Wexford and Belfast, 1916

What is often overlooked in regard to the Easter Rising is the extent of personal interconnections between participants. Denis McCullough, President of the Supreme Council of the IRB in 1916, had led the Belfast volunteers to Coalisland at the start of the Rising, from where they were supposed to proceed to Connacht. There they would have been under the command of Wexford man, Liam Mellows.

McCullough is an interesting character for a number of reasons, not least of which that he shot himself in the hand at Coalisland and had to be patched up by Nora Connolly. Although he went along with it (he personally funded the Belfast volunteers travelling to Coalisland), McCullough had been kept in the dark about the planning and actually opposed the Rising. He told Tom Clarke that, if they survived he would have it out with Clarke afterwards. McCullough was never prominent after the Rising, which makes me wonder if some suspected his hand wound was deliberately self-inflicted.  At the time, McCullough was in a relationship with Agnes Ryan, from Wexford, who left Belfast to be in Wexford for the Rising (they were later to marry). Her sister, Mary (known as Min) had been a founding member of Cumann na mBan along with Sarah Jordan, Liam Mellows mother. Min Ryan was close enough to Sean MacDiarmada that it was expected they would marry (had he survived the Rising – instead she was later to marry Richard Mulcahy). MacDiarmada himself had spent considerable time living in Belfast.

Min Ryan had also been directed to bring Eoin McNeill’s countermanding order to Wexford to stop the Rising taking place. McNeill, like his classmate Major John McBride, was a past pupil of Saint Malachy’s College Belfast. McBride’s son, Sean, later to be briefly IRA Chief of Staff, was sent to school at Mount St Benedict, near Gorey in Wexford, where Agnes Ryan headed at the start of the Rising. The school’s matron, Aileen Keogh, headed in the opposite direction, leaving Wexford to join the Dublin garrison for the Rising.

While the executions were taking place after the Rising, the Sunday Independent reported how John Redmond and Edward Carson had both pledged their ‘volunteers’ to suppress the Rising. With regard to Wexford, the British royal commission of inquiry into the Rising was told that 200 Redmondites turned out in Wexford to assist the RIC (Enniscorthy and surrounding areas being under control of republican forces and had held out longer than Dublin). The Hibernians, the inquiry was told, had also assisted the RIC.

After the Rising, one Wexford Alderman supported a motion condemning the Rising, saying “…heretofore we were led to believe that Sinn Féin meant ourselves alone but now we know it stands for anarchy of the worst type. Ireland was now disgraced in the eyes of the world just at a moment when all classes in the country were reconciled and confident in prosperity“. If you saw the exact same words from a Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or Labour TD during the last few years, you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid..



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