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Saturday, 15 October 2016


15 October 1945: The death of Eoin MacNeill occurred in Dublin on this day. Born in County Antrim he became a scholar of the Irish language, a prominent nationalist, a revolutionary and a politician.. He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League, founded to preserve the Irish language and culture. In 1909 he was appointed foundation Professor of Early Irish History in UCD and was elected to the first Senate of the new NUI where, along with Douglas Hyde, he campaigned to make Irish a compulsory subject for entry to the university.

While primarily a scholar and cultural activist, in an article entitled ‘The North began’ in An Claidheamh Soluis [Sword of Light] on 1 November 1913, McNeill advocated the formation of a national volunteer force on the lines of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The organisation was established in Dublin on 25 November with the intent to back the push for Home Rule by force of arms if necessary.

He was Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers at the time of the Easter Rising but was kept out of it and indeed tried to stop it as he foresaw a bloody failure if it went ahead. On the eve of the planned  Rising ( 22 April 1916) he issued his infamous countermand order to try and stop the Rising going ahead:

"Volunteers completely deceived. All orders for tomorrow, Sunday, are completely cancelled...

As a result the Revolt went off at half cock and only in Dublin did enough Volunteers turn out to be able to make a go of it to take on the British Army in battle. But for all his attempts to stop the Rising he was interned in Frognoch Camp in Wales with the other prisoners taken in the aftermath and remained under British suspicion on release.

He supported the Treaty in 1921 and held the Cabinet position of Minister of Education in the first Free State Government. He represented the State on the Anglo Irish Boundary Commission in 1925 but resigned when the findings were leaked to a British newspaper. He lost his seat in the 1927 General Election. In that same year he was the first man to come across Kevin O’Higgins as he lay fatally injured after being shot near his home on Booterstown Avenue in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

He retired from politics completely and became Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He published a number of books on Irish history incl. Phases of Irish History (1919) and Celtic Ireland (1921) His work on early Irish History was ground breaking esp. his study of Kingship and succession rights in Ireland before the Anglo Norman Invasion in 1169 AD. Indeed he was one of the first Irish Historians to make a serious attempt to divide fact from myth in the study of the ancient sources of Irish History. His works are still of value today as one of the foundation stones of modern historical study in this Country.