There has been much commentary in the Irish and British media over the last week to mark the centenary of when women were first granted the right to vote.
1918 was important and significant for a number of other reasons too, both nationally and internationally. It was the year when nationalist Ireland united to resist British Conscription to fight and join the slaughter on the western front in Europe. It was the year when two American sailors became the first casualties of the so-called Spanish Flu Epidemic when they passed away at the American naval hospital at White Point, Cobh. The Great Flu went on to claim millions of lives that year.
1918 was also the year when the first world war came to an end. For Ireland though, people seemed more concerned that the outcome of the war and why it was allegedly fought, would strengthen the cause for Irelands' freedom and Independence. This new-found climate of forward looking optimism following the armistice, was based mainly on the common belief (albeit naively) that those who saw their brothers, sons, fathers, husbands and neighbours go to fight in Belgium, France and Gallipoli, would now see the promise of freedom for this small nation fulfilled. Indeed, many also believed that US President Woodrow Wilson would be the guarantor of that promise.
But not everyone was prepared to place all their bets on the goodwill of the US and British governments to match their earlier words with deeds, and now the majority of nationalist Ireland had found a new confidence and radicalism which saw them raise the stakes from that which was originally promised to them when the war first broke out in 1914.
Ireland was a different place in 1918 from that in 1914 and especially after 1916 when a rebellion against British Rule had broken out. When they went to the polling stations in December, Irish people spoke very clearly and loudly about what they wanted and expected from the British Government when they voted overwhelmingly for Sinn Fein candidates. Out of 105 Irish seats up for grabs, the republican party won 73. The message was very clear for both the British Prime Minister and the US President as they prepared for the later Paris Peace Conference which would divide the spoils of war and decide on the new map of Europe.
One could well argue, that had either leader seriously taken on board the democratic wishes of the Irish people and their mandate for an independent Parliament to govern themselves, as clearly expressed in the 1918 election, another war, and maybe decades of follow-on conflict that spread its way into the next century might have been avoided. Not only did the British PM Lloyd George rule out any notion of granting Irish Independence, but President Wilson for his part, didn’t exactly put up a fight on Irelands behalf or defend the so-called 14 points and principles for which he had earlier claimed America had entered the war.
Not only had Wilson climbed down to Lloyd George over Ireland, but he then buckled to French pressure, to blame and punish Germany for the cause of the war, a move that played no small part in ensuring there would be a Second World War.
Meanwhile In Cobh, before the December election, the women of Cumann na mBan played a busy role in helping to get their (east-cork) republican candidate elected. This was all the more peculiar as most of the female republican volunteers couldn’t vote themselves as they were under thirty years of age. Never the less, their enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by this, knowing and feeling a real change was in the air. Not only had the women’s enthusiasm been justified, with a landslide election result for Sinn Fein, but one of those successful republican candidates was a woman named Countess Constance Markievicz, becoming the first female candidate to be elected to the British Parliament. Markievicz’s election, was a double embarrassment for the British because not only had she previously been sentenced to death for her role in the 1916 Rising, (later commuted) but she and her fellow successful republican candidates, declared they would not attend the Westminster Parliament, but instead would form their own Irish Parliament in Dublin.
In 1988, I had the privilege of interviewing Mrs Geraldine Norris for a book I was then researching on the revolution in Cobh. Geraldine provided me with a very clear insight to what it had been like for the women of Cumann na mBan, as they campaigned to have their male colleagues elected in those early years. But as we already know, the women of Cumann na mBan were always there behind and assisting their male colleagues, whether it was in the electoral arena or in the field where the fighting was taking place. We also know, that occasionally some exceptionally talented and committed female volunteers were trusted by their male colleagues to play more important and dangerous roles in the struggle. Geraldine’s older sister Lily was one such trusted volunteer and her special status in the Cobh republican struggle didn’t go unnoticed by the British too, who swiftly moved to make an example of Lily by interning her in prison without trial. Kieran McCarthy
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Some of you no doubt, have been reading reports in the media and on sites such as this about the controversy surrounding the historical anchor of the ‘Aud’ – the German arms ship which was scuttled 8 miles outside Cork harbour on Good Friday 1916, after been arrested by the British Navy.
The capture of the Aud put paid to any real success of the planned Rising, as it sank to the bottom with 20.000 rifles, machine guns and a million rounds of ammunition. The current controversy of the anchor today centers around whether it should remain on public display at Cobh Heritage Centre or be re-allocated on Spike Island.
On 12th September last, the members of Cobh Municipal Council debated and unanimously agreed to keep the anchor in Cobh. The National Museum will ultimately decide however, whether the anchor will stay or go.
During that council debate, a voice in favour of moving the anchor to Spike argued that Spike was the only piece of Irish Soil that the German Crew set foot on in 1916. As the mover of the motion to keep the anchor in Cobh, I thought the case made to move the anchor was a flimsy and weak one, and countered that the purpose for the German Aud coming to Ireland had been much greater than what happened outside our harbour or afterwards on Spike – a British military detention centre and place where Captain Spindler and his crew were taken against their will.
No, I argued that as Cobh was the only town in East Cork that had a Company of Volunteers that turned out for the Easter Rising in 1916, and given that they and their comrades from Cork City and County were about to march to Kerry to collect the German weapons from the Aud and to distribute them to other volunteer units up the west coast as part of an all-out rebellion, that Cobh had a much greater historical claim to host the Aud anchor than the former British Detention Centre on Spike.
To strengthen this argument further, I have chosen the following chapter from my book ‘Republican Cobh & The East Cork Volunteers’ to demonstrate the historical point that the 4th Batt IRA, which was founded, trained and led by the Cobh Volunteers, was one of the most professionally organised volunteer Batt’s of the 1st Cork Brigade.
Under the leadership of Cobh’s Mick Leahy, the 4th Batt went on to capture the first RIC barracks in Ireland since 1916 when they took the surrender of Carrigtwohill Barracks.
The following account, I believe will demonstrate the gallant efforts made by the Cobh and East Cork men when taking the capture of Carrigtwohill RIC Barracks. For me, the historical significance of this and other 4 Batt operations makes such a claim very loudly.
It should also be pointed out that ‘A Company’ or the Cobh Company of the 4th Battalion as it was known, existed long before other areas of East Cork were organised and developed into the 4th Batt.
Later, when any operation involving the 4th Batt was carried out in East Cork, including those carried out by the regional Flying Column, members of A Company were always there in the thick of it.
Please read on and see if you agree with me. Perhaps you might later express an opinion comment afterwards.
Historic “Aud” anchor must not be moved from Cobh
by the Cobh 1916 Commemoration Committee
The Cobh 1916 Commemoration Committee has expressed concern that plans may be afoot to remove the iconic anchor from the historic 1916 arms ship Aud from the town where it was placed on public display last year and place it instead on Spike Island which incurs an entry charge of €18 for adults and €10 for children.The committee, which organised and oversaw a series of events in Cobh last year to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising, including the installation of three new monuments, said it was essential that the Aud’s anchor should remain in Cobh town and continue to be free of charge to view there.
The Aud was a disguised vessel carrying arms for the Irish Volunteers and which accompanied Sir Roger Casement who landed at Banna Strand, Co. Kerry. The capture of Casement and the subsequent discovery of the Aud and its sinking near the mouth of Cork Harbour by its German crew dealt a deadly blow to the chances of the 1916 Rising’s success.
Paul O’Sullivan, secretary of the Cobh 1916 Committee said: “Just over a year ago we and the people of Cobh were delighted to attend the formal installation of one of the two anchors from the Aud in a public part of Cobh Heritage Centre where it could be freely viewed without the need to pay an entry charge. We understood that this positioning of the Aud anchor was part of an agreement between the National Museum, Cork County Council, Cobh Heritage Centre and the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in line with binding conditions pertaining to that departments’ licence for the recovery of the two Aud anchors”.
“We became concerned recently when we noticed that the Aud anchor had been moved from the public part of the Heritage Centre to a location inside the display area of the centre where payment is required to enter. We are now dismayed to learn that plans may be afoot to remove the Aud anchor completely from Cobh town and to relocate it inside the fort at Spike Island which can only be visited on foot of a payment of €18 (adult) and €10 (child) fees. This in our view would be a breach of faith on the part of Cork County Council and the other parties to the agreement and would be a major slap in the face for this town which played an important role in the struggle for Irish independence”.
“Cobh 1916 Commemoration Committee fully supports the Spike Island project. We were delighted to work with them during our events last year, however we feel that the Aud’s anchor must remain in Cobh and must continue to be free to visit. We are frankly not impressed with the response of Cork County Council to our queries regarding the anchor’s future. They have been vague and evasive. For that reason we feel compelled to publicly ask Cork County Council and the other bodies involved if they intend to remove the Aud anchor from Cobh and to explain how they can justify this decision which would remove a key historical artefact from where they agreed to place it and place it at a location where entry requires payment of a hefty fee.”.
“We are now calling for a statement of clarity from Cork County Council and we further call on the people of Cobh and the general public to support our call for the retention of the Aud anchor in a public place in Cobh which does not require an entry fee”
Revisit Cobh’s Rebel Past with writer, historian and active member of the Cobh 1916 Centenary Committee - Kieran McCarthy.
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