The answer is very clear - continual recruitment for the British army, conscription at the end of 1916 and tens of thousands of our young men, doomed to fight in a war that was no concern of theirs, delivered into the charge of British generals renowned for their brutality and, even worse, incompetence.
Bishop Thomas O’Dwyer of Limerick - the same man who later stood up to General ‘Butcher’ Maxwell after the Rising, stated early in 1914: ‘What have Irishmen or their forebears ever got from England, that they should die for her? It is England’s war not Ireland’s.’
In the interests of Ireland and humanity, the Military Council of the IRB, and James Connolly, on Easter Sunday, decided to strike with all available forces in Dublin, at noon on Easter Monday, to challenge the might of a brutal empire, form a provisional government pending free elections with women as well as men participating - real democracy and this nation no longer to be guilty by association of the crimes of Empire.
Mr Bury also refers to denunciation of the rebellion by Francis Shaw SJ. Everybody is entitled to their political beliefs, even a Jesuit. But I suggest that if the reverend had spent a few months in the trenches with Irish troops - starving and covered with lice and continually poised between the threat of death from German gunfire and execution by their own officers if their nerves snapped - perhaps he would rethink his stand on the 1916 leaders and John Redmond’s crazy war policy.
Maybe, like Francis Ledwidge, then in British uniform, he would agree with the poet’s sentiments on the Rising:
‘A gallant failure is not in vain, it hath a victory of its own. A bright delectance from the plain down the generations thrown.’
Maybe if he survived the war, he might, like many thousands of Irish soldiers, have pledged his allegiance to the Irish republic and fought against England’s efforts to suppress the lawfully elected government of the Irish people.
Mr Bury denounces the record of the Irish state since 1921. Considering the cultural and economic devastation caused by centuries of British imperialism, we did very well.
Of course, mistakes were made, but all Irish governments were reformist. Steady progress was made. Astonishing things were achieved. One need only give three examples: de Valera’s clearance between 1932-39 of the Dublin slums which were the legacy of British rule; Cumann na nGael’s pioneering work in the promotion of the Shannon scheme; and the success of all the parties in ensuring Irish neutrality during the last war - the first time in hundreds of years that we were not dragged into wars caused by the aggressive policies or incompetence of the London junta.
In the future, historians will agree on the pivotal role played by Pearse, Connolly and their comrades in shaping Irish and world history. In measuring the results of Irish independence, they will agree that there was more good than bad, more successes than failures.
But future historians will also study with shocked disbelief the steady progress of British misrule over 80 years that has led us to the present ‘basket case’ in the Six Counties.
Nothing is perfect, though, and I suppose everything is relative. However, Mr Bury can rest assured that ‘An phoblacht abú’ with all its failings was and is a hundred times better than ‘Rule Britannia’.
Agus sin í an fhírinne.
Padraigh Ó Cuanacháin
Dún an Óir