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The Plunkett-Casement ‘Ireland report’: what was it and why does it matter?
Roger Casement (left) went to Germany in 1914 to secure assistance for a rebellion. Contact with German authorities had previously been made by Clan na Gael leader John Devoy (right). (Image: Joseph McGarrity Collection. Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:171508.) Photo: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The Plunkett-Casement ‘Ireland report’: what was it and why does it matter?

by John Gibney

Introduction

The 'Ireland report' was composed at some point in April-May 1915; it was a hypothetical plan for an Irish rebellion that was to take place during the First World War, geared towards a German audience. It provided details of what a potential German expeditionary force should expect to find in Ireland in terms of both the local assistance they might receive and the resistance they might face. The precise circumstances of its composition remain unclear, but it seems to have been prompted by the arrival of Joseph Mary Plunkett in Germany in April 1915.

Context

The context in which it was composed is easier to determine. As soon as the war had broken out, radical nationalists such as Thomas Clarke and Sean MacDiarmada took the view that the war presented them with an opportunity that was too good to pass up; consequently, and on the time honoured principle that England's difficulty would be Ireland's opportunity, they resolved to embark upon a rebellion before the war was over. The war offered the prospect of a marriage of convenience with Germany, given that they were now at war with the United Kingdom and its allies. To that end, contact was made with the German authorities, primarily through the veteran Clan na Gael leader, John Devoy, in New York, and in late 1914 the former British consul and human rights advocate Roger Casement travelled to Germany to secure their assistance.

Non-commissioned officers of Roger Casement's ill-fated Irish Brigade. (Image: Joseph McGarrity Collection. Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:135514. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.)

It was anticipated that the Germans might aid the Irish cause in a number of ways; most obviously by offering material assistance for a rebellion against the British, and by permitting Casement to recruit an 'Irish brigade' from amongst Irish soldiers in German captivity who might be inclined to join such a rebellion. But this failed miserably; few recruits came forward, and by April 1915, Casement was admitting to his Germans contacts that the 'Irish Brigade' was dead in the water in practical terms. Casement's failure in this regard seems to have discredited him in German eyes; equally, figures like Devoy, who remained a crucial conduit between Ireland and Germany, did not fully trust Casement's judgment, and he was left in the dark with regards to the conspiracy that was underway. It was around this time that Plunkett joined him in Germany.

Contents

In September 1914 Plunkett had been appointed to draft plans for the proposed insurrection; he may have turned up in Germany to boost Casement's flagging campaign to get German assistance for what became the Easter Rising, and in the process they drafted the 'Ireland report'. Casement claimed that Plunkett brought no documents or detailed plans with him (presumably an understandable precaution); the report seems to have been composed on the spot. It was a lengthy (32 page) memorandum outlining the preparations for the rising that were supposedly in hand and the ostensible strength of the forces that would carry it out, along with detailed descriptions of Ireland's topography and coastline and suggestions as to how the Irish insurgents might link up to a German landing. The report did, however, paint a greatly exaggerated picture of the preparations that the Irish Volunteers had undertaken, and of the strength of the forces at their disposal. But ultimately this did not matter; the memorandum prepared by Casement and Plunkett fell on deaf ears. It was passed on to the German foreign office by the German military authorities on June 8th, and no more was heard of it.

The front page of the Irish-American newspaper The Gaelic American for 5 December 1914. It's leading story states: 'Germans and Irish solidly united' and the image depicts a detachment of Irish Volunteers and another of Germans in uniform, symbolising 'the military alliance between Germany and Ireland'. Click to enlarge. (Image: The Gaelic American - Vol. XI, No. 49, December 5, 1914. Joseph McGarrity Collection. Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:335798. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.)

Significance

The very existence of the 'Ireland report' casts some doubt on the well-worn trope of 'blood sacrifice'; the notion (most recently challenged by Fearghal McGarry) that the Easter Rising was little more than an attempt at martyrdom. But an aspiration to martyrdom could co-exist with a desire for military success; and martyrdom would not require such elaborate preparation as this. That said, if the broad contours of the 'Ireland report' are taken at face value, regardless of its specifics - and there is no obvious reason not to do so - then it is deeply flawed. For Charles Townshend, the plan, while essentially plausible, did not take sufficient account of German concerns: they were more likely to be worried about how their forces could get past the Royal Navy to reach the Irish coast, even before they tried to assess what local assistance was forthcoming. Townshend also took the view that the claims made in the report that plans were in place to assist any German landing were 'misleading' if not 'disingenuous', and agreed with F.X. Martin's view that there was no obvious reason to believe that there was a plan for the Easter Rising on a national scale.

But this does not seem to be the whole story. Some statements later collected by the Bureau of Military History contain fragments and recollections that hint at the existence of such a broader plan for a rising both in Dublin and around the country; that said, some of these seem naive with regards to what the British might do (or not do) in the event of a rebellion, and some contemporaries had major reservations about what was allegedly planned. The existence of a plan does not mean that it was flawless; and while the 'Ireland report' may have been specific in detail, it was vague in terms of its ultimate purpose. But elements of the report resemble some of what was supposed to happen in 1916, most obviously in terms of the landing of weapons in the vicinity of the Shannon estuary and the plans for their distribution along the west coast. Were these echoes of earlier deliberations, some of which were reflected in the memorandum devised by Casement and Plunkett? There is little or no account of the planning of the Easter Rising left behind by those who organised it, but this is why the 'Ireland report' is significant. It is a draft plan - however over-egged for its German audience - for a theoretical rising of some sort, composed a year before the Easter Rising by members of the inner circle who planned the rising. In that sense, it may provide a tentative glimpse of what some of them were presumably thinking.

John Gibney is Editor of www.decadeofcentenaries.com

Further reading

Reinhard Doerries, Prelude to the Easter Rising: Sir Roger Casement in Imperial Germany (London, 2000)

John Gibney, 'What if the guns had landed? Another version of Casement's Easter Rising', in Breac: a digital journal of Irish Studies, 4 (forthcoming 2015)

Fearghal McGarry, The rising: Ireland, Easter 1916 (Oxford, 2010)

Angus Mitchell, Roger Casement (Dublin, 2013)

RTÉ

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