Eoin MacNeill and the use of force


Sir, – Felix M Larkin (Letters, February 24th) is quite correct in disputing a description of Eoin MacNeill as “the 1916 leader”, and in quoting his February 1916 view that to consent to a Rising at that juncture would “make me false to my country besides involving me in the guilt of murder”.

As one of the Sinn Féin TDs elected in its 1918 general election victory, MacNeill did, of course, go on to endorse the post hoc ratification, by the inaugural meeting of Dáil Éireann, of the republic that had been proclaimed by the 1916 Rising. And as the Dáil’s minister for education, MacNeill not only championed the War of Independence but, as the RIC strove to suppress Irish democracy, he forcefully denounced attempts to describe the shooting of such policemen as “murder”.

In a letter to the Archbishop of Tuam on July 22nd, 1920, MacNeill argued that “we Irishmen are morally entitled to carry arms” in defiance of “the so-called ‘police’, who are no police but a mere branch of the British military forces”, and to resist “police” who “endanger our lives in the exercise of that right”.

He added that “undoubtedly the bearing of arms, being the occasion of shooting on sight by those in command of the so-called police, will also be the occasion of the so-called police being shot at sight.”

MacNeill concluded by asserting his own moral right to shoot such RIC policemen: “For my part I have not the slightest doubt that I am entitled to bear arms in defence of Ireland against the British forces, and that I am also entitled to resist being disarmed to the same degree as I may resist an attempt to destroy my house or my life or the lives of my family. I am not bound to put up my hands when ordered to do so by any subordinate of the British Government. I have the clearest evidence therefore that my life and the rights I am entitled to defend unto death are always threatened by the so-called ‘police’.” The emphasis here was MacNeill’s own. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 11.