Markievicz on 1916

The article below was written just a couple of months before Markievicz’s death and five years after the disillusionment of the Treaty and then, later, the split that led to the establishment of Fianna Fail, which Markievicz was a founding leader of shortly before her death.  Needless to say, I don’t share her religious views.  It will take the working class, without the help of any sort of “god”, to free Ireland and free themselves in the process.  In her religious views, of course, Markievicz was a product of her times and, indeed, she was never devout.  Above all she was a socialist-republican of her time and place and her final political collapse, following de Valera and helping him set up Fianna Fail, was the product of years of defeat.  By the time she wrote her last articles in 1927 she was already telling friends how she “longed for the peace of the Republican Plot”.   In any case, this article is not only historically interesting but contains some valuable lessons for today – such as  “in a campaign like ours, you may lose more by evading a fight than by bravely facing a defeat”.



by Constance Markievicz

As the years go mournfully by, each bearing its sorrowful tale of wrong triumphant, of traitors exhalted and enriched climbing to power over the dead bodies of their murdered comrades, of iniquitous laws, of ever-increasing poverty and misery, we should despair if it were not for the memory of the men of Easter Week.  The memory of their marvellous selflessness, their vision, and above all, their faith.  This faith of theirs led them out on Easter Monday, 1916 to challenge an Empire, with but the remains of a gallant army disbanded by treachery.

I sometimes wonder if the rising generation understand and appreciate the selflessness of these men and the motives that prompted them in making their decision to fight.

They knew that they were going out to certain defeat, and that defeat would mean death at the hands of a vindictive foe.  But they knew, too, that in a campaign like ours, you may lose more by evading a fight than by bravely facing a defeat.

The terrible disappointment and disillusion that had come to them would have paralysed most men and left them incapable of fighting for a time, anyhow.  The prospects had been so bright, when one of their own inner circle, Professor Eoin MacNeill, had at the last moment “cut the ground from under their feet”, by dispersing their army.

The prospect had been so splendid just a few short hours before.  There had been a possibility of winning, remote and small, some people may say, but it was there.  At worst the fight could have been carried on for a long time, and the longer it was carried out, the less possible it would have been for the English, if they won, to have executed the leaders.

But I have always been of the opinion that we would have had a fair chance of winning if every place in Ireland where the Volunteers were organised had risen at the same moment and quite unexpectedly, and the plans for preventing the enemy from concentrating on Dublin had been carried out.

English troops could be ill-spared from the front and as the war progressed, less and less would have been available.  If all Ireland had become a new battlefront it might have changed the whole face of the war for our allies, the Germans.  Constant propaganda from the German lines telling of Ireland’s war for freedom would have had great effect on our Irish regiments fighting for the English and for “the freedom of small nations”; while it is more than probable that the pro-English element in America would not have been able to drag that country into the war as they did and win it for England, if Ireland had been openly fighting for her freedom.

Such a force as the Black and Tans would have been impossible to create in the middle of the war, and judging by the fight that was made against them at a time when England was at peace, we should have found little difficulty in holding our own against ordinary troops what time England was at war.

Then another big factor in the war was food supplies. England was in dire need of our beef and potatoes, butter, eggs and bacon etc, and we could have stopped that supply.  It was remarkable that all through the war the Irish people had enough to eat while their richer neighbours, the English went very short.  The lucky ones who had friends in Ireland were kept supplied with even vegetables for their table from over here.  If we had actually been in the field against England we could have held our food.

Then, too, our men had great hopes that the German fleet would have been able to get through to us, or at any rate that some submarines would have been able to hold the Channel and cut off English reinforcements.

There never had been a time in our history when Ireland had been so prepared and England in such difficulties.

All the weary years of preparation, all the fevered months of organisation, enlisting and drilling were made to no avail by the stroke of a pen from a weakling.  Bright hopes were dashed to the ground, and nothing but the choice remained on that Easter Sunday morning – the choice of going out even as Robert Emmet went out, with as little hope as he had, and the spectre of the same grim death in front of them, or of giving up the fight and slipping away into obscurity quietly and safely.

Postponement was impossible.  With a traitor alive, who had intimate knowledge of them and their intentions, they knew that at any moment he might carry his betrayal still further and give all the information he had to the enemy.  His friend and adviser in treachery was under arrest by the Volunteers: he could not be so held for long, and was a menace either way.

Such then were the appalling difficulties that faced them.  They saw no difficulties, only their duty – and fearlessly they went out offering their lives “for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland”.

One incident I will tell that shows the extraordinary nobility of these men’s characters, their care for the safety of even the weaklings among them.

Among the names printed at the foot of the Republican Proclamation stood the name of “Eoin MacNeill”.  The Proclamation had been printed, I think, at the Gaelic Press.  We had a little printing press in Liberty Hall, where James Connolly’s paper was printed.  Well I knew it, for my first soldier’s work was when James Connolly put me with another man to mount guard on it daily for four hours.  Our instructions were, if raided, to fight to the last cartridge.  I had an army rifle, a “Peter” and a small Browning.  My comrade also was well supplied.

On that little machine the Republican Proclamation was reprinted – reprinted without Professor Eoin MacNeill’s signature, to safeguard him so that he should be spared the fate the signatories knew would probably be theirs.

The last I saw of any of the signatories was on Monday morning when they marched out smiling and content to show that Ireland still bred men who thought it worthwhile to die for the cause of her freedom.  I drove off in Dr Lynn’s car and just came up to the City Hall in time to see Sean Connolly open the attack.  My last sight of him was standing high up on the steps, one arm raised above his head, shouting orders to his men.  The sun lit up his face, all glowing with enthusiasm.  To me he was the incarnation of a statue of Liberty.

I met Tom MacDonagh and John MacBride opposite Jacob’s.  I told them the news and we wished each other “God speed”.

Michael Mallin kept me with him in the Green, and promoted me to the position of his second-in-command.  He was wonderful.  Courage and knowledge he possessed to a rare degree, and his thought for the welfare of his men was remarkable.  He was full of faith and of the knowledge that we were doing the work that God had given us to do for Ireland.

William Partridge, too, was with us.  He was just one of the rank and file of the Irish Citizen Army, but his position in the labour movement made him a great influence with the men.  It was he who recited the Rosary each night in the College of Surgeons.  At the surrender, he and Commandant Mallin could both have slipped away quite easily.  Clothes were brought to them by devoted friends, and they were besought by weeping girls to save their lives, for no-one had any doubt as to what their fate would be.  Many of the men wanted them to do so, too.  This must have made it hard for them, but they never hesitated.

They call to all that is noblest in Ireland today from their quicklime graves.  They tell us not to doubt, to do our best and fear not, and that though Wrong may triumph today, Right must win out in the end, for surely there is a God in Heaven.

The Nation, April 23, 1927


Posted on August 28, 2011, in Constance Markievicz, Historiography and historical texts, James Connolly, Republicanism post-1900, The road to the Easter Rising. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Markievicz on 1916.

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