Eoin MacNeill and the 1916 Rising

Sir, – I must take issue with the description of Eoin MacNeill as “the 1916 leader” in the Irishman’s Diary (February 17th). MacNeill, as chief of staff of the Irish Volunteers, had, in fact, been deceived by the IRB cabal within the Volunteers about their plans for the Rising and was not party to their plans, and he did his best to frustrate their plans when he found out about them at the eleventh hour. Earlier, in February 1916, he had set out in a memorandum the case against the Rising for the benefit of those within the Volunteers who advocated such action. He began by asserting that “the only reason that could justify general active military measures ... would be a reasonably calculated or estimated prospect of success, in the military sense ... [and] not merely some future moral or political advantage which may be hoped for as a result of non-success”. He thus disposed of the “blood sacrifice” ideal of Pearse and others. He then wrote: “Now we believe that we think rightly on national matters, and if possibly we do not all agree on every point we believe that the consensus we hold among us is right as far as it goes ... [It is] our duty to so act that our country itself, i.e. the Irish nation, shall learn, as far as may be secured, to think in the same way ... In other words, if we are right, it is our duty to get our country on our side, and not to be content with the vanity of thinking ourselves to be right and other Irish people to be wrong.”

He concluded by saying that his consent to the Rising would accordingly “make me false to my country besides involving me in the guilt of murder”.

MacNeill’s memorandum, edited by the late FX Martin and published in Irish Historical Studies in 1961, presaged the problems that the Rising still presents for the democrat and the theologian. – Yours, etc,



Cabinteely, Dublin 18.