Born in Westport, Co Mayo, MacBride travelled to America in 1896 to further the aims of the IRB, thereafter travelling to South Africa where he raised the Irish Transvaal Brigade, which became known as MacBride’s Brigade, to fight against the English during the Second Boer War where, as happened far too often in history, Irish fought against Irish. A larger number of Irish (whose sympathies led to them being labelled West British) fought for the British against the Boers.
When MacBride became a citizen of the Transvaal, the British considered that, as an Irishman and citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, he had given aid to the enemy. After the war he travelled to Paris and married Maud Gonne on the 21st February 1903. Maud Gonne became a prominent Irish revolutionary. John MacBride and Maude Gonne had one child, Sean who was born in Janurary 1904.
Because he was so well-known to the British, the leaders thought it wise to keep him outside their secret military group planning a Rising. As a result he happened to find himself in the midst of the Rising without notice. He was in Dublin early on Easter Monday morning to meet his brother. The Major walked up Grafton St and saw Thomas MacDonagh in uniform and leading his troops. He offered his services and was appointed second-in-command at the Jacob’s factory.
Speech from the Dock (Court martial, 4 May 1916): “On the morning of Easter Monday I left my home at Glenageary with the intention of going to meet my brother who was coming to Dublin to get married. In waiting around town, I went up as far as Stephen’s Green and there saw a band of Irish Volunteers. I knew some of the members personally and the commander told me that an Irish Republic was virtually proclaimed. As he knew my rather advanced opinions and although I had no previous connection with the Irish Volunteers, I considered it my duty to join them. I knew there was no chance of success and I never advised nor influenced any other person to join. I did not even know the positions they were about to take up – I marched with them to Jacob’s Factory. After being a few hours there I was appointed second-in-command – I felt it my duty to occupy that position. I could have escaped from Jacob’s Factory before the surrender had I desired, but I considered it a dishonourable thing to do. I do not say this with the idea of mitigating any penalty they may impose but in order to make clear my position in the matter.” –Major John MacBride