Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916
The Signatories of the Proclamation

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Members of the First Dáil - Eoin MacNeill

Eoin MacNeill

Eoin MacNeill (May 15, 1867 - October 15, 1945) was an Irish scholar and revolutionary.MacNeill was appointed to the cabinet at the first meeting of the Dáil, despite having attempted to prevent the 1916 Rising.

MacNeill was born in Glenarm, County Antrim. He was educated in Belfast at the Royal University. MacNeill had an enormous interest in Irish history and immersed himself in the study of it. In 1893, he founded the Gaelic League with Douglas Hyde. He became editor of its newspaper - Gaelic Journal. In 1908 MacNeill was appointed professor of early Irish history at University College Dublin.

Through the Gaelic League MacNeill met members of Sinn Féin. He became chairman of the council that formed the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He later became chief of staff.

He was educated at St Malachy’s College and the Royal University. His primary interests were Irish language and history and he was one of the founders of the Gaelic League in 1893. In 1908, on the establishment of the National University of Ireland, he was appointed professor of early Irish history at UCD.

MacNeill founded the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and was opposed to an armed rising unless it had realistic prospects of success. MacNeill was vehemently opposed to the idea of an armed rebellion as he saw little hope of success. When he discovered the Irish Republican Brotherhood conspiracy to send the Volunteers into action on Easter Sunday, 1916, he issued a countermanding order, but the Rising went ahead.

However, the IRB went ahead with its plans of an armed rebellion with the co-operation of James Connolly and the Citizen Army. Pádraig Pearse and some other Volunteer members supported this move also. Easter Sunday, April 23, 1916, was the day the revolution was to be staged. MacNeill heard about this the previous Thursday and agreed. However, on learning of the arrest of Roger Casement and the interception of German arms he ordered an immediated end to the rising. Pearse, Connolly and the others all agreed that they must go ahead with the rising - it began on Monday, April 24, 1916. After the surrender MacNeill was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

MacNeill was released in 1917 and was elected MP in 1918 for the NUI, appointed as minister for finance on the first day of the Dáil and moved to industry in April. In 1921, he supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty and was an influential figure in the first Free State government. Following this he became Minister for Education in the first government of the Irish Free State. In 1924, he was appointed to the Boundary Commission to re-negotiate the border between Northern Ireland and the Free State, he was made the scapegoat for its failure and resigned from cabinet.

In December 1925, the Free State government agreed with the British government that the boundary included the entire six counties. This angered many nationalists and MacNeill was the subject of much criticism. He was forced to resign as minister and he lost his Dáil seat in 1927.

He retired from politics completely and became Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He published a number of books on Irish history. In his later years, he devoted his life to scholarship.

Eoin MacNeill died in Dublin.

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