Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

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

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Members of the Fourth Dáil - Gerald Boland

Gerald Boland (25 May 1885 – 5 January 1973) was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician. A founder-member of the party, he served in a number of Cabinet positions, most notably as the country's longest-serving Minister for Justice.

Born in Manchester, Boland was the son of a Roscommon father and a Louth mother. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Dublin where his father, who had been involved with the Fenian rescue in Manchester in 1867, found employment with the Dublin Corporation. The Boland family was not long in Dublin when the father was killed in a fight between Parnellites and Healyites for possession of the offices of the journal United Ireland. The family were plunged into poverty which was relieved somewhat when the [[Gaelic Athletic Association] organised a collection known as the "Boland Fund". The proceeds allowed Boland's mother to open a shop in Wexford Street.

After his national school education, Boland attended the O'Brien Institute in Fairview. He left school at fifteen and became an apprentice fitter at Broadstone Station. Instead of attending to his studies to secure an engineering diploma, Boland took Irish language and history classes at night. In spite of this he passed his engineering exams.

It was around this time that Boland was invited to take the secret oath and join the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He subsequently joined the Irish Volunteers when that organisation was established in 1913, serving in the same company as Arthur Griffith. When news broke out of the Easter Rising in 1916 Boland immediatley left his job in Crooksling, however, he was bitterly disappointed when he found out that the order was countermandered. When the rebellion began in earnest on Easter Monday, he made his way to Jacob's Mill where he fought under Thomas McDonagh. Following the official surrender, Boland was arrested and interned at Frongoch in Wales where he came into contact with other notable revolutionary leaders such as Michael Collins.

Boland was released after a general amnesty in December 1916, however, he remained involved in revolutionary circles. He was imprisoned in Belfast in 1918 at a time when a number of his colleagues secured their release by winning seats in the 1918 general election.

Boland remained involved with the IRB during the War of Independence and was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Following the end of the Civil War, during which his brother Harry was killed, Boland helped to build up Sinn Féin as the main Republican party. While imprisoned he secured election to Dáil Éireann for Roscommon at the 1923 general election, however, in keeping with the Sinn Féin abstention policy he refused to take his seat. Upon his release Boland became secretary of the party.

By 1926, some TDs had become disillusioned with the policy of abstention that Sinn Féin had espoused. Party leader Éamon de Valera proposed that the party abandon this policy and take their seats in the Dáil if changes were made to the oath of allegiance to the British monarch. His proposal was defeated and de Valera and his supporters, including Boland, left Sinn Féin. Shortly after this split a new party emerged called Fianna Fáil, with de Valera acting as leader and the other disillusioned Republican TDs joining. The new party also had an abstentionist policy, however, in 1927 a new law forced Fianna Fáil TDs to take the oath of allegiance and take their seats in the Dáil. A general election shortly after saw Fianna Fáil come within four seats of the ruling Cumann na nGaedhael party. The latter formed a coalition of sorts with the Farmers' Party and returned to government.

Following the 1932 general election, Fianna Fáil formed a new government. Boland was appointed chief whip, a position which allowed him attend cabinet meetings but not vote at them.

Fianna Fáil remained in power with an increased mandate following the 1933 general election and Boland was promoted to the position of Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. In spite of being the minister in charge of the postal service Boland did not own a telephone until some time later. During his tenure the postal servive made considerable progress. It was also during this time that the Post Office became a paying concern. A cabinet reshuffle in 1936 saw Boland become Minister for Lands, before later taking on responsibility for Fisheries.

The outbreak of the Emergency in 1939 resulted in a number of new cabinet appointments and Boland became Minister for Justice. He took over at a time when the IRA were enjoying a resurgence and Boland was charged with the task of crushing the organisation. Although Boland had been a member of the Old IRA, he had little sympathy and took powers to order the internment of hundreds of IRA members before introducing military courts and special criminal courts.

In 1940 a number of imprisoned IRA members went on hunger strike, however, Boland refused to grant their release. Two of the men eventually died, one of whom was the nephew of one of Boland's Fianna Fáil colleagues. These deaths sparked reprisals by the IRA on the Garda Síochána. Boland subsequently introduced tougher measures by setting up a miliary court with the death penalty with no provision for appeal except for a review by the government. In all, twelve men were found guilty with six of them facing death and the remaining six having their sentences changed to imprisonment.

During the Emergency, Boland was also responsible for the detention of several foreign agents in pursuit of Ireland's strict policy of neutrality.

Following Fianna Fáil's loss of power after the 1948 general election Boland became spokesperson on Justice and was reappointed Minister for Justice when the party returned to government in 1951.

Boland did not seek ministerial office in 1957 when Fianna Fáil returned to power after its defeat in 1954. Family continuity was retained when his son, Kevin, was instead appointed to the cabinet as Minister for Defence.

At the 1961 general election, Boland faced electoral defeat for the first time in fourteen general election campaigns. In spite of losing his Dáil seat he subsequently secured elected to Seanad Éireann. Four years later in 1965 he returned to the Seanad, this time as a nominee by the Taoiseach Seán Lemass.

In 1970, the outbreak of the Arms Crisis saw Boland's son resign as minister and as secretary of Fianna Fáil in protest at the government's policy on Northern Ireland and in response to the sackings of Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney from the cabinet. Boland, in a similar protest, resigned as a vice-president and as a trustee of Fianna Fáil, although he remained a member of the party. He also articulated his loss of confidence in the leadership of Taoiseach Jack Lynch.

Gerald Boland died in Dublin at the age of 87 on 5 January 1973. His wife, Annie Boland, predeceased him in 1970. He was survived by his three daughters, Eileen, Máire and Nuala, and four sons, Kevin, Enda, Harry and Ciarán.

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