#OTD in 1916 – During the House of Commons debate on the Irish crises, John Dillon urges the cessation of executions.

‘This series of executions is doing more harm than any Englishman in this House can possibly fathom.’

[Dillon makes mention of the shooting of Mr Sheehy-Skeffington.] ‘Horrible rumours which are current in Dublin, and which are doing untold and indescribable mischief, maddening the population of Dublin, who were your friends and loyal allies against this insurrection last week and who are rapidly becoming embittered by the sotires afloat and these executions…’

‘It is the first rebellion that ever took place in Ireland where you had a majority on your side. It is the fruit of our life work. We have risked our lives a hundred times to bring about this result. We are held up to odium as traitors by those men who made this rebellion, and our lives have been in danger a hundred times during the last thirty years because we have endeavoured to reconcile the two things, and now you are washing out our whole life work in a sea of blood’.

If it had not been for the action of John (Eoin) MacNeill you would be fighting still … he broke the back of the rebellion on the very eve of it, and he kept back a very large body of men from joining in’.

‘I say I am proud of their courage, and, if you were not so dense and so stupid, as some of you English people are, you would have had these men fighting for you, and they are men worth having. … ours is a fighting race … The fact of the matter is that what is poisoning the mind of Ireland, and rapidly poisoning it, is the secrecy of these trials and the continuance of these executions… I do not think Abraham Lincoln executed one single man, and by that one act of clemency, he did an enormous work of good for the whole country… why cannot you treat Ireland as Botha treated South Africa… victims of misdirected enthusiasm and leadership.

‘[Rebels showed] conduct beyond reproach as fighting men. I admit they were wrong; I know they were wrong; but they fought a clean fight, and they fought with superb bravery and skill, and no act of savagery or act against the usual customs of war that I know of has been brought home to any leader or any organised body of insurgents.’

‘[…] the great bulk of the population were not favourable to the insurrection, and the insurgents themselves, who had confidently calculated on a rising of the people in their support, were absolutely disappointed. They got no support whatever. What is happening is that thousands of people in Dublin, who ten days ago were bitterly opposed to the whole of the Sinn Féin movement and to the rebellion, are now becoming infuriated against the Government on account of these executions, and as I am informed by letters received this morning, the feeling is spreading throughout the country in a most dangerous degree.’ [Reads statement for Mr. Skeffington’s widow] Mrs Skeffington begs me, in conclusion, to ask the Government and the House of Commons for a public investigation.’

‘I say deliberately that in the whole of modern history, taking all the circumstances into account there has been no rebellion or insurrection put down with so much blood and so much savagery as the recent insurrection in Ireland.’

‘[…] I do most earnestly appeal to the Prime Minister to stop these executions… it is not murderers who are being executed; it is insurgents who have fought a clean fight, a brave fight, however misguided, and it would be a damned good thing for you if your soldiers were able to put up as good a fight as did these men in Dublin – three thousand men against twenty thousand with machine-guns and artillery [Heckled and responds]… we have attempted to bring the masses of the Irish people into harmony with you, in this great effort at reconciliation – I say, we are entitled to every assistance from the Members of this House and this Government.’

After Connolly’s execution, Maxwell bowed to pressure and had the other death sentences were commuted to penal servitude.

1,836 men were interned at internment camps and prisons in England and Wales under Regulation 14B of the Defence of the Realm Act 1914. One of the first to be spared by Maxwell was Éamon de Valera even though he had played a major part in the insurrection. Many of them, like Arthur Griffith, had little or nothing to do with the Rising. The Battle of Ashbourne led by Thomas Ashe; he was sentenced to death for his leading role, which was commuted to penal servitude for life. During his time in Lewes Gaol in England he wrote his poem ‘Let Me Carry Your Cross for Ireland, Lord!’ W. T. Cosgrove’s sentence was also commuted. Camps such as Frongoch became “Universities of Revolution” where future leaders like Michael Collins, Terence MacSwiney and J. J. O’Connell began to plan the coming struggle for independence.

Sir Roger Casement was tried in London for high treason and hanged at Pentonville Prison on 3rd August.

Photo: (L) John Dillon Painting, (R) Montage by My Colorful Past

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