Part 12 Dublin: The Stage is Set
John Kenny traveled frequently to Ireland from 1907, when Clarke returned there, until 1914. He witnessed the conditions that were leading inexorably to Clarke’s decision to go ahead with an uprising.
In Dublin, the poor were living in disease-ridden tenements that, long neglected, would occasionally collapse. Disease was rampant and infant mortality shockingly high for a European city. Workers labored long hours for poor pay and no benefits.
When transit workers went on strike in August 1913, employer retaliation was swift and harsh. Several hundred employers locked their employees, affecting over 25,000 workers. The Dublin Metropolitan Police viciously attacked a union rally, killing two and injuring three hundred. The strikers managed to hold out until early 1914 before finally, near the point of starvation, they returned to work, signing pledges that they would not join the union.
A Home Rule Bill was finally passed in 1912 and scheduled to go into effect in 1914. But fierce opposition came from the Ulster Unionists, mostly Protestant, and fearing that “Home Rule” by the predominantly Catholic south meant “Rome Rule.” In September 1912, almost half a million people in Ulster signed a pledge vowing to oppose Home Rule by any means necessary. In January 1913, The Ulster Volunteer Force (U.V.F), several hundred thousand strong, was formed, vowing to resist Home Rule with military force if necessary.
In answer to the formation of the U.V.F., the Irish Volunteer Force was founded in November 1913, to reinforce the enactment of Home Rule.
Over the next few months it became increasingly evident that the British Government would be less than committed to enforcing Home Rule when the time came.
In March 1914, when British army officers stationed at the Curragh, County Kildare, offered to resign rather than fight the Ulster Volunteers, the British government backed down. A month later, the Ulster Volunteer Force landed almost 25,000 rifles and 3–5 million rounds of ammunition, bought from Germany, without a hitch. This fed a growing suspicion that the government turned a blind eye as the U.V.F. armed themselves.
Watching from afar as the Ulster Volunteers openly armed themselves, the Irish Americans began to collect funds to underwrite the Irish Volunteers. In June 1914, Devoy, Kenny, and other Irish-American leaders formed the Irish National Volunteers Committee to raise funds to arm Ireland’s new “Army of National Defense” with Kenny as president.
The first shots were fired in late July, 1914. On July 26, the Irish Volunteers landed 900 Mauser rifles in Howth Harbor, just outside of Dublin. The police and a detachment of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, dispatched to stop the Irish Volunteers returning to Dublin with the guns, were able to seize only 19 guns. Frustrated, the Scottish Borderers marched back towards their barracks, when they met with an unarmed but hostile jeering crowd, mocking them for their inability to capture the guns. An officer’s order to face the crowd was misinterpreted, and shots were fired into the crowd, followed by a volley of gunshot. Three people were killed instantly and another died later; thirty-eight people were injured. The killing of unarmed civilians caused shock and outrage; new members flocked to the Irish Volunteers.
Shortly after the outbreak of war between Germany and Britain, on August 4, 1914, the enactment of the Home Rule Bill was suspended.
It was the declaration of war by Britain, on Germany, on August 4, 1914, that lit the fuse on the long-delayed Irish rebellion.
It started in New York.