The Jesuits and 1916

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Embedded in the Irish Jesuit Archives are vignettes of Jesuit involvement and immediate reaction to the Easter Rising. In 1916, Irish Jesuits ran schools and churches in Dublin, Galway, Kildare and Limerick, and taught at University College Dublin. They involved themselves in missions, retreats, the Pioneers and had a number of publications. Over a quarter of their number laboured in schools and parishes in Australia.

Belvedere College, on the north side of Dublin, had over twenty past pupils involved in the Easter Rising. Joseph Mary Plunkett and Reginald Cleary died on opposing sides. The Jesuits at Belvedere commented in a journal for April 1916 about the effect of the rebellion.

April 24 (Easter Monday): Sinn Fein rebellion began at mid-day. Tuesday: Rebellion continues. Wednesday: Military round city. All chaplaincies (viz. by members of the community to nearby convents and hospitals) continue. Fathers have to walk to Marino and back. Thursday: About 1.0pm military in George’s St fire about 100 rounds at Belvedere. About 50 bullets enter house. Providential escape of community. Later on in day shots fired at an upper window. No gas since Monday. Card party every evening in Gymnasium. Friday: Occasional shots strike the College. Saturday: Cease fire sounded about 2pm. Surrender of rebels in G.P.O. Punch each evening in refectory (out of military range). 1st May: Public allowed through the streets. Sniping and some fighting continues…

The Jesuits claimed for ‘£62 2s 3d for damage to building due to Crown forces rifle fire at Belvedere College’ and received full compensation. The Rector Fr John Fahy SJ and Father Provincial Thomas V Nolan SJ, based at St Francis Xavier’s, Upper Gardiner Street, risked their lives in aiding the wounded and suppling local areas with food and milk. Former Belvedere Rector, Fr Thomas Finlay’s experience of distributing food to people in distress around the south inner city resulted in his involvement and establishment of the Dublin Food Supply Company in late 1916 whose object was “the supply of cheap food to the poor of Dublin due to either the Great War or the local Irish situation.”

An Timire was published from Belvedere on Great Denmark Street. Taobh istigh de chlúdach eagrán an tsamhraidh, 1916, liostaítear ainmneacha cuid de cheannairí 1916 a cuireadh chun báis. Tá líne faoina n-ainmneacha, agus an inscríbhinn ‘Mairfidh a ngníomhta go bráth’ curtha leo. The Irish language was promoted at Belvedere in the early 1900’s by Jesuits and An Timire editors, Richard Campbell, Michael McGrath and Lambert McKenna. In January 1916, Fr McGrath SJ organised for the Irish-speaking sodality of St Francis Xavier’s, Upper Gardiner Street to spend a weekend retreat at Milltown Park. Of the forty who attended that weekend, twenty would partake in the Easter Rising. On Easter Sunday 1916, Padraig and Willie Pearse attended mass at the St Francis Xavier’s.

Belvedere student drawing of GPO 1916

At the Sacred Heart College, Limerick (The Crescent), Fr William Hackett SJ was involved in the republican movement. He established the Crescent Volunteer Corps in 1915 where he ‘wanted to train my boys to fight to be ready to fight for Ireland when their turn came’. Mungret College, Limerick, a boarding school for lay students and for those intending in becoming priests, had five past pupils involved in the Rising. From 1900 onwards, Mungret was affected by the Gaelic revival. Key to this was Fr Edward Cahill SJ, who was an ardent admirer of the doctrines of Sinn Fein. It was an open secret that he facilitated the Irish Volunteers for their training at Mungret. Three other Jesuits at Mungret College shared the same political views as Edward Cahill. By 1917, all were transferred away from Mungret.

A 1916 diary of Dublin-born Jesuit, John Delaney, tell us about the looting, fighting, rumours and Jesuit involvement in the Rising. His diary notes that he investigates the many rumours circulating around Dublin. He often finds them false, although he does say that he saw a boy riding a huge elephant on the city quay side which caused wonderful excitement! Delaney mentions that Jesuits John FX O’ Brien and James McCann were involved in giving the last rites to volunteers, civilians and soldiers, helping the injured and in the collecting of bodies. Delaney’s diary was edited by Fr Thomas Morrissey SJ and published by Messenger Publications in 2015.

Fr Willie Doyle SJ, serving as a chaplain in the First World War reacted to the Rising: ‘I am glad I was safe in the trenches during that time, for apparently the Bosches cannot hold a candle to the Sinn Féiners’. Another chaplain, Fr Henry Gill SJ notes that: ‘We cannot think of anything else than the terrible things which have been going on in Dublin. Please god it is now over and that the authorities will use – as I am sure they will – tact in dealing with it.’ Within a month Gill writes again: ‘I think everyone must admit, no matter what their sympathies that “England has asked for trouble” ’.

The previously accepted wisdom was that Irish Jesuits were not involved in the Easter Rising and they were home rule in sentiment. From the archives, it is evident that this view cannot be so neatly compartmentalised.

Jesuit webpage on 1916, podcast and video.