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Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas

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Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

1916
by Morgan Llywelyn
The Conspiracy of Poets - the American Connection

1916

The Conspiracy of Poets - the American Connection

by Morgan Llywelyn

The Easter Rising of 1916 proved to be the turning point in 
Ireland's eight hundred year struggle against foreign domination. 
The American and French revolutions of the eighteenth century 
had inspired the Irish to make a similar bid for freedom in 1798, 
but they were defeated. The Act of Union in 1801 subsumed Ireland 
into Great Britain and denied its individual identity.
	Yet Irish nationalism refused to lie down and die. In 
1848 a group of devoted Protestants founded the Young Ireladers. 
Under a brand new flag - green, white, and orange tricolour - 
they led yet another revolt. This attempt failed like so many 
before, but would have far reaching consequences.
	Survivors of that struggle fled to America, where in 1858  
John O'Mahony founded the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood. This 
became the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret, oath bound  
society dedicated to establishing an independent Irish republic.  
From its inception the IRB received strong support from the Irish 
American organization called Clan na Gael.
	James Stephens was entrusted with the mission of returning 
to Ireland and organising the IRB there. The Irish branch of the 
Brotherhood called themselves Fenians, after the ancient Irish 
army of Fionn mac Cumhaill. Although the Catholic Church denounced 
the Fenians as a secret society, great numbers of Irish men enrolled. 
Even Irish soldiers serving in the British army took the Fenian oath.
	By the late nineteenth century Ireland had found other 
champions. The literary movement known as the Celtic Revival 
stimulated a wider interest in the past and in saving the Irish 
language. Foremost in this endeavor was the Gaelic League, 
founded in 1893 by Douglas Hyde. The official publication of the 
Gaelic League was edited by a writer and educationalist called 
Padraic Pearse, who wrote in 1903, "The Gaelic League will be 
recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that 
has ever come into Ireland."
	But it would require the Irish Republican Brotherhood' 
to give the Gaelic League muscle.

	In 1908 Pearse founded St. Enda's, a uniquely progressive 
school for Irish boys. Students were instructed in their own 
language and history, an education they were denied in the 
British-run National Schools. They also studied the classics, 
English and Irish literature, mathematics, science, art, 
architecture, music, put on heroic plays written by Mr. Pearse 
and other members of the Gaelic League, took part in a variety 
of team sports, and learned the skills of self-sufficiency such 
as carpentry and vegetable-growing. According to the Prospectus, 
St. Enda's promoted an active reverence for the virtues of decency, 
honesty, fortitude, and kindness.

	Pearse was assisted in the founding of the school by 
another Gaelic Leaguer and highly respected fellow poet, Professor 
Thomas MacDonagh, a lecturer in English at University College 
Dublin. MacDonagh worked with another young poet, Joseph Mary 
Plunkett, in the development of the Irish Theatre and in editing 
the Irish Review. Plunkett, whose many interests included science 
and philosophy, was the eldest son of Count Plunkett, the Director 
of the Museum of Science and Art. The 'conspiracy of poets' entered 
into by these three men would change the history of Ireland as Tom 
Paine had changed the history of America.
	By the eve of the First World War the situation in Ireland 
was volatile. There was massive labour unrest, particularly in 
Dublin. The fight for Home Rule that had dominated Irish politics 
for so long had finally resulted in a Home Rule Act that would 
allow the Ulster counties to opt out for six years. Even this did 
not satisfy the Ulster Unionists, who were determined to resist 
any form of native Irish government. In 1913 the Unionists 
introduced the threat of violence into Irish politics by founding 
and arming the Ulster Volunteer Force(UVF).  Against this background 
Padraic Pearse and his colleagues helped convene a huge public 
meeting in Dublin, at which the Irish National Volunteers was 
founded as a counter to the UVF. It was their belief, based on 
Ireland's long history and especially on the experience of the UVF, 
that the British government respected nothing but armed force.
	The fledgling militia needed weapons. But no sooner had 
the Volunteers been founded than the government outlawed the 
importation of weapons into Ireland - a move which the UVF 
flagrantly disregarded, and for which they were never punished. 
Help was at hand. however. The leader of the IRB in America, John 
Devoy, was watching events in Ireland with keen interest.
Members of the Brotherhood were quietly joining the Gaelic League 
and the Irish Volunteers, as well as the non-violent political 
party founded by Arthur Griffith and known as Sinn Fein. In 1914 
Padraic Pearse made a trip to the United States, ostensibly fund 
raising for St. Enda's. With the help of John Devoy and the IRB 
he was also raising money to arm and equip the Irish Volunteers.
	Two of the most potent IRB activists in Ireland were a 
young man called Sean MacDermott, and Thomas the Clarke, who ran 
a news agency in Dublin. Although crippled by polio, 
MacDermott rode his bicycle the length and breadth of Ireland in 
all weathers to recruit men for the IRB. Clarke was an old Fenian 
who had been convicted of attempted dynamiting in England in the 
1880s and served a long term in prison. Upon his release he 
emigrated to the United States and even took American citizenship, 
but eventually returned to Ireland to help create an Irish republic.
	James Connolly, a labor organizer who was involved in the 
Great Lockout of 1913 in Dublin, had also spent many years in the 
United States. Like Clarke, he had savoured America's freedom. 
These were the men whose signatures would join those of Pearse, 
Plunkett, MacDonagh and Eamonn Ceannt, a civil servant and gifted 
traditional musician, on the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
	When they marched out together on Easter Monday, they 
carried weapons purchased with funds largely supplied by 
Americans. Unfortunately many of the weapons destined for the 
Volunteers never reached them, however. The tragedy of the week 
that followed would become an icon in Irish history.
	The leaders of the Easter Rising were not the bloodthirsty
madmen their detractors would later claim.
	The three poets who would give their lives for the Republic 
were among the finest individuals Ireland has ever produced. Pearse, 
Plunkett, and MacDonagh shared the morality of a bygone era, 
combining innate decency and a strong sense of responsibility 
with unfailing courtesy and resolute self-discipline. Their deep 
love of nature and respect for all life is reflected in their 
poetry.
	James Connolly had formed a militia called the Citizen Army 
to defend the rights of Irish workers, and gave women the 
opportunity to carry weapons, hold rank, and ultimately to fight 
alongside the men in the Easter Rising. Connolly, earthy and often 
profane, was the diametric opposite in background and temperament 
to Pearse, the idealist. Each provided a necessary counterbalance 
for the other. The greatest tragedy of the Rising was that Pearse 
and Connolly were executed.  With them Ireland lost the broader 
vision of nationhood they espoused: a pluralist, non-sectarian 
society that would have gone a long way toward healing old wounds. 
In signing the Proclamation of the Irish Republic they also signed 
their death warrants.
	Critics claim that the Rising was a foolhardy act committed
by demented egomaniacs and doomed from the beginning. None of the 
leaders of the Easter Rising were professional soldiers, but they 
were highly intelligent men. By studying the original documents, 
anyone with a knowledge of military strategy will discover that 
the undertaking was thoroughly organised in painstaking detail. 
With the support of Irish Americans it might well have succeeded 
if everything had gone according to plan.
	The failure of the Republicans to seize Dublin and ultimately 
wrest control of the country from the British was the result of a 
series of unforeseen mishaps, including a crucial confusion of 
orders. Throughout history, victory and defeat have been determined 
by such accidents more often than by brilliant generalship.
	The poets paid for their audacious dream with their lives,
but the dream did not die with the last volley of rifle fire in 
Kilmainham Gaol. The outrage occasioned by their deaths shook 
Ireland out of its long apathy. Within weeks, the next step toward 
freedom was being planned. British prisons became universities for 
Republican revolutionaries such as Michael Collins and an 
American-born mathematics teacher called Eamon de Valera.
	The British government found itself faced by international 
condemnation, particularly from America. In an attempt to justify 
the brutal executions of Irish patriots the government leaked 
falsified document, accusing the patriots of a variety of criminal 
offences. It would not be the last time forged records were 
employed to blacken Irish reputations. But those who had known 
Pearse and the others did not believe the propaganda. Taking up 
the fallen flag, they fought, and won, the War of Independence.
The Civil War that followed the signing of the Treaty with Britain 
tore Ireland apart. A man born in America emerged to lead the 
fledgling Irish Free State. Then in 1949 that same man, Eamon de 
Valera, presided ever the realisation of the dream which had been 
shared by a conspiracy of poets and their American connection. The 
Republic of Ireland was born.

About the author: Morgan Llywelyn is Irish. by blood and 
citizenship - and by choice, as Constance Markievicz said 
of herself. Her most recent novel, 1916; A Novel Of The 
Irish Rebellion took ten years of research to complete. 
She is now working on 1921; A Novel of the War of 
Independence and hopes to complete her trilogy on 
Ireland in the first half of this century with 1949; 
A Novel of the Irish Republic.