Polly put the kettle on…no wait, don’t, no…do!

Mobilisation Order Easter Sunday


The title of this blog may be somewhat cryptic for some readers who did not grow up with Anglo-Irish nursery rhymes! It describing how a little girl, Polly, sets about making tea for her mother, step-by-step. What has this to do with military history? Aside from the fact that the BEF would have been routed without tea making facilities! Or a ‘hot-wet’ to those Boot Necks out there!

The counter to the rhyme comes from a scenario which occurred to me recently at home. My mother was visiting and I offered her tea. I went to switch the kettle on, then was told not to bother, only to be asked a few minutes later would I not make tea?! Needless to say confusion prevailed and I didn’t know was I coming or going! The decisive inertia generated (to boil the kettle) had been disrupted and my original plan had been shot to hell.

 Eoin MacNeill Irish Times

Now imagine you were tasked with initiating a rebellion. Say with the Irish Volunteers around Eastertide, 1916 for arguments sake… Imagine, if you will, you were issued with orders to parade at ‘X’ time and be fully mobilised, with rations, warm clothing and be prepared to be away from your home for several weeks. You would think that this is it, this is the real deal. The inertia would be going. You and your comrades would be gearing up and you would be fired up! And then Eoin Mac Neill, your Commanding Officer, published public orders for all the world to see in the print media, that in no uncertain terms, You were NOT to parade over Easter!

Well I for one would be very confused! If your CO says not to parade, you don’t parade. Unless of course you’re in a secret, oath-bound, shadowy organisation dedicated to the overthrow of the foreign presence of the ancient enemy in your country. Then of course, like Pádraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Seán MacDermott and the other IRB members at Easter 1916, then you mobilise the few men you can in open defiance of your leader’s wishes and rise anyway.

In direct contrast to the importation of arms into Larne and Dublin by the respective Volunteer forces and later operations by them, the Irish Volunteers made poor work of the Rising. The attempted importation of arms from the Aud in Kerry was unbelievably naive, especially when you look at the previous sophisticated oil painting of gunrunning at Howth and Kilcoole, the attempt to land arms in Munster was more akin to a child’s finger painting. Everything went wrong for the Volunteers, but they allowed things to go wrong also. The arms and munitions should have been in the country for weeks or months prior to the outbreak of hostilities; how were the Volunteers who had never handled these weapons supposed to use them effectively and be accurate with their marksmanship? Militarily the Rising was never clear in its tactical objectives, only the larger strategy of ‘Defeat the Enemy’ was paramount; there was little thought given to different tactics and the concept of trading space for time (manoeuvre theory) was apparently never even entered into. The Ashbourne Ambush, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy, is probably the only example of the Volunteers actually realising that they were able to move from static locations and strike at the enemy (the Royal Irish Constabulary). Calling the selection process of some of the rebel garrisons in Dublin City a tactical nightmare, would be paying the planners the compliment that they understood what tactics were!

 Pearse 1916.jkblogspot

The Easter Rising was poorly thought out. It was destined to fail; Pádraig Pearse realised this, as did the majority of the leadership. And they still rose. And to this day Irish public opinion is split over whether or not it was rank stupidity, sheer and utter bravery or a blatantly stubborn defiance.

Perhaps we should look at matters in a slightly different light; The Rising might best be viewed as a stepping-stone to the ultimate freedom, the Republic and self-determination. A battle in a much larger war. To paraphrase the nursery rhyme again, Pádraig Pearse put the kettle on, other made the tea a few years later.

Happy Easter to all of you and your families.

About eamonntgardiner

Dr. Eamonn T. Gardiner, is a Consulting Historian. He has previously conducted research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst veterans of the First World War serving as Auxiliary Policemen, during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. He has written extensively on British central and colonial administrative responses to popular insurgencies. In 2009 he published 'Counterinsurgency and Conflict: Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War (CSP, 2009).' Published papers include; 'The training of the Irish Volunteers, 1913-1916' (The Irish Sword, 2017); 'Scattered, Ambushed and Laid Out: War and Counterinsurgency in the greater Tuam area, 1919-1921' (JOTS, 2015). Research interests include De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism; Insurgency, Police/Military Histories; Institutional Histories; Modern Irish/World History; History of Conflict, Protectorates and Peace-Keeping; Hegemony; Old and New Terrorism.
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