Yet Redmond took the terrible gamble of recommending tens of thousands of young Irishmen fight in World War I, where 30,000 or more Irish lost their lives in order to prove his thesis of the Home Rule paradox that fighting for Britain was the best way to achieve freedom from it. In the days following Easter 1916, he utterly misread the impact of the Rising, praising the British: “It has been dealt with with firmness, which was not only right, but it was the duty of the Government to so deal with it.”Share
Even Edward Carson had warned the British government to be careful who they punished. In contrast to Redmond, most of Irish America quickly saw the Home Rule Bill as the latest illusionary comet sent by British leadership. Most of the Irish in America traced their roots back to the Famine, so it's hardly surprising that theirs was a rebel tradition much more in tune with the men and women of 1916 than with John Redmond's paradoxical call to fight for the British in order to free the Irish.
The historical inflexion point for the Irish Americans was not Home Rule but the American Revolution, which began in 1775 when farmers and peasants took up arms against a far superior army and somehow defeated them. As is often noted, most Americans started off the war as Loyalists but ended as Republicans or Patriots. Ironically it was an Englishman, Thomas Paine, and his hugely influential “Common Sense” with its rallying cry to fight that convinced many of them. Empires and monarchies were never to be trusted, Paine hammered home, and the Great War proved him right. A pity Redmond never took note.
For Irish America, once news of the Easter Rising broke, the great mission was first to get President Woodrow Wilson to speak out, but while the patrician president agreed with them heartily in public, he mercilessly mocked them in private as Professor Robert Schmuhl’s excellent new book on the Easter Rising – “Ireland’s Exiled Children” – makes clear. Short of gaining Wilson’s support, the Irish American leaders wanted to turn back the global tidal wave of condemnation surrounding The Rising. (Read more.)