Eoin MacNeill (1867-1945)


Life
[or John MacNeill; var. McNeill, D.Litt.]; b. 15 May, Glenarm, Co. Antrim; ed. St. Malachy’s Belfast and Royal University of Ireland [Dublin]; president [commander-in-chief] Irish volunteers, br. of James [see supra] spent holidays in Inis Mean, Aran; in response to Hyde’s “Necessity ... &c.” (1893), he published ‘A Plea and a Plan for the Extension of the Movement to Preserve and Spread the Gaelic Language in Ireland’ (1893); co-founder and first Secretary of Gaelic League/Connradh na Gaeilge, 1893; ed. Gaelic Journal, 1894-98, and Fainne an Lae, 1898-99, and Claidheamh Soluis, 1899-1901 after the failure of the first leading to its take-over by the Gaelic League; co-founded Feis Ceol, 1899; cancelled long-running serialisation of An tAth. Peadar Ó Laoghaire’s Seadna in Gaelic Journal (1894-97) over dispute arising from the priest’s advocacy of Munster Irish; appt. 1st Professor of Early Irish History UCD, 1909-45;
 

issued “The North Began” in An Claideamh Soluis (1 Nov. 1913), commissioned by The O’Rahilly (then editor); commended the UVF’s discovery of ‘the principle that Irishmen have the right to decide and govern their own national affairs’; attended the inaugural Volunteer meeting on 25th Nov. 1913 in the Rotunda Rink, Dublin, where 3,000 men enlisted immediately for the new militia; declared that the Volunteers had ‘nothing to fear from the existing Volunteers in Ulster, nor they from us’; elected Chief of Staff of the new force [hence called leader of extremists in ODNB]; supported the IPP[arliamentary] leader John Redmond who demanded half the seats on the Volunteers Provisional Committee for his nominee, 1914; participated in making arrangements for Howth gun-running; opposed Redmond’s call for enlistment of Volunteers in British Army; believed that conscription in Ireland would supply popular support for action by Volunteers; subjected to forged ‘Castle Document’ indicating that the govt. was about to arrest Volunteer leaders;

 
objected to the fait accompli in which Volunteers were called out for an exercise and thrown unknowingly into action; countermanded mobilization on learning an insurrection was planned by Pearse and others (‘we have used your name for what is was worth, but we have done with you now’); arrested in the aftermath to the Rising; sentence to life imprisonment but released 1917 and rehabilitated in the nationalist movement, receiving respectful tokens from de Valera and others; elected Nat. MP for Derry, 1918 and became a Dáil member, at first Speaker, then Finance Minister, Jan.-April 1919; replaced by Michael Collins, becoming Minister for Industries, April 1919-Aug 1921; appt. Minister without Portfolio in Provisional Government; appt. Minister for Education, Aug.-Dec. 1922, and also during Dec. 1922-Nov. 1925;
 
contrib. to Irish Review, 1922; appt. to the Boundary Commission to represent the Free State, Nov. 1924, but resigned from Commission, 20, Nov. 1925, following leak of no-change position to Morning Post, 7 Nov.; refused to accept the report and outcome of the Commission; retired from politics, 1927; fnd. Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1929; chaired committee charged with simplying the Irish language in the draft Constitution; elected President of Royal Soc. of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1937-40; elected RIA Pres., 1940-43; d. 15 Oct. 1945, Dublin; regarded as the father of the modern study of early Irish medieval history; there is an obituary by C. P. Curran (Irish Independent, 21 Oct. 1945);
 
MacNeill’s sons Turlough, Brian and Niall were anti-Treaty volunteers, of whom the first-named was summarily executed by Treaty forces with five other republicans on Benbulben (aetat. 21); the tanaiste Michael McDowell is a grandson of MacNeill. ODNB DIB DIW DIH FDA DUB OCIL WJM

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Works
Chief works
  • “The North Began”, in An Claimheadh Soluis (1 Nov. 1913), p.6. [see text]
  • Phases of Irish History (Dublin: M. H. Gill 1919; facs. rep. 1968);
  • Celtic Ireland (Dublin: Martin Lester 1921);
  • Early Irish laws and Institutions (Dublin: Burns Oates and Washbourne 1933), 155pp.
Pamphlets
  • ‘Why and how the Irish language is to be preserved’, in Irish Ecclesiastical Record [Vol. XII Nollaig 1891] (Dublin 1893);
  • ‘Toghairm agus Gleus Oibre’, in Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge (Marta 1893)
[The foregoing supplied by Frankie Sewell, UU Coleraine.]
Miscellaneous
  • ‘Memorandum I (February 1916’), in ‘Eoin MacNeill and the Rising’, ed. F. X. Martin, Irish Historical Studies, 12, 47 (March 1961), pp.234-40.
  • Foreword to John Mitchel, An Ulsterman for Ireland, being the letters to the Protestant farmers, labourers, and artisans of the North of Ireland (Dublin: Three Candles Press 1917).

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Criticism
  • Féil-sgríbhinn Eóin Mhic Néill (Dublin: Three Candles Press 1940); Do. [rep.], John Ryan, ed. (Four Courts 1995), incl. bibliography of his works;
  • John Ryan, ‘Eoin Mac Neill 1867-1945’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 34 (1945), pp.433-48;
  • Michael Tierney, ‘Eoin MacNeill, A Bibliographical Study’, in Saint Patrick, by Eoin MacNeill, ed. John Ryan (Dublin: Three Candles Press 1964), p.9-34;
  • Francis Shaw, S.J., ‘Eoin Mac Neill’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 55 (1966), [cp]5.
  • F. X. Martin, ed. Eoin MacNeill: Scholar and Man of Action 1876-1945, by Michael Tierney (OUP 1980) [var. 1981], with full biblography;
  • F. X. Martin, with John Francis Byrne, eds., The Scholar Revolutionary: Eoin MacNeill and the Making of the New Ireland (Shannon: IUP 1973) [12 contribs. incl. Donal McCartney, ‘MacNeill and Irish-Ireland’, pp.75-98; Francis Shaw, S.J. (as infra)];
  • John Ryan, Essays and Studies presented to Professor Eoin MacNeill (Dublin: Three Candles Press 1940);
  • Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, ‘The Irish-Ireland Idea, Rationale and Relevance’, in Culture in Ireland, Division or Diversity?, ed. Edna Longley (IIS/QUB 1991), pp.54-71 [endorsing John Hutchinson’s observation in The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism, 1987, that MacNeill’s yoking of Irishness to the Christian tradition of saints and scholars was different from Hyde’s and more amenable to inclusion in the clerical agenda of contemporary Catholic Ireland].
See also ...

F. X. Martin, ed., The Irish Volunteers (Duffy 1963); John Francis Byrne, Irish Kings and Highkings (1973) [incl. an appraisal of MacNeill’s Irish historical scholarship].

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Commentary
Lady Gregory - letter to G. B. Shaw (Aug. 1916): ‘I wish something could be done for John McNeill [sic; in contrast to Casement for whom she feels little enthusiasm after the diary revelations], a scholar to the backbone and most generous in his help to learners. There are such masses of MSS to be translated while he is making sacks in gaol.’ (See Lucy McDiarmid, reviewing Dan H Lawrence and Nicholas Grene, eds., Shaw, Lady Gregory, and the Abbey, A Correspondence and a Record, Colin Smythe 1993 [ILS, Spring 1994, pp.4-6.)

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James Stephens, The Insurrection in Dublin (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. 1916): ‘[...] It would be interesting to know why, on the eve of the insurrection, Professor MacNeill resigned the presidency of the Volunteers. The story of treachery which was heard in the streets is not the true one, for men of his type are not traitors, and this statement may be dismissed without further comment or notice. One is left to imagine what can have [84] happened during the conference which is said to have preceded the rising, and which ended with the resignation of Professor MacNeill. / This is my view, or my imagining, of what occurred. The conference was called because the various leaders felt that a hostile movement was projected by the Government, and that the times were exceedingly black for them. Neither Mr. Birrell nor Sir Mathew Nathan had any desire that there should be a conflict in Ireland during the war. This cannot be doubted. From such a conflict there might follow all kinds of political repercussions; but although the Government favoured the policy of laissez faire, there was a powerful military and political party in Ireland whose whole effort was towards the disarming and punishment of the Volunteers - particularly I should say the punishment of the Volunteers. I believe, or rather I imagine, that Professor MacNeill was approached at the instance of Mr. Birrell or Sir Matthew Nathan and assured that the Government did not meditate any move against his men, and that so long as his Volunteers remained quiet they would not be molested by [85] the authorities. I would say that Professor MacNeill gave and accepted the necessary assurances, and that when he informed his conference of what had occurred, and found that they did not believe faith would be kept with them, he resigned in the despairing hope that his action might turn them from a purpose which he considered lunatic, or, at least, by restraining a number of his followers from rising, he might limit the tale of men who would be uselessly killed.’ (pp.84-86.)

Stephen Gwynn, Irish Literature and Drama (1936): ‘At the same time Professor Eoin MacNeill had begun that work of reconstructing our conceptions of the early Irish states by an intensive study of the old genealogies, law tracts, and such matter, which appeared a dead jungle till be brought it back to life. No other scholar has limited his study so strictly to the original texts, and the divining power which he brought to the task has given intelligible reality to what was least comprehensible.’ (p.181.)

Maurice Headlam, Irish Reminiscences (1947): ‘The split in the Volunteers was started, the day before the Prime Minister came to Dublin to make a recruiting speech, by a manifesto, signed by MacNeill and others who were afterwards concerned in the Rebellion of 1916. This manifesto detailed Mr Redmond’s crimes. [... &c.; see longer extract under Redmond, infra.]

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Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘The moderate are forced to stand aside, helpless at their inability to control the flood of passion. One thinks of the gentle scholar Eoin MacNeill, head of the Irish Volunteers, not consulted in plans for the Easter Rising. Pearse’s words to him echo the tragic tensions of the times: “Yes, you were deceived, but it was necessary.”’ (p.107.)

Joseph Lee, Modernisation of Ireland, 1850-1918 (Dublin 1973), Eoin MacNeill showed in “The North Began” his characteristic combination of insight and illusion. [...] The essential assumption was that Ulster Protestant attitudes were basically the consequences of British duplicity. The Unionist mentality was attributed to the divide and conquer polities pursued by Britain. Once the British notified the Unionists that their interests would be satisfactorily guarded in a home rule state the scales would drop from their eyes and they too would enter the promised land ... [18-19] Eoin MacNeill showed in ‘The North Began’ his characteristic combination of insight and illusion. [...] The essential assumption was that Ulster Protestant attitudes were basically the consequences of British duplicity. The unionist mentality was attributed to the divide and conquer polities pursued by Britain. Once the British notified the Unionists that their interests would be satisfactorily guarded in a home rule state the scales woudl drop from their eyes and they too would enter the promised land [...; 18-19.]

Quotes MacNeill: ‘History shows that this present sentiment of theirs is a calculated outcome of persistent and unscrupulous policy of English statesmen pursued purely in “the English interest” ... The rest of the Ulster difficulty consists of fears and prophecies.’ Dismissed fears that under Home Rule ‘the religion and industry of Ulster Protestants would be suppressed’ with the triumphant affirmaton that ‘there is no body of people in the world more free from intolerance in matters of religion than the Catholics of Ireland.’ (The Ulster Difficulty, Dublin 1917, pp.24, 23; Lee, op. cit., p.19).

Joseph Lee, Modernisation of Ireland, 1850-1918 (Dublin 1973) - cont.: MacNeill felt that only if ‘the vital principle of nationality’ was at stake could a rising be morally justified. He also held that ‘unacceptible measures could morally be resisted’, including the attempt to make the Volunteers surrender their arms. (Lyons, Ireland, p.347-48). Lee concludes, the differences between MacNeill and Pearse were less those of moral principle than of tactical opinion. [27] MacNeill had a horror of state intervention, ‘The use of Irish public servants was and would be mainly conditioned by the public attitude on the matter and ... a purely bureaucratic and official favouring of Irish, in the absence of a strongly [? would be hardly] more than a barren conformity’; and further, ‘you might as well be putting wooden leg on hens as trying to restore Irish through the school system.’ (MacNeill to Cosgrave, 22 Oct 1924; SPO S3717) [133]. Lee speaks of MacNeill’s image of Ireland isle of saints and sages, and ‘schoolmasters of Europe’. [133]. (Cont.)

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Joseph Lee, Modernisation of Ireland, 1850-1918 (Dublin 1973) - cont.: Eoin MacNeill appointed to represent the Free State on the Commission confronted by Mr Justice Feetham, an English born South Africa Supreme Court veteran. ... Controversy has concentrated on the appointment of MacNeill. When the Commission agreed on the exchange of S. Armagh for East Donegal, W. T. Cosgrave’s Govt. quickly opted for the status quo, accepting relief from the share of the British national debt stipulated in Art. 5. Did MacNeill handled negotiations effectively? According to Prof. Mansergh, ‘a more agile, if need be less principled, Irish member would at least have ensured that the break came earlier ...’ (See Mansergh, ‘Eoin MacNeill - a reappraisal’, in Studies 73, Summer 1974; also G. J. Hand, ‘MacNeill and the Boundary Commission’, in Scholar Revolutionary, ed. Martin and Byrne, 1973, p.272. Desmond Williams wonders, ‘Was it prudent to send such an ambassador?’ [144-147].

D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London: Routledge 1982; 1991 Edn.), discussing the theory of Gaelic high-kingship developed by MacNeill: ‘thus the twentieth-century scholar, Eoin macNeill, sought to prove that there was a high-kingship of Ireland, an Irish law of a national extent, and a king who was supreme judge and law-giver.’ (p.26; citing F. X. Martin, with J. F. Byrne, eds., The Scholar Revolutionary: Eoin MacNeill and the Making of the New Ireland, Shannon 1973.)

Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, ‘The Irish-Ireland Idea, Rationale and Relevance’, in Culture in Ireland, Division or Diversity?, ed. Edna Longley (IIS/QUB 1991), pp.54-71, endorses John Hutchinson’s observation in The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism (1987), that MacNeill’s yoking of Irishness to the Christian tradition of saints and scholars was different from Hyde’s and more amenable to inclusion in the clerical agenda of contemporary Catholic Ireland.

Léon Ó Bróin, Protestant Nationalists in Revolutionary Ireland (1985), index, Gaelic League [formidable contribution expounding its philosophy], 11; writes on Home Rule [The North Began described Ulster Volunteer movement as essentially a home rule movement, and as the British Army had not been used against it, nor could it be used to prevent the rest of the country having a like force; seized on especially by Hobson, who recognised its revolutionary possibilities], 61-2; Chief of Staff of Irish Volunteers [Ireland could not take part in foreign quarrels until legislatively independent; repudiated Redmond], 64; confronts Pearse [alleged Castle document purporting to show that the govt. was about to disarm the Volunteers; at first credulous, but later recognised it as bogus; wrung admission that Rising was intended from Pearse; told him he would do everything in his power short of informing the government to prevent it; had notice inserted in Sunday Independent, and instructed Hobson and JJ O’Connell to take charge of Cork and Dublin], 81; surprised by Rising [, 86; position of, after rising, 104; actions during Easter Week, 114-16; arrest and trial, 116-117; returns to Dublin, 146; member of Dáil, 166-67; criticised Boundary Commission proposals, 205-07; looks at position of Irish language, 207-09, 217; death, 218.

Donal McCartney, ‘MacNeill and Irish-Ireland’, in The Scholar Revolutionary: Eoin MacNeill and the Making of the New Ireland, ed. F. X. Martin & F. J. Byrne (Dublin 1973): ‘MacNeill’s cultural nationalism was almost a copy-book reproduction of that preached by the great romantic nationalists … Like the European nationalists his appeal was “to the masses” and Irish should cultivated “for the people”, “however poor and struggling”, and not for the students.’ (p.86; cited in Nuala C. Johnson, ‘Making Space: Gaeltacht Policy and the Politics of Identity’, in Brian Graham, ed., Geography Bibliography, In Search of Ireland: A Cultural Geography of Ireland, Routledge 1997, 174-91, p.181.)

Prionsias Mac Cana, ‘Notes on the Early Irish Concept of Unity’, The Crane Bag, Vol. 1, Nos. 1 & 2 (1978): ‘Eoin MacNeill once wrote that the Pentarchy – the division of Ireland into five provinces ruled by five kings of equal status – “is the oldest certain fact in the political history of Ireland”, a statement so well supported by tradition as to be almost axiomatic. The corollary of this – as has since been argued with convincing logic by D.A Binchy – is that the “high-kingship” as a political reality is late and largely spurious. However, if the pentarchy thus helps to discredit the notion of a supreme political monarchy, at the same time (by a kind of paradox that is not unfamiliar in the Irish context) it also has the effect of highlighting the underlying conceptual unity of the country. The word for a province in Irish is cuigeadh , Old Irish coiced , literally “a fifth”, and cuigidh na hEireann is still a familiar synonym for “the whole of Ireland”; and as the fraction presupposes the whole, so the five provinces, though politically discrete, are conceived as mere fractions of a single all-embracing totality coterminous with the land of Ireland. The pattern of a central province enclosed by four others representing the cardinal points cannot be explained otherwise than as a historical reflex of an ancient cosmographic schema, and one which has striking analogues in the several “Great Traditions” of the world. This cosmography is implicit in many incidental details of the extant tradition, though only one fairly extended exposition of it survives, in a Middle Irish text on “The Disposition of the Manor of Tara”. This defines the extent of the provinces and their attributes and it declares that a pillarstone with five ridges on it, one for each of the five provinces, was erected at Uisnech. The central province was known as Mide (from an older Meidon , “Middle”) and within it stood the hill of Uisnech, supposedly the centre of Ireland, or as Giraldus Cambroensis puts it: umbilicus Hiberniae dicitur, quaesi in medio et meditullio terrae positus . (Ibid., pp.60-61.)’

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Edna Longley, ‘From Cathleen to Anorexia’, in The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994), ‘[P]rior to the 1916 Rising, MacNeill sent round a circular trying to lower the temperature: “What we call our country is not a poetical abstraction … There is no such person as Cathleen Ni Houlihan … who is calling upon us to serve her.”’ (pp.173-95; p.175; see also remarks on 1916 Rising, quoted infra.)

BAIS Newsletter (No. 15, July 1998), refers to Charles O’Beirne’s defence of Eoin MacNeill against charge of ‘cynical betrayal’ in Foinse (April 1998).

Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, reviewing Oonagh Walsh, Ireland’s Independence (2002), writes that F. X. Martin was grossly inaccurate in his account of MacNeill and the formation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 - MacNeill did not, for instance, advocate the fromation of such a force in his article “The North Began” in A Claidheamh Soluis. [...&c.]’ (Books Ireland, Sept. 2002, p.213.)

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Quotations
How the Volunteers Began’, in The Irish Volunteeers 1913-1915: ‘I felt it was hardly possible for any Irishman [in 1913] to stand aside in the coming political struggle. While I still hold this view, I accuse myself of one serious mistake. Though Irishmen as Irishmen might be obliged to do their part in the political struggle, that did not imply that very organisation or association to which they belong should also be thought into political activity [...] I now think that the Gaelic League should have adhered to its own programme and should have kept entirely clear of politics, and that its failure to do so, for which I am in part responsible, has been bad for the objects of the League and has had other bad results in the time that followed.’ (p.71; quoted in Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde, 1974, p.173.)

If we are right nationally, it is our duty to get our countrymen on our side, and not to be content with the vanity of thinking ourselves to be right and other Irish people to be wrong.’ [Memorandum, Feb. 1916;] quoted in as a epigraph [inter al.] in Francis Shaw, ‘The Canon of Irish History: A Challenge’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, LXI, 242 (Dublin 1972), pp.116 - citing ‘Eoin MacNeill on the 1916 Rising’, ed. F. X. Martin, in Irish Historical Studies, March 1961, p.239.)

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The North Began, in An Claidheamh Soluis (1 Nov. 1913), p.9.

The North Began Eoin MacNeill From An Claidheamh Soluis, 1 November 1913, p. 6* A wonderful state of things has come to pass in Ulster. Three distinct parties, each too weak to be of much force in politics, have ranged themselves against home rule. These are the Orange industrial workers, mainly Church of Ireland Protestants; the Presbyterian rural community; and the remnant of the feudal aristocracy. The first two elements have been drawn together by what is called the ‘No-Popery’ sentiment. This fact has been turned to account by the third element, and, when dual ownership, land purchase, and the abolition of grand jury government had apparently consigned feudalism to the incurable ward, a combination of landlords, land-agents, land-lawyers, and their adherents, in return for conferring the stamp of ‘respectability’ on the ‘No-Popery’ sentiment, has managed to secure the control of an alliance of wage-earners and rent-payers. That this is literally true may be verified by anyone who consults the newspaper files for (1) the names of those who took the initiative in the organization of the Ulster ‘Unionist Clubs’, and (2) the names of the numerous personnel of the Ulster ‘Provisional Government’. To attain such an ascendancy seems almost a miracle of political adroitness, but there is another side of the picture.

The Parliament Act deprived Irish feudalism of what hitherto had been its chief resource, the effective support of British feudalism in the legislature. Then the masters of the Ulster triple alliance decided on an extraordinary step, the enrolment of a Volunteer force manned by their ‘allies’, the ‘Unionist’ wage-earners and rentpayers. Of the three ‘allied’ forces, one only, the managing element, is really ‘Unionist’. Intermarriage, social inter-course, and selfinterest unite the decaying feudal aristocracy of Ireland to the still opulent feudal aristocracy of Great Britain; but history shows and observation confirms that the Orange democracy and the Presbyterian rural party are home rulers in principle and in essence. The loyalty of Orangemen to the ‘Crown’, the ‘Constitution’, the ‘Empire’, and the ‘Union’ arise[s] out of the notion that these entities secure them in possession of home rule and a little more. But whenever any abatement of that little more seems likely to come from constitutional developments, loyalty and affection instantaneously put on a different face. The Presbyterian country party, as history shows, though slower to move and understand, is not less radically attached to home rule than the Orange party.

The skill of the feudal element in obtaining the lead is more than counterbalanced by their fatuity in starting among the essential home rulers of their present following the most decisive move towards Irish autonomy that has been made since O’Connell invented constitutional agitation. The Ulster Volunteer movement is essentially and obviously a home rule movement. It claims no doubt, to hold Ireland ‘for the Empire’; but really it is no matter whether Ireland is to be held for the empire or for the empyrean, against the pope, against John Redmond, or against the man in the moon. What matters is by whom Ireland is to be held. Lord Lansdowne, speaking recently against home rule, spoke fine old medieval words, ‘We have Ireland and we mean to keep her.’ The Ulster Volunteers reply, ‘We are going to hold Ireland—of course for your lordships.’

The true meaning of this extraordinary development is dawning painfully on English Unionists. They are beginning to understand that Sir Edward Carson has knocked the bottom out of Unionism. To add to their comfort, a Mr Arnold White has been proving in elaborate detail that the present available resources of the British army are not sufficient to put down the Volunteer movement in four of the thirty-two Irish counties. In any case, it appears that the British army cannot now be used to prevent the enrolment, drilling, and reviewing of Volunteers in Ireland. There is nothing to prevent the other twenty-eight counties from calling into existence citizen forces to hold Ireland ‘for the Empire’. It was precisely with this object that the Volunteers of 1782 were enrolled, and they became the instrument of establishing self-government and Irish prosperity. Their disbanding led to the destruction alike of self-government and of prosperity, and the opportunity of rectifying a capital error of this sort does not always come back again to nations.

The more responsible section of English Unionist opinion has taken alarm and is tentatively drawing away from the two-edged sword of ‘Ulster’. But even the rashest English Unionists are clearly in great uneasiness; and while they threaten with Ulster, they are openly

beseeching the other side to find them a way out of their mess. Dick Steele’s creditors once sent him a deputation, as they said, ‘to discuss his difficulties with him’. ‘Pardon me, gentlemen,’ was his remark, ‘your difficulties, not mine.’ Sir Edward Carson proclaimed that, in launching his new Ulster policy, he had not counted the cost. It looks like it.

The moral of the story is that, in public movements, every element of sham and insincerity is a mortgage given to destiny. I do not say that Sir Edward Carson is insincere. Probably he, too, like the Orangemen and Presbyterians, is at heart a home ruler, and thinks that the sort of home rule that he wants is best guaranteed by the semblance of government from outside. His English allies, however, hoped that his master-move would do effective electioneering work for them, and the fact that since he ‘drew the sword’ in Ulster he has devoted most of his energies to a political tour in Great Britain shows that he has lent himself to the game. That does not pay. In Ulster, too, the local managers, the feudal remnant, who have good reason not to be in earnest when they make a military array of wage-earners and rent-payers, thus mounting and loading a machine gun whose mechanism they cannot hope to control, have shown their hand and have been found evidently bluffing. Their ‘Provisional Government’, with its pompous detail of phantom departments, put on paper in secret session at a Belfast club, is the most ridiculous piece of political histrionics ever staged. A parcel of schoolboys would be ashamed to own it. In order to pretend strength they arranged to hold reviews in such overwhelming nationalists districts as Omagh, Raphoe, Armagh, Newry and Kilkeel, but perhaps the crowning sham was the announcement of an insurance fund of £1,000,000. The real insurance fund for real war is fighting material, men, arms, ammunition, transport, ships, fortifications; and those who are in earnest about war will not devote a penny to any other sort of insurance. All this shows that feudalism in Ireland is doating as well as decaying, and the cheap cuteness that can play successfully upon religious fanaticism is no proof of any higher form of intelligence. English Unionists realize, explicitly or instinctively, that the Ulster Volunteers have scuttled the ship; some of them, sooner than admit their discomfiture, are hankering after the separation from Ireland of what they are pleased to call ‘homogeneous Ulster’, namely, the four eastern counties. Not a single responsible man and no assembly of men in Ireland has authorized this proposal. All nationalist opinion and any Unionist opinion that has been expressed is strongly hostile to it. And foe a very good reason.

There is no ‘homogeneous Ulster’. It is impossible to separate from Ireland the city that Saint Patrick founded, the city that Saint Columba founded, or the tombs of Patrick, Brigid and Columba. They would defy and nullify the attempt. It is impossible to separate from Ireland the ‘frontier town’ of Newry, the men of south Down, Norman and Gael, the Gaelic stock of the Fews that hold ‘the Gap of the North’, the glensmen of south Derry, or north Antrim. If there were any possibility of civil war, if civil war were assured, not to speak of its being insured, these districts alone would hold immovable all the resources of General—I believe— Richardson. There are besides the 100,000 nationalist home rulers of Belfast, and others, Protestants, Catholic, Orange and Presbyterian, in every corner of the four counties, who under any change of government are certain to ‘revert to type’. With what facility they have fallen in with the idea of holding Ireland—for the empire!

It is evident that the only solution now possible is for the empire either to make terms with Ireland or to let Ireland go her own way. In any case, it is manifest that all Irish people, Unionist as well as nationalist, are determined to have their own way in Ireland. On that point, and it is the main point, Ireland is united. It is not to follow, and it will not follow, that any part of Ireland, majority or minority, is to interfere with the liberty of any other part. Sir Edward Carson may yet, at the head of his Volunteers, ‘march to Cork’. If so, their progress will probably be accompanied by the greetings of ten times their number of National Volunteers, and Cork will give them a hospitable and a memorable reception. Some years ago, speaking at the Toome Feis, in the heart of ‘homogeneous Ulster’, I said that the day would come when men of every creed and party would join in celebrating the defence of Derry and the battle of Benburb. That day is nearer than I then expected.

* For MacNeill’s express purpose in publishing this article and for its effect in leading to the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, see F. X. Martin, ‘MacNeill and the foundation of the Irish Volunteers’, above, pp. 129-35. The article has been republished in The Irish Volunteers, 1913-1915, ed. F. X. Martin (Dublin 1963), pp. 57-61.

Available at History Hub.ie - online [accessed 24.10.2017].

 

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Phases of Irish History (Dublin: M. H. Gill 1919; facs. rep. 1968): Cuigí: The division of Ireland into provincial kingships bonded by a central monarchy ‘[is] the oldest certain fact in the political history of Ireland.' ((p.101). Also: ‘[t]he details of tradition, upon examination, indicate that the Pentarchy preceded the Monarchy and lasted for a long time, long enough to become the chief outstanding fact in tradition as regards the internal political state of Ireland in the early Celtic period.' (Ibid., p.102.) For an earlier discussion of the Gaelic provinces, see under Sir John Gilbert, supra.)

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Irish literature?: ‘But there are to be found people who try to persuade themselves that Irish literature means literature in the English language. This heresy has done more to provincialise Ireland than has the Act of Union’ (MacNeill’s editorial in An Claidheamh Soluis, April 1899).

1916 Rising: ‘Impelled by a sense of feebleness or despondency or fatalism or by an intelelct of satisfying their own emotions or escaping from a difficult and complex and trying situation.’ (Quoted in W. I. Thompson, Imagination of an Insurrection, 1967, p.94-95; cited in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, p.81.)

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, selects ‘The North Began’ (1913) [‘the two-edged sword of “Ulster” [...] every element of sham and insincerity is a mortage given to destiny ... the only solution now possible is for the empire either to make terms with Ireland or to let Ireland go her own way’, 285-88]; ‘Our whig Inheritance’, short article in Ireland Today (Nov. 1936) [the article argues that Gaelic Ireland possessed no state but looked instead to a nation for a common identity, ‘our claims to political autonomy, to having a State of our own, have never been based and could not have been based on Ireland’s having existed in former times as a State. They were based, and rightly based, on th existence of an Irish Nation throughout the ages of Irish history’ 980-82]; his article of Nov. 1913 [supra] persuaded Bulmer Hobson and others in the IRB to front him for the Irish Volunteers, 556; Patrick Pearse, ‘Professor Eoin MacNeill pointed out last week that we have at this moment an opportunity of rectifying the capital error we made when we allowed ourselves to be disarmed; and such opportunities, he reminds us, do not always come back to nations’, 557-58; the difference between the Gael and the Celt pointed out by MacNeill, WP Ryan, and Sigerson [Deane, ed.], 722; Thomas MacDonagh intermediary between Pearse and MacNeill, 780; A scholarly rationale for [the] shift in emphasis from the state to the nation was provided by historical researches of Eoin MacNeill ... MacNeill felt compelled to take issue with Thomas Davis’s ballad “A Nation Once Again” on the grounds that it imples that Ireland was not already a nation [as distinct from a state, Luke Gibbon, ed. ], 953; Thomas Kettle gave evidence on his behalf at court-martial, 1018; Arthur Clery defended MacNeill at court-martial, 1019, 368, Biog. & Criticism [as supra]. FDA3 remarks at 458, 504n, Bulmer Hobson’s account of his role in 1916, ‘it was often easier to convince MacNeill that nothing could be done than it was to spur him into positive action.’ (Ireland Yesterday and Tomorrow, 1968, Chp. VIII, 505-09, 559, 659.)

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Belfast Central Public Library holds Daniel O’Connell and Sinn Fein (n.d.); Early Irish laws and Institutions (n.d.); Phases of Irish History (1919).

Hyland Books (Cat. 214) lists St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland (1934); also John Ryan, ed., St Patrick (1964), with memoir by Michael Tierney and a Patrician Bibliography by F X Martin; MacNeill papers (Exhibition Catalogue, July 1959), 23pp.

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Notes
Early Irish laws and Institutions (Dublin: Burns Oates and Washbourne [n.d.]) [publishers to the Holy See]; p.36 incl. ref. to T. Ó Raithbheartaigh, ed. Genealogical Tracts, I, for Irish MSS Commission (1932); takes issue with P. W. Joyce’s descripton of the organising principle of the tuath as the clann or tribe (p.7ff.; ref. Joyce, Social History, 1903, I, 166); ‘Civilisation and barbarism are a matter of degree’ (p.49); A centralised authority is an instrument of civilisation, not an essential. The absolute [49] state, the all--comprising State is a thing specifically pagan.’ [50].

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Test act: MacNeill answered T. W. Rolleston’s dismissal of Irish for modern communication and criticism at the special meeting of the Gaelic League council on 1 Feb. 1896, and, in the ensuing experiment, translated passages by Herbert Spencer (on crustaceans) from Hyde’s Irish back into English to test the proposition. [See Rolleston, q.v.].

W. P. Ryan, The Pope’s Green Island (1912), pp.61-62: ‘The fact is he sees the whole Gaelic ideal so clearly, and it has become so much a part of himself, that to his philosophic nature the notion of growing impassioned about it would be ludicrous ... with Mr. MacNeill we have put [that] childish little theory [ie., Arnold’s theory of Gaelic temperament] to sleep in practice’ [62].

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O’Connellite: Eoin MacNeill’s writings ‘show a constant insistence to place O’Connell in the heart of the Irish political tradition’. (Brian Farrell, ‘MacNeill in Politics’, in The Scholar Revolutionary, Eoin MacNeill 1867-1945, and the Making of the New Ireland, ed. FX Martin and F. J. Byrne, Dublin 1973, p.185; cited in Fergus O’Ferrall, ‘Liberty and Catholic Politics 1790-1990’, in Daniel O’Connell, Political Pioneer, ed. Maurice R. O’Connell, 1991, pp.35-56; p.134.)

Irish kings: The Irish Year Book (Sinn Féin [c.1919]), contains an unsigned article prob. by Eoin MacNeill, listing the Gaelic Kings from Annals of Four Masters chronology, and adding the English kings recognised in Ireland, viz, Henry II, Edward the Bruce, James I, Charles II, and George III, as being acknowledged by the patriotic Parliament (pp.265-73.)

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Kith & Kin: his brother was James McNeill (1869-1938) second Gov. General of the Irish Free State, who used the variant spelling [infra].

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