The preparations for rebellion, and intelligence reports by adversaries 100 years ago this week.
The shop of Thomas J Clarke at 75 Parnell St in Dublin’s north inner city was visited by Con Colbert (one of 16 men executed after the Rising, along with Clarke), CJ Kickham, Diarmuid Lynch, Ned Daly (also later executed), James J Buggy, MW O’Reilly and Joseph McGuinness.
In retrospect, the reports from constant surveillance of the premises by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) make clear how much of the planning was going on, particularly by senior IRB members like Lynch and others, and Clarke’s fellow members of the secret organisation’s Military Council, which by this date had selected Easter weekend as the date for a rising.
At Irish Volunteers headquarters in Dublin’s Dawson St on this date were Herbert Mellows, Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, George Irvine, Patrick Ryan, Proclamation of the Republic signatory Thomas MacDonagh, (opinions vary on whether he was on the IRB Military Council at this stage), Éamon de Valera, Éamonn John Duggan, WT Cosgrave, and Con Colbert.
55 Irish Volunteers were drilled in 41 Parnell Square, Dublin. IRB Military Council member Seán MacDiarmada, executed as a leader of the Rising and Proclamation signatory in May 1916, was among those present, according to the DMP.
By the end of January, the inspector general of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), Neville Chamberlain — not to be confused with a future British prime minister — estimated the Irish Volunteers had 7,187 members outside the capital.
Although still seen by him as a small force by comparison with other nationalist societies, membership had grown by 830 in the provinces that month, with 23 new companies formed in Munster alone.
Police were aware that they had amassed about 3,730 firearms, almost half of them rifles, but was not overly concerned about their intentions.
“It is probable that a great many of the Irish Volunteers merely joined in order to avoid military service, but the leaders, and many others, bitterly hate British Rule and would no doubt do anything to weaken and embarrass England in the present struggle, if they thought it would serve their purpose,” Chamberlain wrote in his report for January 1916 to government officials in Dublin Castle.
With Eamonn Ceannt in the chair at a meeting in Dublin, the Irish Volunteers’ central executive agreed “to remind Volunteers of their obligation not to part with their weapons but with their lives, and of the desirability of keeping their weapons in safe, but accessible places’
. Among those seen attending the Volunteers headquarters by Dublin Metropolitan Police were Irish Citizen Army leader James Connolly (only days earlier, he had been brought into the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who were planning the Rising.)
Also present was North Cork man Thomas Hunter, an IRB member who was in charge, with Thomas MacDonagh, of the Irish Volunteers Dublin Brigade 2nd Battalion.
After the Rising, he was sentenced to death but instead interned, later becoming a member of the first Dáil for Cork North East in the 1918 election.
‘About 40’ Irish volunteers under the command of Joseph McGuinness and John Milroy marched and assembled, according to police report.Friday, January 28 1916
Tom Clarke’s shop was seen to be visited by, among others, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. (The wrongful execution of the pacifist and journalist on orders of Captain Bowen-Colthurst in Portobello barracks during the Rising was depicted in a recent episode of RTÉ television drama, Rebellion.)
DMP reported that James Connolly and Countess Markievicz were seen leaving Liberty Hall with 10 members of the Citizen Army carrying rifles.
In his end-of-month report, the RIC’s county inspector for West Cork told superiors in Dublin he believed Ireland’s exclusion from army conscription has dealt the Irish Volunteer movement in the area “a death blow”. By his estimation, however, there were almost 600 members in its 15 companies.
Most had been established in the previous six months, largely down to the full-time organising work of Terence MacSwiney and fellow members of the city brigade setting up and drilling new branches in rural towns and villages.
“It would have been formidable, and very dangerous had it become popular and strong in numbers. It is now I believe a hopeless minority, and a more or less ridiculous one at that. It will nevertheless always be a movement worth careful watching, subsidised as I believe it to be, by German money, and composed, as I also believe it to be, of fanatics, more or less sincere.
“There are at present a number of its members from this Riding, the exact number we have not yet ascertained, but probably about twelve, undergoing a special course of instruction in military subjects in Cork, at the hands of J.J. O’Connell. Was B. List suspect no. 23.
"What the subject of this man’s lectures are we cannot say, but if it inlcudes such subjects as “bombing”, it is easy to imagine what a danger to the community his pupils may eventually be.”
- Files from the Dublin Metropolitan Police ‘Movement of Extremists’ files, on which some of these details based, are uploaded daily to the National Archives of Ireland website: www.nationalarchives.ie (@NARIreland on Twitter).
- Many original documents from the period, including some used in this diary, are available at in the Bureau of Military History witness statements and Military Archives timeline: www.militaryarchives.ie. See @dfarchives on Twitter.
- Other information came from RIC Inspector General and County Inspector reports held on microfilm in University College Cork’s Boole Libary Special Collections - @theriversideUCC
Monday , January 17, 1916
- Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) saw Seán McGarry, Charles Kickham, John Milroy and Michael O’Hanrahan, among others, visit the shop of Tom Clarke — Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) Military Council member -at 75 Parnell Street.
- Éamon de Valera, Michael O’Hanrahan, Tomás MacDonagh, and JJ O’Connell met at Volunteer Office, according to the same police report.
- A meeting in Dublin’s Mansion house chaired by Eoin MacNeill was attended by many leading members of the Irish Volunteers, Sinn Féin, and other nationalists. Under the auspices of the Gaelic League, it was held to protest against withdrawal of grants for education in Ireland.
Tuesday, January 18, 1916
- At Irish Volunteers head office in Daswon St, police report a meeting took place of founder Bulmer Hobson, Eimar O’Duffy, Michael O’Hanrahan (later executed after the Rising), Herbert Mellows from Galway and Tomás MacDonagh (a later member of the IRB Military Council that planned the Rising, and executed on May 3, 1916.)
- A Cuman na mBan concert in the Mansion House was an opportunity to meet for Pádraig Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Con Colbert, MacDonagh, and Joseph Plunkett, all executed within four months.
- Tom Clarke’s shop visited by Con Colbert, Joseph McGuinness, Herbert Mellows, Thomas McCarthy, and Ben Parsons.
Wednesday, January 19, 1916
- Alfred Cotton was among those who attended Volunteers headquarters in Dublin. He was second-in-command to Austin Stack, commandant of the Irish Volunteers Brigade in Kerry. As senior IRB figures in Kerry, they knew from Pearse of plans for a rising at Easter. Central to plans was the proposed landing of German guns at Fenit in Tralee Bay, Easter weekend at the end of April.
- James Connolly ‘disappeared’ for several days, being taken to a house in Dolphin’s Barn where Pearse, Seán MacDiarmada and Plunkett convinced him to hold off his plans to instigate a rising with his Irish Citzen Army. He was brought into the loop about their own IRB plot, and the style of rebellion was also discussed. Connolly favoured an urban rising, having weeks earlier described in a lecture in Cork how to tunnel between the walls of terraced city houses.
Thursday, January 20, 1916
- Those visiting Irish Volunteers headquarters at 2 Dawson St in Dublin included Herbert Mellows, Michael O’Hanrahan, Tomás MacDonagh, and JJ O’Connell.
Friday, January 21, 1916
- O’Hanrahan, MacDonagh, and MacDiarmada, Piaras Béaslaí, and Thomas Hunter all attended meetings in Volunteers head office. (While the first three would be executed in May, Béaslaí and Hunter would become members of the first Dáil in 1919. Béaslaí was TD for East Kerry and Hunter for North East Cork. Before their election in December 1918, another attendee at this meeting, Éamon de Valera had already won an East Clare by-election for Sinn Féin in July 1917.)
- Visits to Thomas J Clarke at 75 Parnell Street by Pierce Beasley [Piaras Béaslaí], John McDermott [Seán MacDiarmada], John O’Mahony, [John] R Reynolds, John [Séan] McGarry, Michael O’Hanrahan and FJ [Frank] McCabe, Pádraig Pearse, Seán MacDiarmada and WT Cosgrave (future president of the executive council of the Irish Free State), all seen by police in 41 Parnell Square, an address commonly used by both the IRB and the Irish Volunteers.
Saturday, January 22, 1916
- Officers training camp began at Volunteers’ Hall, Sheares St, Cork, instructed by JJ O’Connell.
- The course was to cover ‘field work, elementary drill, physical drill, and lectures’, according to the notice placed in the Irish Volunteer newspaper.
- Most of the companies in the county — mainly formed in the previous six months thanks to organisers like Terence MacSwiney, Seán Nolan and Daithí Barry — were represented.
- Diarmuid Lynch from near Kinsale, Co Cork was among those who visited Tom Clarke’s Dublin shop, as were Con Colbert and Ned Daly, two of those who would be executed in May. (A key member of the IRB Supreme Council, Lynch had helped identify a suitable landing place in Kerry for German guns at Pearse’s behest the previous year.)
- Among those seen by Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) visiting Tom Clarke’s shop at 75 Parnell St were Seán MacDiarmada. Both were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Military Council, by now heavily advanced in planning the Rising. (Both would also be executed in its aftermath). MacDiarmada was also seen attending an Irish Volunteers drill parade in Parnell Square, Dublin.
- Michael O’Rahilly (the O’Rahilly, who would be killed during the Rising) and Éamon de Valera were seen visiting the Irish Volunteers head office in Dawson St.
- An anti-conscription meeting organised by the Irish Volunteers at Cork City Hall attracted 1,500 people, and 30 of the 150 Volunteers among them were armed. Fr Michael O’Flanagan, who presided at Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral the previous August, was the main speaker. Although his language was “strongly pro-German”, local police surmised it would have little effect. It nevertheless prompted the Daily Express to describe Sinn Féin (of which Fr O’Flanagan would later be president) and the Irish Volunteers as “a rising force”.
- Dublin Metropolitan Police saw Countess Constance Markievicz going into the office of John R Reynolds in College St. (Countess Markievicz was a key figure in James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army, who would take up arms in St Stephen’s Green on Easter Monday, 1916. Reynolds, a local head of he IRB, was in the GPO during the Rising.) Among those who met at the Volunteers’ offices were subsequent signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic on Easter Monday: Tomás MacDonagh, Seán MacDiarmada, and Pádraig Pearse, as well as Éamon de Valera, the O’Rahilly, and Volunteers founder Bulmer Hobson (who opposed a rebellion when he learned of the plans).
- Terence MacSwiney, full-time organiser for the Irish Volunteers in Cork organiser, and Thomas Kent, from Castlelyons, near Fermoy, were arrested for “seditious” speeches at Ballynoe in East Cork where they disrupted an army recruitment rally. Kent threatened hunger strike while awaiting charges. (Kent was executed in Cork on May 10, 1916, after being courtmartialed in relation to the shooting dead of Head Constable William Rowe a week earlier. MacSwiney would die on hunger strike in October 1920, when he was Lord Mayor of Cork, a TD in the first Dáil, and in command of the IRA’s Cork No 1 Brigade.) Tom Clarke’s shop was visited by MacDiarmada, Con Colbert (who would be executed along with Clarke and MacDiarmada after the Rising), and future President of Ireland Seán T O’Kelly.
- Hobson, Michael O’Hanrahan (another man executed for his role in the Rising), the O’Rahilly, Éamon de Valera, and others, were seen by police attending meetings at Irish Volunteers headquarters.
- Among those who the DMP observed at the Irish Volunteers’ Dawson St offices were MacDonagh, Hobson, MacDiarmada, Joseph Plunkett (IRB Military Council member, Proclamation signatory, and executed on May 4, 1916), Colbert and de Valera. The movements were also noted of JJ Walsh, one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers in Cork, who would fight in the Rising with the Hibernian Rifles, associated with the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He later became TD for Cork City, 1919-21.
- In Glasgow, two men were arrested in connection with raids for explosives at a rural coal mine. The offences were the work of local Irish Volunteers, who had been dispatching the gelignite to Dublin, which was now known to police and government officials in Ireland.
- A week of officer training courses for Irish Volunteers battalion officers began in their Dublin HQ. Over the weekend, DMP observed about 240 Irish Volunteers assemble and march under command of Ned Daly, Frank Fahy, Joseph McGuinness and Gerald Griffin. (Daly, commandant of the Volunteers Dublin 1st Battalion, would be executed on May 4, 1916).
- An Irish Volunteers general council meeting in Dublin was attended by members from around the country. Under the chair of Eoin MacNeill, training and equipping Volunteers was discussed, and a resolution passed deploring British policy of detaining Irish Volunteers without trial, sometimes without charge. Police reported those at the meeting included Pearse, O’Rahilly, Hobson, Plunkett, MacDiarmada, MacDonagh, and others.
- The IRB’s supreme council decided in Clontarf Town Hall to rise at the earliest possible date. They did not know the smaller IRB military council had already fixed Easter Sunday, April 23, for the Rising to begin.