The Men & Women of 1916: British administration & forces
Robert Childers Barton
Raised in Glendalough House, Annamoe, Co. Wicklow, Robert Childers Barton was educated at Rugby School, at Christ Church, Oxford, and at the Royal Agricultural College in Gloucestershire. His was a passionate agriculturalist and he keenly implemented progressive farming techniques in his family’s estate. Despite his family’s strong unionist background, Barton, along with his cousin Erskine Childers, sympathised with Irish nationalism and he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He sided with Redmond during the organisation’s split at the outbreak of the First World War and joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He was dispatched to Dublin during the Easter Rising and was stationed at Richmond Barracks, where he took charge of the prisoners’ personal property and documents. He subsequently committed himself to Irish nationalism, becoming a commandant in the Irish Volunteers and a Sinn Féin MP for West Wicklow in 1918. He was appointed Minister for Agriculture in the First Dáil, but spent the majority of the War of Independence in prison. Following his release in July 1921, Barton served as Minister for Economic Affairs in the Second Dáil, and it was in his capacity as 'economic expert' that he joined the Irish delegation at the Treaty negotiations in London. Barton only signed the Treaty after much persuasion from his fellow delegates and subsequently voted against its ratification in the Dáil. He was once again imprisoned during the Civil War, and lost his Dáil seat in 1923. He did not attempt to regain his seat, though would go on to serve on a number of public bodies throughout the rest of his life.
Birrell was born in Liverpool in 1850. He was educated at Cambridge, and was a lawyer by training. He was elected to Parliament as a Liberal MP in a by-election in 1889. In the 1906 Liberal government he served as President of the Board of Education, and in January 1907 was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland – effectively the Government Minister responsible for administering Ireland and with the most power in the British administration based in Dublin. Birrell’s tenure coincided with Liberal support for the Home Rule Bill, and other legislation such as the Irish Universities Bill (1908) and the Irish Land Act (1909). Birrell never thought that the Irish Volunteers would organise an insurrection during World War One, although he did use legislation and the police to supress nationalist newspapers and the Defence of the Realm Act to arrest agitators. He was in London when news of the arrest of Casement came to London, but did not take any action until Easter Monday, by which time the rising had begun. He travelled to Ireland on Thursday and resigned his position on 1 May as soon as the Rising had been put down. The Royal Commission on the 1916 Rebellion criticised Birrell for not having taken action against the Irish Volunteers and other nationalist groups earlier. He left politics in 1918 and went into retirement.
Major General William Lowe
Lowe was a career soldier who had served in India, Burma and South Africa. He had left the military in 1908, but rejoined at the outbreak of World War One. Too old to serve at the frontline, Lowe was sent to the Curragh as Brigade Commander and Inspector of Cavalry. When news of the rising came through to the Curragh, Lowe ordered his men into the city via the train. He arrived early on Tuesday morning, and as the most senior officer took control of Crown forces in Dublin. He oversaw all military operations until the arrival of General Maxwell from England on the Thursday. On Saturday he received Nurse O’Farrell to discuss the rebel surrender and later Pearse for the formal surrender of Irish forces. He retired in 1919.
General John Maxwell
Maxwell joined the army in 1878 and served in Egypt and Africa, and also in Ireland (1902-4) prior to World War One. At the outset of the War he was in France, but in December 1914 moved to Egypt as General Commanding Officer. In 1916 he was in London at the outbreak of the Rising and was dispatched to Dublin on 28 April as Military Governor. This meant his power was near absolute and also that he was operating under military rather than civilian law. This power enabled Maxwell to use courts-martial to try and sentence those arrested in the immediate aftermath of the Rising and have 14 key figures executed in Dublin. Maxwell also oversaw the wholesale arrest of nationalists across the country in the days following the Rising. In all nearly 3,500 people were arrested. After leaving Ireland Maxwell was promoted to Full General and resigned from the army in 1922.
Sir Matthew Nathan
Nathan was a career civil servant who has served as Governor of various colonial outposts prior to his appointment as Under Secretary for Ireland in 1914. The Under Secretary was permanently based in Dublin, and worked under Birrell, the Chief Secretary. With Birrell usually in London attending to Government business, the day to day administration of Ireland fell to Nathan. His main task was to prepare Ireland for Home Rule. However, with the rise of the Irish Volunteers in the context of World War One, much of his time was spent trying to keep a lid on the forces of advanced nationalism without provoking too radical a response. In light of the news that Casement had been arrested and the Aud scuttled, Nathan might have taken decisive action against the Irish Volunteers. However, rather than make the decision himself, he waited through Easter Sunday for a decision from Birrell in London on what to do. When the Rising began Nathan was in his offices in Dublin Castle and he remained there the whole week. His main function during the week was to keep London updated with events in Dublin. On 3 May Nathan resigned his position. From 1920 to 1925 he was Governor of Queensland, after which he retired to England.
Constable James O’Brien
O’Brien was born in Limerick, and had served with the Dublin Metropolitan Police for 21 years. He was stationed outside Dublin Castle on Easter Monday, and was shot by Seán Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army shortly before noon. O’Brien died of his injuries on the street. He was later buried in the grounds of Dublin Castle and finally buried in Kilfergus, County Limerick n 29 April 1916.
Wimborne, also know as Ivor Churchill Guest, was born in 1873 and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He served in the military and fought in the Second Boer War in South Africa. He was elected to Parliament in 1900 as the Conservative MP for Plymouth. He switched to the Liberal party in 1904. In 1910 he was made Baron Ashby St Ledgers and succeeded his father as Baron Wimborne in 1914. At the start of World War One he was appointed to the staff of the 10th (Irish) Division and stationed at the Curragh. In February 1915 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland – the official representative of the Crown in Ireland and head of the Irish Executive. After the discovery of the attempt to import German arms into Ireland at the start of Easter week, Wimborne wanted the authorities to move against the leaders of the Irish Volunteers but he was overruled. He refused to resign at the end of the Rising, and served two further years as Lord Lieutenant before retiring to Dorset.