- Herbert Asquith & Margot Asquith – PM and wife
Asquith had been at Balliol College Oxford and believed that the key characteristic of a Balliol man was “effortless superiority”. Well, he may indeed have been effortless but superior he was not. He had been a barrister before entering politics. His philosophy was not to make a decision if the matter could be put off. Professor Stephen Badsey has referred to Asquith as “tricky as a box of frogs”. Margot Asquith was his second wife and was from the Tennant brewing family. She was highly intelligent and a lucid diarist. Her diaries give new insight into Asquith’s government.
- Augustine Birrell – Chief Secretary for Ireland
He was the political head of the British regime in Ireland. He was not a bad person and had achieved some progress in land reform. However, he was not committed to his role in Ireland, certainly after 1913 when his wife’s illness worsened, and in general preferred reading and writing essays to anything else. He was referred to by Margot Asquith in her diaries as “dear old Birrell” and she indicates that she did not have much faith in him as a politician, charming though he was on a personal level.
- Cathal Brugha - militant republican
He was born in Dublin as Charles William St John Burgess but divested himself of that very English name. He was second in command of the South Dublin Union detachment in the Easter Rising and was severely wounded. He was left at a hospital by the British army and did recover. He was on the anti-treaty side in the civil war and was killed in the first engagement at the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922.
- Winifred Carney - secretary and trade unionist
She was born in Bangor County Down; secretary to James Connolly when he was a trade union organiser in Belfast; before and during the Easter Rising she was his secretary in Dublin in the GPO and wrote an account of her time during the Rising. In 1928, she married an ex-UVF member and ex 36th Ulster division soldier George McBride, who like her was a trade unionist. She died in 1943 at the age of 55. He lived until he was 90 and died in 1988. They are buried at opposite ends of Belfast but both graves have now been properly marked.
- Edward Carson – barrister and demagogue
Dublin-born barrister and the Irish Unionist leader from 1910: wartime cabinet minister in the UK government as Attorney General and First Lord of the Admiralty; remembered in the legal world for having prosecuted Oscar Wilde (1895) and defended the Winslow boy (1909). He was noted for his fiery oratory.
- Roger Casement - diplomat
He was born in Dublin, and grew up in Ballymena, County Antrim. He was a Protestant whose mother secretly had the children baptised as Catholics in Rhyl in North Wales. He worked as a shipping clerk before joining the colonial service. He was sent to Africa and exposed the cruel regime there. He also exposed cruelty to the Putomayo Indians when he was in South America. He was awarded a knighthood for his work. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913.
- Michael Cavanagh - guest at the Shelborne Hotel
He was a guest at the Shelborne Hotel and the owner of a handcart of theatrical props which had been commandeered by the rebels to form part of a barricade at St Stephens Green. He was trying to retrieve his handcart when he was shot dead by the rebels.
- Erskine Childers – upper-class English rebel
Childers had fought in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) in the Boer War. The HAC still exists today, and is a posh territorial army unit based in the City of London. Childers was clerk to the House of Commons, a very prestigious job. He was a keen sailor and wrote “The Riddle of the Sands”, a wonderful book which combines a spy story and sailing. Maybe it inspired him to do the Howth gun-running? His American wife Molly converted him to Irish nationalism.
- Winston Churchill – man with dubious reputation in Ireland
Churchill was involved with Ireland at different times. In the Ulster Crisis, he attempted to have the Royal Navy shell Belfast, before Asquith found out about the plan and stopped him. In the War of Independence, he was a key member of the government in London and was at least partly responsible for the creation of the Black and Tans, and the Auxiliaries.
- Michael Collins – Ireland’s “lost leader”?
Collins was born in County Cork. He left school at 14 and eventually worked as a clerk in London for nine years where he became involved in radical Irish nationalism. He returned to Dublin in January 1916 to join in the Rising in which he played a minor role. His rise to become a leader started at the internment camp at Frongoch where he sought to devise a new strategy and to train people. He lead the guerrilla campaign of the War of Independence, was a key member of the delegation in London for the treaty talks in 1921, a member of the Free State’s government and head of its new army. He was killed in the Irish civil war in 1922 at the age of only 32. Today, many regard him as a lost Irish leader, though there are certainly also those who are not his fans.
- James Connolly – trade union leader
Connolly was born in Edinburgh and was a trade union organiser. He worked in Belfast and later in Dublin. He and Jim Larkin founded the Irish Labour Party in Belfast. He and Larkin founded the Irish Citizen Army in Dublin in 1913 which took part in the Rising with the Irish Volunteers. He was 48 when he died.
- James Craig – Ulster Unionist leader
He was an affluent business man and landowner. He served as a captain in the Royal Irish Rifles in the Boer War and had been a PoW. He then was a Westminster MP for East Down. In the Ulster crisis leading up to WWI and beyond, he was in the leadership of the unionist resistance in Ulster. In 1921, he succeeded Edward Carson as leader of the Ulster Unionist party and was Northern Ireland’s first prime minister (1921-1940). Sir Henry Wilson described him as being of the level of a major of average ability.
- Colonel Fred Crawford – Ulster gun-runner
Crawford was the kingpin in the gun-running for the UVF, and a former army officer who was driven to distraction by the wavering politicians in the Irish Unionist camp. It was becasue of him that the Ulster gun-running was organised in a "professional" manner.
- Arthur Griffith - political leader
He was a printer and publisher and became the political leader of Sinn Fein, which took no part in the Rising, as was the case for Griffith himself. Up until the outbreak of WWI, Sinn Fein was a non-violent organisation. He became Irish president after founding of the Free State.
- Brigadier General William Lowe - senior British officer in Dublin
He arrived on Tuesday to take command of the British troops in Dublin. On the Saturday, he took the surrender of Patrick Pearse on the corner of Moore Street and Great Britain Street, near the ruins of the GPO.
- Liam Lynch - IRA leader and anti-Treaty leader
He was based in County Cork and was not involved in the Irish volunteers until 1917. He was a leading figure in County Cork in the War of Independence. After the signing of the Treaty, he lead the anti-Treaty forces in the SW of Ireland. His death in an exchange with the Irish Free State army in April 1923 brought the civil war to an end. He was 29.
- General Neville Macready – commander of the British army in Ireland during the War of Independence
Macready had been in Ireland during the Ulster crisis in 1914 when he was appointed de facto military commander of Ulster. His father had been an Irish actor, so Macready had Irish connections. He had an excellent grasp of the situation both in 1914 and in the War of Independence. The tragedy of the War of Independence from the British viewpoint is that Macready was not in charge of the police as well as the army.
- Eoin MacNeill – university professor in Irish history
He was the professor of early and medieval history at University College Dublin, and a leading light in the movement to rekindle the Irish language. He was asked to take the leading role in forming the Irish Volunteers. He was on the “dove” wing of the movement, and in reality was a literary and academic figure who was out of his depth in a revolutionary organisation such as the Irish Volunteers.
- Countess “Connie” Markievicz, aka “Madam”
She was upper class Anglo-Irish, born Constance Gore-Booth. She was an actress and was married to a Polish man who may, or may not, have been a count. Apparently she was never appointed to any position in Irish nationalism – she just assumed them (according to Feargal McGarry). She is referred to by Winifred Carney in her writings using only one word: “Madam”.
- General John Maxwell – “the man who lost Ireland for the British”
Not an entirely fair assessment of his role. He was not a first grade general, otherwise would have been on the Western Front, and he made some truly atrocious decisions in Ireland. However, in essence he was fixed by Asquith with imposing a military “solution” on what was a political problem, but he came to understand more about Ireland than he is often given credit for. In a letter to his wife, he says that the British establishment made a grave error in not clamping down on the UVF in 1913 and this failure caused the Rising and its aftermath.
- Elizabeth O'Farrell - nurse, go-between and lesbian
Elizabeth O'Farrell was a nurse with the rebel detachment, originally in the GPO but at the operative moment the remainder were in Moore Street, behind the GPO. She was tasked to go to the British troops under a white flag to discuss surrender of the rebel detachment, which she did. She acted as go-between to achieve the surrender, and then carried the surrender document on her own round Dublin to the other rebel detachments. She is in the famous surrender photo, just behind Patrick Pearse as he surrenders to Brig Gen Lowe and his son, but is often air brushed out! As a woman and a lesbian, she did not fit the propaganda stereotype of an Irish rebel. She died in 1957. There is a nursing foundation named after her which finances postgraduate nursing studies.
- General Arthur Paget – GOC Ireland pre WWI
He was the GOC Ireland in the period leading up to WWI and was in the twilight of his career. He was therefore involved in the attempt to quash the UVF in March 1914 and the subsequent Curragh mutiny. He relinquished his position on the outbreak of WWI, and was not given a command for the rest of the war. He was not renowned for his intelligence or modesty.
- Patrick Pearse – the ignored man of Irish history?
Patrick Pearse was a barrister who was very involved in the Celtic revival. He formed a school in Dublin, St Enda’s, to teach boys Irish language and literature. Many consider him to be more of a literary and romantic figure than a hard-bitten politician. He was not a realist. His views became more extreme as time passed. He came to fame on giving the oration at the funeral in Glasnevin cemetery of the old “Fenian” O’Donovan Rossa in August 1915. Pearse was executed in May 1916, so his window of fame was really only 10 months. He was a key mover in planning the Rising and was one of authors of the Declaration of Independence (probably with James Connolly). He seems to be somewhat downplayed in much of what is said about the Rising. There is a suspicion, if that is the right word, that he may have been homosexual, of which there is no proof one way or the other. Is that the reason?
- Redmonds, Willie and John – constitutional nationalists
The Redmond brothers were constitutional Catholic nationalists who were from a prosperous family in Wexford in South East Ireland. John Redmond led the Irish Parliamentary Party which propped up Asquith’s government in 1910. His aim was some form of self-rule within the British framework. In 1914, he encouraged the Irish Volunteers to join the army on the outbreak of WWI and they formed the 16th (Irish) Divn. The majority split from the Irish Volunteers to form the new National Volunteers (140,000 split and 9,700 remained). Thus, the Irish Volunteers became a minority of the nationalist movement, and it was a minority of that remaining minority which was involved in the Rising in 1916.
Willie Redmond was the MP for East Clare in his brother’s party, and joined the 16th Irish Divn as he believed he had to lead by example. He died at Messines in 1917 of shock from a minor wound and is buried at Loker in Belgium.
- Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa - Fenian revolutionary
Born in 1831, it was his death in 1915 in the USA that gave the Irish Volunteers a chance to stage manage his funeral in Dublin, at which Patrick Pearse came to prominence through his emotional address. Rossa had been released from prison in England in 1870 and sent into exile in the US by the British government. There, he organised fundraising for Irish nationalist causes and a dynamite campaign in England in the 1880s, for which the Americans refused to extradite him to the UK.
- Francis Sheehy-Skeffington - pacifist,victim and cause celebre
He was a pacifist who was trying to stop the looting of shops when on Tuesday he was arrested by troops lead by Capt John Bowen-Colthurst along with journalists Thomas Dickson and Patrick McIntyre. All three were shot dead on Wednesday on the orders of Bowen-Colthurst, who was subsequently court martialled, found to be insane and released from custody after two years.
- Wilfred Spender – army officer and Ulster Unionist
He was English and had become involved in Irish politics during the Home Rule crisis. He was a regular army officer and was the youngest officer on the general staff in 1911. He resigned from the army in 1913 to become involved with the UVF as its quartermaster general and was a part of the 1914 gun-running. In WWI, he returned to the army and served for two years on the staff of Maj Gen Oliver Nugent who commanded the 36th (Ulster) Divn.
- Hon Mary Ellen Spring-Rice – upper-class English gun-runner
She was upper-class Anglo-Irish aristocracy. She was the daughter of Baron Mounteagle of Mount Trenchard, Foynes, County Limerick and became immersed in the Irish culture of the west of Ireland. She was on the Askard for its gun-running voyage and is in the famous photo of the two ladies on-board. Indeed, it is said that she suggested the enterprise to Erskine Childers. Her first cousin, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice was British ambassador to the United States at the time of WWI.
- Captain Gordon Strachy Shephard – army officer and rebel gun-runner, later RFC Brigadier
As a serving British army captain on leave, Strachy Shephard helped his friend Erskine Childers to sail the Askard from Conwy to the Scheldt and back to Wales before he left the yacht and went on to Ireland by ferry. He wrote letters to his family about his role in the affair. He was killed in January 1918 serving as a Brigadier General of the RFC on the Western Front and is buried at La Pugnoy CWGC cemetery in France.
- General Hugh Tudor – the man behind the Black and Tans and the auxiliaries
He was in charge of the “black and tans”, and the Auxiliaries, both of which were forms of auxiliary police, neither of which was a credit to him. He got the job of being in charge of the police in Ireland largely because he was a close friend of Churchill. He was an artilleryman and knew nothing about policing operations. He styled himself “chief of police” though he was never given such a title. In turn, he appointed his cronies to various positions. He was weak on discipline and allowed his police to get away with criminality including murder. His role in Ireland was a disaster. In 1925, he emigrated to Newfoundland, supposedly to escape retribution.
- Eamonn De Valera – mathematics teacher and rebel leader
He was born in the United States, supposedly of a Cuban father and an Irish mother. However, no trace of such a marriage exists and the betting is that he was illegitimate. He was sent back to Ireland to be educated, went to Blackrock College, a prestigious Dublin school, and studied mathematics at university in Dublin. A famous issue is whether he was an American citizen or not, though it was probably irrelevant to him escaping execution in 1916. (In fact, as he was born in the USA he would have had American citizenship). He often came across as a dour, arrogant, unsmiling and unsympathetic figure, rather like Edward Carson.
- Gen Henry Wilson - Southern Irish unionist and Maj Gen of the British army, later CIGS
His family were southern Irish protestants from County Longford. He was a senior officer at the time of the Curragh mutiny and played a minor role in 1914 in supporting Gough and influencing Sir John French. He was sub-chief of staff for the BEF when it went to France in August 1914. His diaries reveal his views on the period of the War of Independence.
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