Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Women of the Irish Rising: A People's History

By Michael Hogan
Fondo Editorial Universitario, 2021
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

Constance Markiewicz,  Co-Organizer of the 1916 Easter Rebellion,  First Woman Elected to the British
House of Commons (1918)

As Roads readers are aware, the impact and history of the Great War extends far beyond the battlefields themselves. The war spawned social upheaval and provided an opportunity for others to make their stand. One of the most famous opportunistic risings was Dublin’s Easter Rising of 1916. That rising is well chronicled in Great War literature, but Women of the Irish Rising: A People’s History approaches it from a new perspective. Author Michael Hogan has skillfully woven the women’s story into that of the overall rising and the Great War in general.

More than other authors of some tomes on the subject, Hogan delves beneath the surface of a nationalistic rising to illustrate the disparate movements that brought it to a boil. There were human rights activists; think Sir Roger Casement, Erskine and Molly Childers; socialists, remember James Connolly; the Celtic revivalists, consider Joseph Plunkett; suffragettes, Margaret Frances Skinnider; labor organizers such as Helena Molony among the multitude of militant activists. Hogan also illustrates how the Great War influenced the rising, more so than the impact the rising had on the war, probably because it was negligible.

The women played a variety of roles including gun shooting warriors in the line, messengers, commissary provisioners, medical workers and whatever needed to be done. Some names are familiar, such as Countess Constance Markiewicz, some, like Nora Connolly, daughter of commander James, were associated with leaders, while others are more obscure, Dr. Kathleen Lynn being an example. It seems that women were more involved in the rising than in many insurrections, reflecting, perhaps both their enthusiasm for the cause and the need for aid from any possible source. Even so, the contrast between James Connolly’s admission of women to his command and their exclusion by other commanders is striking.

Margaret Skinnider (Center) Served as a Sniper and Was Wounded Three Times During the Easter Rebellion

Seeking to exploit the fact that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Irish revolutionaries sought aid from Germany. Renowned for his humanitarian work in relation to the Belgian Congo, Sir Roger Casement utilized his prestige to gain access to Irish POWs whom he implored to join the fight for Irish independence (but only 52 out of 2,000 signed up) and to negotiate arms purchases, not donations, as I had believed previously.

The rising was not just a protest or a riot. It was urban warfare, aimed at seizing key points in Dublin and issuing propaganda statements to generate support throughout Ireland and abroad. Roads readers will appreciate the account of the Royal Navy’s pursuit of the Aud Norge with its German crew and cargo of munitions for the Irish that were lost when it was scuttled, as well as analysis of tactical errors that plagued both sides. Misjudgments arose in this, as in all wars. Prominent among them was the insurrectionists’ belief that the British would not shell Dublin; that was shattered when HMY Helga opened fire from the Liffey River on rebel headquarters at the General Post Office. The decision to surrender after a week of combat is shown as both calculated and controversial. Through it all a sense of almost comic civility prevailed, such as with the ceasefires to permit the caretaker of St. Stephen’s Green to feed the ducks.

The book does not end with the surrender. The characters and movements that played roles in the rising are followed to the ends of their lives and into the present day. The historiography of the rising is an interesting reflection rarely found in histories. The text is supplemented by photos, maps, and a bibliography that is most helpful. One thing I really like about the footnotes is the liberal citation of websites with URLs for easy access. The appendices contain a list of known women in the rising, pictures and descriptions of rising related flags and plays, poems and songs of the rising. This work is short, 270 pages in total but, despite my extensive readings on the Easter Rising, I learned new facts about it from these pages. The documentation of the Curragh Mutiny and Sir Roger Casement’s negotiations in Germany place the rising in both local and worldwide streams of history.

I enjoyed Women of the Irish Rising and learned much from it. It encouraged me to look up some of those websites found in the footnotes and to read further. I recommend it both to those seeking an introduction to the rising and more seasoned students looking for a new perspective on this unlikely front in the Great War.

Jim Gallen

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review of a very interesting book. The connection between the Uprising and the First World War is something we need to be more aware of. Thank you, Jim.