Easter Rising

Ex-Fine Gael leader failed to take account of the context of Rising, commemoration told

Former Taoiseach, John Bruton has been accused of failing to recognise the context in which the 1916 Easter Rising took place when he said the rebellion was not justified and Ireland could have achieved freedom through the Home Rule Bill.

Historian and pamphleteer Jack Lane told the annual Kilmichael Ambush Commemoration in west Cork at the weekend that Mr Bruton’s comments about the Easter Rising and the War of Independence marked the most extreme articulation of a particular view of Irish history.

“It is mind-boggling to hear an ex-taoiseach condemn the founding fathers of this state of which he was a leader. Can you imagine a US president denouncing George Washington for their War of Independence or a French president denouncing the French Revolution?

“It is unimaginable and there was a lot more war and bloodshed in establishing these and other states than was the case here where overwhelming popular support for independence minimised the bloodshed,” he told the crowd of about 800 people who gathered at the ambush site.


The annual commemoration marks the victory by Tom Barry and members of the Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade of the IRA over a contingent of Auxilaries from Macroom in the War of Independence

Mr Lane of the Aubane Historical Society said that when Mr Bruton feels the need to claim that Easter 1916 and the War of Independence were misguided and seeks to promote that view, then it is necessary to examine very closely the merits of his arguments.

Mr Bruton had argued that Volunteers of 1916 should have trusted in the Home Rule Bill as it was on the statute and would have evolved into a republic and that there was therefore no need for war and bloodshed, he said.

However this view ignored the fact that the Home Rule Bill was immediately suspended and that volunteers of 1916 had for a period trusted in the Home Rule Bill as evidenced by Padraig Pearse sharing a platform with John Redmond in support of Home Rule in 1912.

However Pearse and others had changed their minds when they witnessed a very real rebellion against the British government’s plan for Home Rule when Tories and unionists “organised themselves to set up an alternative provisional government to prevent Home Rule” in 1912.

An illegal army, the Ulster Volunteer Force, was set up and arms were imported which led to the establishment of the Irish Volunteers “to support the government in implementing Home Rule – to assist in implementing the law not to break it as the UVF were planning to do.”

The British army supported this unionist rebellion with the Curragh Mutiny of 1914 when officers refused to enforce the law on Home Rule and the British government allowed all this to happen and conceded all along the line, he said.

Mr Lane said critics of the Easter Rising say that the organisers had no mandate but the same point could be made about the British government, as it failed to hold an election as it should have done in 1915 and instead did a deal to invite Tories and unionists into government.

“The unionists had their own army, with plenty arms, they had British army support and now they were in government. They had won and it was absolutely clear that Home Rule or any form of Irish independence was off the agenda,” Mr Lane added.

“There was no two ways about it. If that government had its way, we would still be waiting for Home Rule. It was already suspended on the day it was passed on 18th September 1914 and that is where it would remain.”

It is true that those who organised the Easter Rising had no mandate but neither had the British government nor had the unionists for their rebellion other than what they gave themselves. “There were no mandates all around,” he said.

Similarly, Redmond committed the Irish Parliamentary Party to a British war on Germany and Turkey without an electoral mandate as he never put to the Irish electorate that he would take Ireland into an imperial war if the empire gave him Home Rule.

“The Irish Volunteers decided that a rebellion was the only way to get the government to respond to what had been proved by the success of the Unionists and this is the political and moral case for the 1916 rebellion,” he said.

Unfortunately, this narrative had been twisted and was not articulated in either academia, the media or by mainstream politicians, which is why commemorations such as Kilmichael offered a valuable opportunity “to put the record straight about 1916 and the War of Independence”.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times