Eoin MacNeill’s Countermanding Order Easter 1916

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MacNeill’s Countermanding order to stop the mobilisation of Volunteers on Easter Sunday, which appeared in the Sunday Independent on April 23rd, 1916.

On Easter Saturday, MacNeill discovered that a group within the organisation had secret plans to launch an armed rebellion against British Rule.When he discovered the deception, and after receiving news of Roger Casement’s failed attempt to import arms from Germany, MacNeill tried to prevent the mobilisation.He hand-wrote several copies of his countermanding order, on headed notepaper at his home – Woodbrook, in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin – and dispatched men to deliver copies to local commanders nationwide.The countermand was only partly successful and caused confusion, especially outside Dublin.The rebels delayed their plans by 24 hours and launched the Rising on Easter Monday, April 24th, 1916.

Incidentally Eoin MacNeill’s son Niall (often referred to as Neil) was elected on to the Fianna Executive at the Ard Fheis in 1915. He was also Captain of E Company (Ranelagh) of the recently re-organised Dublin Brigade and a member of the IRB. It is also worth noting that at the 1915 Ard Fheis, MacNeill Jr called for a resolution to arm and train all Fianna scouts to bring them into line with Volunteer training. It seems Niall was leaning towards a more militaristic approach for the movement while his father was preferring a different, perhaps defensive approach for the Volunteers, certainly throughout 1915, and then as can be seen with his countermanding order, opposition to an insurrection in 1916.

Despite Niall’s differing views from his father, he was the only member of the Fianna Executive who was not informed of the impending Rising due to his family connections, and he therefore did not mobilise at Easter 1916. Following 1916 however he was court martialled by Constance Markievicz and Barney Mellows for not taking part,  once he had discovered that the rebellion was underway. MacNeill was eventually “exonerated on the grounds that I was under the influence of my father.” MacNeill later recalled the whole exercise as being a “face-saving” ploy by Fianna HQ and that they had never any intention to remove him from the organisation. Niall went on to re-organise the Rathfarnham company of the Fianna in 1917.

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