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Sinn Féin leaders arrested over alleged ‘German plot’
Some of the arrested Sinn Féin leaders Photo: Illustrated London News [London, England] 25 May 1918

Sinn Féin leaders arrested over alleged ‘German plot’

Dublin, 18 May 1918 - In a dramatic midnight swoop, police and military authorities have arrested leading members of the Sinn Féin movement. Among them were a number of MPs and the party’s president, Éamon de Valera, who was seized at his home in Greystones, Co. Wicklow and taken to Kingstown Police Station.

At 1 am, Constance Markievicz was apprehended in Rathmines. Already in custody by then was Darrell Figgis, party secretary, who was seized at his home a couple of hours earlier by several soldiers and half a dozen detectives. Figgis was taken away in a lorry to Dublin Castle.

In Belfast, Denis McCullough and Seán McEntee were also arrested.

Others detained included Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Féin and editor of Nationality; William Cosgrave MP; Joseph McGuinness MP; Dr Richard Hayes and Seán Milroy.

Letter, dated 3 June 1918, to the Chief Secretary from the brother of Seán (J.R.) Etchingham who was ‘taken from his home at midnight on Tuesday 21st May without any charge been preferred against him’. His family learned from the newspaper the following day that he had been ‘deported to England’ and since then his brother had not been able to trace his whereabouts. (Image: National Archives of Ireland, CSO RP 1918 15229)

The reasons for these arrests were given by a proclamation issued by the Lord Lieutenant, Viscount French, and signed by the Chief Secretary, Edward Shortt, both of whom were recently appointed.

The proclamation, published this morning, alleged that the government in Ireland had discovered that a seditious element had been engaging in ‘treasonable communication with Germany’. The arrests were intended to crush what it termed as this ‘German Plot’. The proclamation further urges ‘all loyal subjects’ to assist the government in suppressing this treachery.

Also, in a move, seen by many as a softening in the official attitude towards recruitment in Ireland, the proclamation states that authorities will take steps to ‘facilitate and encourage voluntary enlistment in the hope that without resort to compulsion the contribution of Ireland’ to Britain’s forces ‘may be brought up to its proper strength’.

The uproar caused by the passing of the Military Service (Ireland) Act last month, led to massive anti-conscription rallies all over the country and a general strike.

The Belfast Newsletter, thinks the government has been unduly influenced by this unrest and accuses this, and the previous, administration of pursuing ‘the path of political expediency in its dealing with Irish nationalism and Irish treason too long’.

On the other hand, the Irish Independent has argued that the juxtaposition of details of the plot with the question of military service exposes the proclamation as an exercise in cheap propaganda.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.