Tag Archives: Ireland

1916 Live: documents recounting Ireland’s Easter Rising published in real time

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 - MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 – MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35 – Click to enlarge

Guest post by Naomi O’Leary

The small pink slip is a snapshot of a world about to be upended. Jotted in cursive is a message from the Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, telephoned to all stations. It reports the movements of a suspicious vehicle, at that moment parked at the headquarters of Irish radical nationalist activity, Liberty Hall. The note is time-stamped 10:50am, the 24th of April, 1916. It is one of hundreds that will be published on social media this month, telling the story of the Easter Rising in real-time exactly one century on.

Outwardly, the streets of Dublin were quiet on that bank holiday Monday. But behind the doors of Liberty Hall, feverish preparations were underway. Men and women had gathered with rifles, rations, ammunition, and a stack of hastily-printed posters declaring an independent Irish republic.

Within days, British artillery guns would be raining shells on Dublin city. A chain of events was about to be set in motion that would presage the fall of the British Empire. The writer of the telephone note sat in Dublin Castle, the centre of British power in Ireland for centuries. She could not have imagined that within six years, the stronghold would be handed over to an Irish government, in a scene that would be repeated around the world in the coming decades as former colonies broke free.

The following telephone messages, each time-stamped to the minute, capture the cascade of events. At 11:20am: “Fifty volunteers have now travelled by tram car 167 going in direction of the city”. At 11:50, an anonymous report: “The volunteers are turning everyone out of St Stephen’s Green Park”. By 12:20, the world had changed. The Superintendent of the G Division, which tracked political crime, telephoned to the representative of the British Monarchy in Ireland, Lord Lieutenant Wimborne: “The Sinn Fein volunteers have attacked the Castle and have possession of the G.P.O.”

I came across these hundreds of telephone messages in the personal papers of Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the top civil servant in Dublin Castle that spring of 1916. Jotted down in the thick of events, sometimes in frantic handwriting, they such give a vivid account of the six day rebellion I felt my pulse beat faster.

Their brevity and immediacy reminded me of my own reporting of live events as a journalist, particularly of protests that threatened to spill out of control.

With the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and the help of volunteer transcribers, I have put together a project to mark the centenary of the rebellion by publishing each update on social media at the time it was logged, exactly one hundred years later. A short version of the updates will go out on Twitter from @1916live, while full documents will be published simultaneously at www.1916live.com.

The reason the documents survive as a collection is precisely because they give such a rich account of the rebellion. As the most senior figure in Dublin Castle, Nathan resigned after the revolt and was called to explain how it had happened to a Royal Commission of Inquiry in London. He gathered up his correspondence along with the telephone and telegraph records of Dublin Castle, and arranged them into chronological order into a collection that was later bound in leather. It was one among hundreds of boxes of his papers given to the Bodleian Library after his death. The documents in it span the course of the rising, concluding with the rebels’ surrender on April 29th.

This project will allow anyone in the world to experience this key moment in history as it unfolded through a unique primary resource. Publishing the telephone notes on Twitter seems particularly appropriate, as they are the records of a new system of technology from the time that allowed for real-time communication, which ultimately gave British authorities a key advantage in their response to the rebellion. The material will remain online afterwards as a freely accessible resource for the future.

For any questions or suggestions, please contact 1916live@gmail.com

Lord Southborough papers now available

Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough

Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough, MS. Photogr. c. 185, fol. 56

The archive of the civil servant Francis Hopwood, first Baron Southborough (1860–1947), has now been catalogued and is available in reading rooms in the Weston Library.

Trained as a solicitor, Southborough had a fascinating career in the public service. The consummate civil servant, he worked at the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, and the Colonial Office when the British Empire was at its territorial peak. A skilled negotiator who was involved in public affairs at the highest level, he (among many other duties) served as secretary of the Select Committee investigating the botched Jameson Raid (1895-96), was entrusted with a secret peace mission to Scandinavia during World War I, and was elected as secretary of the Irish Convention which attempted to resolve the “Irish Question” following the Easter Uprising of 1916.

Southborough also worked closely with members of the British royal family and royal household, and was involved with the acquisition and cutting of the famous Cullinan Diamond, resulting in nine principle gems, two of which (known as the Great Star of Africa and the Second Star of Africa) today form part of the Imperial State Crown and the Sovereign’s Sceptre With Cross. The archive also includes a box of letters from Princess Louise and a typescript account (attributed to Princess Louise) of life in the royal household under Queen Victoria.

The general correspondence is also fascinating, and the archive includes letters from characters as diverse as the fervent naval reformer Admiral Lord Fisher and the author Edith Wharton. There are also significant tranches of letters from Southborough’s close colleague Winston Churchill (they worked together in the Admiralty); the South African prime ministers Louis Botha and Jan Smuts; Bernard Forbes, Lord Granard, corresponding about Irish affairs and the conduct of the Dardanelles Campaign in World War I; and Wiliam Humble Ward, Lord Dudley, while he was governer of Australia.

The archive is astonishingly rich and has a very wide range of research potential, not least for students of British political history.

This week in 1893: The Government of Ireland Bill and Irish Home Rule

A poster showing the Home Rule Bill clauses ‘gagged’ and those discussed in the the House of Commons (Click here for a larger and zoomable version)

In 1893, Gladstone put his second Home Rule Bill to the House Commons. Although it narrowly passed in the Commons, it was defeated soundly by the Conservative majority in the House of Lords.

Gladstone had asked Parliament to grant Ireland Home Rule in 1886, but his attempt not only failed but sparked riots in Belfast and splits in the Liberal Party; it also cost Gladstone the Premiership. He regained power 1892 and quickly put forward the the 1893 Government of Ireland Bill. The controversial bill, drafted in secret, led to nationwide debates and even fist fights in Parliament.

Many Conservatives opposed the Bill and the concept of Home Rule. They sided with the Liberal Unionist Party, who broke away from the Liberals and Gladstone’s support of Home Rule, and the issue continued to divide the Party until (and even after) 1914. The 1894 Conservative Party Campaign Guide called Home Rule ‘the great question of contemporary politics’ (PUB 224/16). It went on to criticise Parnell and the leaders of the Home Rule movement, claiming that they had been ‘in friendly relations with the most atrocious criminals’. The guide laid out the Party’s foremost arguments against Home Rule in 1894, including issues of nationality and historical connection, and it discounted the popular arguments that Ireland could be similar to other independent colonies and that ruling would require ‘coercion’.

It is worth pointing out that the concept of Home Rule changed over time. Gladstone did not argue for total Irish independence; in fact, he insisted that any Home Rule scheme should not be inconsistent with Imperial unity. The 1893 bill allowed Irish representatives to Parliament, but it retained Parliament’s supremacy on Imperial issues (a particularly controversial issue in Parliament). When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was enacted following Ireland’s War of Independence, it allowed for an Irish Free State as a separate nation in the British Empire, and offered Northern Ireland the opportunity to withdraw from the Irish Free State – not quite what Gladstone had in mind.