Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

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

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Members of the First Dáil - Brian O'Higgins

Brian O'Higgins: Third Row: Third from the Right

Brian O'Higgins (Irish: Brian Ó hUigínn; 1 July 1882 – 3 March 1963) was an Irish Sinn Féin politician. He was President of Sinn Féin from 1931–1933. He was elected unopposed as a Sinn Féin MP for Clare West at the 1918 general election. In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. He was re-elected as an anti-Treaty Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) at the 1921, 1922 and 1923 elections. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and voted against it. He lost his seat at the June 1927 general election.

To counteract British efforts to break the G.A.A. he wrote the first rallying song;Who says our country’s soul has fled?Who say our country’s heart is dead?Come, let them hear the marching treadOf twice five thousand Hurling Men.They hold the hopes of bye-gone years,They love the past --its smiles and tears--But quavering doubts and shrinking fears Are far from Ireland’s Hurling Men.

O'Higgins was born in Kilskyre, County Meath to a family with strong Fenian and Parnellite traditions. He moved to Dublin as a teenager and became active in the Gaelic League.
He met Padraig Pearse in 1912, and with political activities very much to the forefront north and south he was busier than ever. At the outbreak of the Great War John Redmond’s call to join the British Army split the Volunteers. Unlike his fellow Meathman Francis Ledwidge, he did not enlist but was more active than ever in the events leading up to the 1916 Rising.

Easter Monday found him in Parnell Square until evening and then in the G.P.O. for the rest of the week. Due to the state of his health, he did no actual fighting, but helped the others in every way he could. He was on duty all Thursday night [the last night], but by then the building was burning so the remaining garrison evacuated into Moore Street on Friday. In that dash , the O’Rathilly was killed. He hadn’t been told of the plans (as was also the case with McBride) but he arrived in his car, which stayed parked in front of the G.P.O. the whole week. Pearse surrendered, and when the leaders had been picked out, the rest soon found themselves in cattle boats on their way to England.

Brian ended as a prisoner in Frongoch Jail in the Welsh mountains. He had gone through the week without a scar, though many were killed and wounded all around him. Not so lucky was another Meathman, Tommy Connolly of the Hill-of-Down. At the last minute he answered a call from Dublin to take some missing person’s place. His return to Longwood was in a coffin, being fatally wounded early in the week. The mood at the time meant almost a secret burial. Later a fine tombstone was erected and the memory of a true Irish patriot fittingly remembered. After his release in February 1917 we find Brian involved in an Irish College in Clare.

Another period of imprisonment followed this time in Birmingham where he wrote a Prayer Book an t-Aifreann. At the General Election after the ending of the war [Nov. 1918 ] he like many others was elected to the First Dail, while still in jail. He missed the historic First Dail 21st January 1919 in the Mansion House.After his release in the Spring of 1919 he returned to Clare, this time as a judge of the Republican Courts. He was advised that his life was in danger so he returned to Dublin. We know little of his activities until the Truce in the summer of 1921.

The signing of the treaty would be a cause of great sadness to him , and the long and bitter arguments in the Dail before the predictable split and Civil War. Being on the losing side prison awaited him once again, first Mountjoy and after a short while the Curragh. He describes the Curragh [Tintown] as a heartbreaking depressing hole where he could neither read or write. The twenty-five day hunger-strike almost killed him, but when he recovered a little he was released.

While by no means giving up writing he started delivering orations or speeches, and where better to start than at Tone’s Grave at Bodenstown, 1924. He soon was in great demand, speaking in all of the 32 counties. His message was simple but it aptly sums up his life’s philosophy--one does not change one’s political coat--and he used both the Irish language and English in all his orations. In 1925, he published The Soldier’s Story of Easter Week , and in 1926 Ten Golden Years. His close friend Austin Stack died in 1929. Fianna Fail had entered the Dail and Europe had seen the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. Few could predict the happenings of the next twenty years.
From the late 1920’s, he ran a successful business publishing greeting cards, calendars etc decorated with Celtic designs and O'Higgins' own verses. From 1938 to 1962, he published the Wolfe Tone Annual which gave popular accounts of episodes in Irish history from a republican viewpoint. He was a devout Catholic and critical of those who believed republicans should be socialists. Several of his children became Catholic priests.

In December 1938, O'Higgins was one of a group of seven people, who had been elected to the Second Dáil in 1921, who met with the IRA Army Council under Seán Russell. At this meeting, the seven signed over what they believed was the authority of the Government of Dáil Éireann to the Army Council. Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceived itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic and, on this basis, the IRA and Sinn Féin justified their rejection of the states of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and political abstentionism from their parliamentary institutions.

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