COLLINS‘ OWN STORY OF “EASTER WEEK ”
“SiR ROGER CASEMENT was absolutely opposed to the
Easter Week rising. Of this I have abundant proof. I
know that he made the trip from Germany to Ireland for the
sole purpose of stopping the rebellion. I have his own
statement to this effect.”
So Michael Collins corroborated that part of Eoin Mac-
NeilTs story in which the Speaker of Dail Eireann told of
Casement’s having advised against the use of armed force
at that time. This unequivocal declaration is of peculiar
significance in that it is a fiat contradiction of an official
statement issued by the British Government following Case-
ment’s execution. Part of that statement was as follows :
” . . He was convicted and punished for treachery
of the worst kind to the Empire he had served, and
as a willing agent of Germany. … In addition,
though himself for many years a British official,
he undertook the task of trying to induce soldiers of
the British Army, prisoners in the hands of Germany,
to forswear their oaths of allegiance and join their
country’s enemies. . . . The suggestion that Case-
ment left Germany for the purpose of trying to stop
the Irish rising was not raised at the trial, and is
conclusively disproved, not only by the facts there
disclosed, but by further evidence which has since
Obviously a matter of fact of this nature cannot be a
matter of opinion. The record shows that it was Casement
who was responsible for the attempted landing by a disguised
German merchantman of 20,000 rifles and 1,000,000 rounds
of ammunition in Tralee Bay. It is not denied by any
Irish leaders that Casement did his utmost to persuade
German officers to lead the rebellion. But listen to Collins’
” Casement’s opposition to the rising meant nothing to
the leaders in Dublin,” Collins continued. ” They looked
upon it and in a sense rightly that this was simply one
man’s biassed view, formed as a consequence of his experi-
ences in Germany. His outlook on the rising, or indeed
on any rising, was naturally different from the outlook of
men like Sean McDermott and Tom Clarke. My own opinion
is that Casement had acquired a world outlook, and his mind
was consequently influenced by world conditions.
” German assistance appealed to him as vital for a suc-
cessful issue of Ireland’s rebellion against the might of the
British Empire. It is a fact’ to be told now without harm
to anyone that his disappointment over his failure to in-
duce Germany to send men to aid in Ireland’s fight brought on
a serious illness that kept him many weeks in bed in Munich.
And let it be remembered that in this opinion he was by no
means alone. I can quite understand Professor MacNeill’s
having shared this view. He knew as, indeed, did most of
us that we were literally a corporal’s guard planning to
attack the armed forces of an Empire.
” But Sean McDermott and Tom Clarke were not wait-
ing for German aid in the shape of MEN. Lacking them meant
little or nothing to these inspired leaders. Irishmen were
good enough for them. They were content to rely upon the
strength of the forces at home, and their calculations were
based practically entirely on home considerations. Of
course, they wanted German arms and ammunition, but
lacking them, they still were prepared to fight.
” If Professor MacNeill’s theory that these leaders had
resolved upon launching a forlorn hope to awaken the
Irish people is correct, no further explanation is necessary.
On the other hand, it must be obvious that to men like
Casement, the adventure appeared to be sheer madness.
I am convinced that Casement’s opposition would have been
no less strenuous had the German arms been successfully
landed at Tralee. He was under the spell of the super-
emciency of the German military machine, and could not
imagine our under-trained, inexperienced amateur army
being able to stand up for a moment against the English
professional soldier. A few of us felt differently about it
but I think I understate it when I say that a vast majority
of the Irish people at that time would have agreed with
” It is, therefore, not at all difficult for me to accept
Professor MacNeill’s explanation of his issuing the order
countermanding the rising. Far from Casement and Mac-
Neill being in a minority in this matter, it was we who were
in the minority. With the German arms at the bottom of
Tralee Bay, it must indeed have seemed an act of madness.
” The actual number of Irishmen employed in the
fighting was very small. In only three places Dublin,
Galway and Enniscorthy was there what could be called
a conflict. I have always put the entire number engaged on
our side at about 2,000. Of course, the countermanding
order and the non-arrival of the German arms had a great
deal to do with deciding the number actually engaged. It
must be understood also that when I say 2,000, I refer to
the number definitely under arms. There were men stand-
ing by awaiting orders in many parts of the country who
would have leaped into action if the circumstances had been
favourable instead of the reverse. In County Cork, for
instance, if they had had arms, 2,000 men would probably
have turned out.
” The British had an ordinary strength in Ireland at
the time of some 30,000 to 40,000 regular troops, and, of
course, they had 10,000 Royal Irish Constabulary scattered
all over the country. It is difficult to say how many British
troops came into action during Easter week.
” In Dublin, the British garrison numbered about 10,000.
Probably all of these were actively engaged. So far as I
know, we have never definitely ascertained the numbers on
our side actually mobilised in Dublin on Easter Monday
morning. It could not have exceeded 700, and at no time
during the week through which the fighting continued could
the number have exceeded 900.
“As for heroism I saw many instances. All of our
men were full of pluck and daring. Only that breed of men
would have engaged in a contest where the odds were worse
than ten to one against ! But the incident that touched me
most was an effort made to rescue a wounded comrade.
Everything considered, I think it was the finest example of
pure heroism I ever saw.
” There were two of them snipers posted under the
lee of the Nelson pillar, out in the middle of O’Connell
Street. The rescuer had been mortally wounded himself
unable to stand on his legs but in spite of it, when his
comrade was slightly wounded he managed to drag him
across the cobblestones and into the safety of the Post
Office. It was evident that the rescuer had but a short
time to live, and he must have known it, for he waved the
doctor aside and told him to look after his comrade. To
everyone’s surprise, he did not die immediately, but for
several days suffered the most awful agony. Never once
did he complain, and at all times he was deeply grateful for
any little service rendered him. He turned out to have
been a waiter in a Dublin hotel. He was not an Irishman ;
his nationality seemed to be Franco-Italian.
” I cannot say that I myself saw any case of specific
brutality on the part of the British. I did, however, see
many cases of what may be called ill-usage. For instance,
a British officer abused and jostled Sean McDermott after
Sean had submitted quietly to capture. Sean was a cripple.
I also saw an English officer prevent one of his private
soldiers from supplying water to a few of our men who had
been standing some hours in the sun. But for the most
part instances of physical brutality indulged in by the British
were conspicuous by their absence.
” There is a form of wounding, however, that is worse
than mere physical brutality. Following our surrender
and being taken prisoners we made our acquaintance with
English contempt. Our captors made no effort to disguise
their feeling that we were wretched inferiors, not worthy
of being accorded treatment given a respected enemy. That
was a pitiful thing. They honestly felt us to be almost
beneath their contempt, and let us thoroughly understand
it. In the batch of several hundred prisoners in which I
found myself were some of our finest and bravest. The
English officer in charge of us was especially abusive and
insulting. He told us we were Irish swine whose place was
in the pig-sty and more of a like kind. A year of so
aftenvards this officer met his death in a distant part of
Ireland under mysterious circumstances. The mystery was
” Not unnaturally considering how few we were, how
hopeless the contest, and how pitiful our lack of equipment
and experience there was much of a distinctly humorous
nature in the incidents of Easter Week.
” Desmond Fitzgerald, for instance, was living out in
Bray, to which the British had sent him the better to keep
him under surveillance. His wife had gone to England on an
urgent mission, leaving him and a young girl of the village,
employed as a nurse, to take care of their two children.
In due course Fitzgerald got word that the rising was to
take place on Easter Sunday. He was in honour bound to
do his bit. But there were his babies and a mother
he had no way of communicating with. The nurse, hardly
more than a child herself, was no safe person to whom to
entrust his children. But just the same, he risked the for-
bidden journey into Dublin on the Saturday night and
managed to reach The O’Rahilly and explain his predicament.
He wanted to do his duty, but he found himself mother as
well as father to two infants ! From his viewpoint, anyway,
the time set for the rebellion was distinctly inopportune.
” To his credit, be it said, he managed to overcome the
difficulty, and he was in the Post Office throughout the week.
” One of the most laughable things that happened was
typical of a certain order of Irish mentality that type
which through the centuries has been responsible for our
world reputation as makers of ‘ bulls.’
” On the Tuesday two Irish lads who had been caught
red-handed by one of our patrols in the act of looting a shop
were brought into the Post Office and before Tom Clarke.
The old man was furious.
” ‘ Shame on you both ! ‘ he thundered. ‘ To desecrate
the name of Ireland in this fashion ! You should be shot
where you stand ! Sure, shooting is too good for a looter ! ‘
” And while the two wretched prisoners trembled under
his tongue-lashing, our leader seemed to be on the point
of ordering their instant execution. A minute went by and
then, disgustedly and scornfully, he ordered them to be led
away to the kitchen to peel potatoes.
” When Friday came, and our surrender was only a matter
of hours, Clarke suddenly remembered the two looters and
ordered them to be brought before him. By this time high
explosive shells had smashed our stronghold into a shapeless
ruin. Outside, from every quarter, machine-guns were
sweeping the streets with a constant rain of fire. The
looters were in a pitiable state.
” ‘ Now then, you two/ Clarke began. ‘ To-morrow,
maybe sooner, we’re going to surrender. We’re going out
and give ourselves up. Every one of us may be shot.
You can wait and go out with us or you can go now.
Choose ! ‘
” Both of them spoke at the same instant. They would
go then and there ! And so we swung open a door and let
them go. We watched them as they ran across O’Connell
Street, the bullets striking all about them. To our amaze-
ment, they escaped without being hit, finally reaching the
comparative safety of Abbey Street. It seemed to us that
we had been witnessing a double miracle. And then one
of them turned round and came dashing straight towards
us ! Again a thousand guns were trained on him, and again
he managed to come through unscathed. We opened the
door for him and he dived through it.
” ‘ Don’t you know your own mind ? ‘ demanded Clarke.
‘ Is it inside or outside you want to be ? ‘
” ‘ Oh, sir,’ came the deadly serious reply, ‘ I had to come
back, sir. I left my insurance card in the kitchen ! ‘
” Important as the rising finally proved and history
will certainly give it place as being the determining factor
in Ireland’s fight for freedom its importance was not
immediately recognised even by those of us to whom it
meant most. In many ways the experiences of that week,
as well as of the preceding years of preparation, were in-
valuable. As a testing measure of men, it could not have
been more conclusive.
” Among other lessons that I learned during this period
was one it would be well if more Irishmen would take to
heart. I discovered that personal bravery alone is of hardly
any more use than its opposite. I hesitate to inflict hurt
on any man, especially one whose only fault is one for which
he cannot properly be blamed. Lack of judgment is not a
thing to blame a man for. And yet it must be said that
one man’s lack of judgment was responsible for the hanging
of Sir Roger Casement, the execution of the seven signers of
the declaration of the Irish Republic, and the ingloriously
speedy termination of the rebellion. The whole story must
be told, but I must not tell it now. Perhaps, later on, the
facts can be made known without undue emphasis on their
There was only one man in Ireland that I knew of who
might merit this description. I had long had my doubts
about him, and, thus prejudiced, leaped to the conclusion
that it must be to him that Collins was referring. I asked
Collins if this were the man. He assured me he was not.
Several months later Collins named the man and told
me the whole story. The man was Austin Stack. The story
in which he figured as a stupid blunderer will be told in a
later chapter. But at the interview with Collins which I
have just described he made it plain that he did not wish
to pursue the subject then, and patently by way of changing
the subject, he suggested that I next interview Arthur
Griffith, at that time the newly elected President of Dail
” There are a few men you must know, if you are to
write the whole story of Ireland’s fight for freedom,” said
Collins. ” And Griffith is one of these. I know you have
talked with him, and I know you think you have sized him
up but I can assure you that you don’t know him nor his
measure. He is the kind that takes a lot of knowing. And
if he will talk you will learn things about Ireland that no
other man could tell you. It may be that Irish people and
the world in general may never appreciate Arthur Griffith
until he is dead and gone, but mark my words, it will come.”
An odd prediction, surely. For as I write from notes
made months ago all Ireland is paying respectful homage
to Griffith lying in state in Dublin’s City Hall, and a world
Press is extolling his greatness in eulogistic editorials. It
took his death to earn Irish appreciation and a world’s
encomiums. He was not the kind of man who wins applause.
A thick-set, grave, monosyllabic, unapproachable type he
was not of the stuff of which popular heroes are made.
But his tenacity of purpose, his indomitable will, his
absolute honesty, and his love of the land to which he had
dedicated himself heart and soul these qualities at the
same time enabled him to do more for Ireland than any
other one man ever accomplished ; they also killed him.
There was nothing to suggest, however, that he was not
in the very pink of condition the night I came upon him in
a private dining-room in Bailey’s chop-house in Dublin,
just before the new rebellion against the Free State Government began.
With many thanks to: Gillean Robertson Miller – Life And Times Of The “big Fella”.