North Wales Western Front Association

Where did we end up?

Well, by 1923 Northern Ireland was settling down and becoming a more stable entity.  The Irish Free State had established its bona fide existence and by winning the civil war the new government in Dublin had asserted its authority.  There were still those that wanted a fully independent republic, which is what happened after De Valera came to power, for the first time in 1932.  The new Irish Republic came into being in 1949, some 33 years after the Rising.

Ultimately, it was the first step in the break-up of the Empire, but don’t forget that Ireland was part of the UK at the start of all this, not some far flung area of red on a world map.  The wider lesson for small countries throughout the world was that it was possible to throw off the shackles of a big country and do you own thing.

And did the new Free State match the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence?  Well, no it did not.  The "new" Ireland was a conservative state dominated by a political Catholic church. The dire state of the economy resulted in a lot of emigration and poverty.  Today, the Irish Republic has come a long way and certainly is much closer to the egalitarian state evisaged by the writers of the declaration.

 (For a view of 1930s Ireland, the film "Jimmy's Hall" is worth a viewing).

What happened to key figures afterwards?

The reader might also wish to consult Appendix 1 “Who’s who” for some of the background on these figures.

  • HH Asquith – prime minister

He was deposed in December 1916 and replaced by David Lloyd George who was a lot more organised and probably even trickier.  Asquith was astounded because he believed he was irreplaceable.  The Rising and the Battle of the Somme were the final straw for his government colleagues.  He never held office again.

  • Captain John Bowen-Colthurst – the mad captain?

He was reported by his major and court-martialled and found guilty but insane.  He was sent to Broadmoor for two years and then went to Canada, where he remained.  His major Sir Francis Fletcher-Vane was forced out of the army and was shunned by high society for having reported Bowen-Colthurst.  His misdeeds were covered up by the government.

  • Winifred Carney – Connolly’s secretary and confidante

Imprisoned for her part in the Rising; released after 8 months and returned to Belfast and to trade union activism; married George McBride, a Protestant trade unionist and veteran of the 36th Ulster Divn; she died in 1943 at the age of 55.  It was her husband and his relatives that carefully preserved her artefacts and papers recording what she saw during the Rising.

  • Edward Carson – Dublin demagogue and Irish Unionist leader

Served as a cabinet minister in the WWI government.  He stood down as Unionist leader in 1921, by which time his influence in Unionism had greatly waned.  He was succeeded by James Craig.  Carson then served as a judge in the Court of Appeal in London from 1921. He died in 1935 and was accorded a state funeral in Belfast.  He is buried in St Anne's cathedral.  He had been knighted in 1900 when he was appointed solicitor-general, and made Baron Carson in 1921.  More recently, English Heritage said he was not well known enough to warrant a blue plaque on his former house in London.  Clearly, English Heritage could do with a history lesson!

  • Erskine Childers – upper-class gun-runner

He was executed in 1922 in the Irish civil war for possession of a small pistol, given to him by Michael Collins (who of course was on the side of the new Free State government, unlike Childers).  His son, of the same name, was a little boy when his father was killed.  However, the family remained in Ireland and the son applied for Irish citizenship in 1938 so that he could stand for the Irish parliament, the Dail.  He held a succession of ministerial posts, ultimately becoming deputy PM (Tanaiste).  He was president of Ireland, sadly dying in office in 1974 (and in so doing causing some problems for Irish television who had apparently prepared for the funeral of, Catholic, ex-president De Valera from the Catholic pro-cathedral, and had to adapt their arrangements for a funeral from the Anglican St Patrick’s cathedral).

  • Michael Collins – the brains behind the War of Independence

He was a leading negotiator of the Treaty in 1921.  He died in an inept ambush in the Irish Civil War in August 1922 at the age of 32. He is buried in a celebrated grave in Glasnevin national cemetery, Dublin.  He is regarded today by many in Ireland as a lost leader.

  • James Craig – mastermind of the Ulster Unionist movement and resistance to home rule

He became the first Prime Minister of the new Northern Ireland in 1921 and famously had an alcove in the wall of his office where he kept a pistol.  He served as PM until his death in 1940.  He was knighted in 1918 and made a peer in 1927.

  • Colonel Fred Crawford – UVF gun-runner

He kept in contact with Bruno Spiro and they met again in Berlin in 1923.  They kept up contact until Spiro’s death in 1935.  Crawford volunteered for army service in WWII but his offer was declined.  He died in 1952.

  • CQMS Robert Flood – had his men shoot two lieutenants and two watchmen

Flood was court martialled for the first lieutenant and the first watchman, and, unbelievably, found not guilty.  He was not charged in relation to the second two deaths.  He was transferred from the RDF to the Royal Berkshire Regt, was sent to Salonika, killed on the attack on Petit Couronné on 9th May 1917 and is commemorated on the Dojran memorial to the missing of the Salonika campaign.

  • Gen Hubert Gough - the mutineer who caused a political storm

After his involvement in the Curragh mutiny, he was a brigade commander in charge of cavalry at the start of the war in August 1914, Gough was then in charge of a cavalry division at the time of the Somme.  He was in charge of a corps at Third Ypres and was sacked by Haig shortly thereafter.  He was known for his enthusiasm for using cavalry on the Western Front and for a rather rash and aggressive attitude.  He was knighted in 1937 and died in 1963.

  • Arthur Griffith – politician and head of Sinn Fein

Neither he nor Sinn Fein took part in the Rising, in spite of which he was still imprisoned.  In 1921, he was head of the Irish delegation in the Treaty negotiations. He was the first president of the new Irish Free State but died of a brain haemorrhage in August 1922 after only 6 months in office, at the age of 51. Buried in Glasnevin national cemetery, Dublin.

  • Jocelyn Hardy – escapee from PoW camps, and intellignce agent and assassin for the British

He had some Irish connections as his father was from County Down and indeed Hardy served in Irish regiments during WWI.  He was the author of a wonderful book on his time as a PoW – “I escape! The Great War’s Most Remarkable PoW”.  In the War of Independence, he was some sort of intelligence agent and assassin in Dublin, and is believed to have killed the grandfather of comedian Brendan O’Carroll, who was not any sort of activist (though the sons probably were).  He afterwards became a successful farmer in Norfolk but also had a flat in London and series of Rolls Royce cars, so clearly was wealthy.

  • HMY Helga - lady of the seas

After her role in the Rising, she carried on with coastal patrol and anti-submarine work.  She rescued some of the passengers from the RMS Leinster when it was sunk by a U-boat off Dun Laoghaire in October 1918.  She had roles in both the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, transporting police and army round the coast.  She was given to the Irish Free State in 1923 and renamed the Muirchu (Hound of the Sea). She sank in 1947 whilst being towed to a scrapyard.

  • Lt John Lowe – became John Loder, film star

He was in Dublin at Easter 1916 on leave from the Western Front to visit his father General Lowe, and took part in the surrender by Pearse.  He is in the photo with his father, albeit nonchalantly lighting a cigarette.  He went back to the Western Front, and later became a prisoner of war, during which time he took part in theatrical productions.  After the war, he acted in German films, then went to Hollywood and became a star and was married to Heddy Lamar.  He was married five times! He had changed his name from Lowe to Loder to avoid embarrassing his father.  His role in the Rising only came out when he published his autobiography in 1977. He appeared in “How Green is my Valley” with Arthur Shields, see below.

  • Countess Markievicz – upper-crust actress and revolutionary

After the Rising, she had her death sentence commuted because she was a woman.  When the Dail (Irish parliament) was formed she became an MP (TD in Irish) and died in 1927.

  • Sean MacBride - son of two revolutionaries

He was the son of John MacBride and Maude Gonne.  He followed his father into the IRA but had a catharsis in the 1930s as he came to realise that violence was not the way forward.  He helped to found an organisation that we know today as Amnesty International and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1974.

  • Arthur Shields – film star “How Green is my Valley” and “The Quiet Man”

He was a Protestant who took part in the Rising as a member of the Irish Citizen Army.  He left Ireland in 1935 having grown weary of a conservative, Catholic Ireland.  He and his brother, stage name Barry Fitzgerald, became well-known Hollywood actors (and both appeared in the “Quiet Man”).

  • Wilfrid Spender – trainer of the UVF

After service in WWI with 36th Ulster Divn, he returned from the army to Ulster politics.  He was asked by Craig to recruit the UVF in 1920 as a force to maintain order.  He later became the head of the new civil service in Northern Ireland.  He retired back to Hampshire and died in 1960.

  • Bruno Spiro - arms dealer

He was the German arms dealer who supplied both the UVF and the Irish Volunteers.  He was Jewish and perished in 1934 in a Nazi concentration camp.

  • Hon Mary Ellen Spring-Rice – lady gun-runner in the classic photo

She died in 1924 in a tuberculosis sanatorium at Llangwyfan near Denbigh in North Wales, and is buried in her family’s former estate at Foynes, County Limerick as an “Irish” heroine. 

  • Gordon Strachy Shephard – Britsh army captain and gun-runner for the Irish volunteers

He ended up as a brigadier in the RFC.  He never suffered any sanction for his role in the 1914 Howth gunrunning.  He was killed in a flying accident in 1918 and is buried at La Pugnoy CWGC cemetery.  The CWGC records make no mention whatsoever of his gunrunning days! He was 32 when he died.

  • Eamonn de Valera – last man standing of the 1916 leadership

In many ways, he was the only big “name” to survive the Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.  People in Ireland today who are old enough to remember him, often say that after 37 years in power they were fed up with him.  Many blame him for inciting the Civil War.  He was in power first as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and then President.  He was 92 when he died in 1975.

  • Field Marshall Henry Wilson - Irish Unionist and CIGS of the British army

By the end of WWI, he was CIGS of the British army and a Field Marshall.  He was aghast at the mess being made of the Irish situation at the time of the War of Independence, especially at Lloyd George.  He later resigned from the army and was elected as Unionist MP for a Northern Irish seat.  He was assasinated by the IRA in London on his way back from unveiling a plaque to railwaymen who perished in WWI at Liverpool St station in 1922.  There is a Wilson Street near the station, named after him.

  • William Wylie – prosecutor of the leaders of the Rising

He was the prosecutor in the courts martial after Easter week.  He was an Irish barrister who became a KC in 1914 and joined the army later that year.  He was in Dublin in 1916 and was given the task of being the prosecuting counsel by Gen Maxwell.  He later became senior adviser to the British administration in Ireland and sought to stem reprisals from the British side in the War of Independence.  He was involved in the nascent Treaty negotiations.  After the founding of the Free State, he became a High Court judge in the Irish Free State in 1924 and held various public appointments.  He died in 1964.

The next section is here