Anzacs and The Rising: A Film by Stephen Kearney



As 2016, the centenary year of the Easter Rising, draws to a close a new film has just been released about the Anzacs who were caught up in the fighting in Dublin. The film “Anzacs and The Rising” by Stephen Kearney focuses on the death of Gerald Keogh, a rebel messenger shot dead by Anzac soldiers posted on the roof of Trinity College. Among the Anzac sharpshooters was the Queensland-born son of Irish immigrants, Private Michael McHugh, a veteran of Gallipoli who was on leave in Dublin when the rising broke out.

The short film (22 minutes), which can be viewed on YouTube, includes footage outside Trinity College of the Anzacs in 1916 and of a ceremony held there on Anzac Day 2016 to unveil a plaque to Gerald Keogh. The ceremony was organised by Raymond Keogh (grand nephew of Gerald Keogh) and attended by Patrick McHugh (grand nephew of Pte Michael McHugh). At the ceremony Australian singer-songwriter Kevin McCarthy performed his song “Digger in Dublin”, a moving account of the fatal shooting. The film also includes interviews with Noel White (Irish Ambassador to Australia 2011-2016), Raymond Keogh, Bill McHugh (nephew of Pte Michael McHugh), Patrick McHugh and yours truly.

You can read about the Anzacs in the Easter Rising in Anzacs and Ireland as well as in a short article I wrote for the Australian War Memorial’s Wartime magazine. A longer version appears in the Journal of the Australian War Memorial. I have updated the research in a paper entitled “We personally had no quarrel with the rioters” which I gave at a conference on “The 1916 Irish Rising: Australasian Perspectives” held at Newman College, University of Melbourne, 7-8 April 2016. The paper recounts further stories of the diggers in Dublin and expands on the Australian involvement in the murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington and two other journalists by Captain John Bowen-Colthurst. The paper identifies the unnamed Australian officer whose letter describing the event was published anonymously in the Melbourne Age in July 1916 and traces the Australian background of the unfortunate 2Lt William Dobbin, the officer in charge of the guardroom when Bowen-Colthurst ordered the journalists to be taken out of their cells and shot.

Battle of Kosturino: the Irish-Australian connection

December 7 marks the 101st anniversary of the Battle of Kosturino, a little-known action in the little-known Macedonian campaign during the very well-known First World War. While this minor clash in the Balkans in December 1915 is of little significance in the overall context of the war, its interest for me as an Australian is that the battle involved troops from the 10th (Irish) Division, recently transferred from Gallipoli where the division’s 29th Brigade had served alongside the Anzacs during the August offensive at Lone Pine, Quinn’s Post, Chunuk Bair and Hill 60. At the Battle of Kosturino a small contingent of Australian soldiers served alongside the Irish.

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Romeo Drobarov of Salonika Battlefield Tours at the memorial to the 10th (Irish) Division at Rabrovo, Macedonia

While the centenary of the battle was commemorated last year, it is only recently that I visited Kosturino, prompting me to write this post and a short account of the battle: Battle of Kosturino: the Irish-Australian connection.

My visit to the battle site was facilitated by Romeo Drobarov of Salonika Battlefield Tours, who has a detailed knowledge of the battlefield and of the various actions that occurred in and around the locality during the Macedonian campaign. For Australians interested in going there, the journey is not difficult at all. It involves a flight to Athens and a train trip to Thessaloniki, from where Romeo will collect you and drive you to and around the battlefield.

22nd Australasian Irish Studies Conference, Adelaide

The Irish Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand held its 22nd conference at Flinders University, Adelaide from 29 November to 2 December 2016. The keynote speakers were Professor David Fitzpatrick (Trinity College Dublin), Professor Melanie Oppenheimer (Flinders University) and Dr Maggie Ivanova (Flinders University). Numerous other papers were given on various topics under the common theme of “Change, Commemoration, Community”.

At the conference I gave a paper entitled “The Paradox of Prophecy: Hugh Mahon and the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal rights” in which I examine Hugh Mahon’s progressive approach to Australia’s indigenous peoples, including his unsuccessful parliamentary motion in 1901 calling for a constitutional amendment that was eventually adopted in 1967. Nevertheless, Mahon was also a strong supporter of the white Australia policy, urging strict controls on immigration and describing non-Europeans in the most disparaging terms. The paper seeks to resolve the apparent paradox between Mahon’s prophetic views on Aboriginal rights and his overtly racist and restrictive attitude towards Asian immigration.

Centenary of the 1916 Conscription Referendum

During the First World War the Australian government in 1916 and again in 1917 asked the Australian people to approve the introduction of military conscription for overseas service. On each occasion the Australian people by a narrow margin said no. The first referendum was held on 28 October 1916, just six months after the Easter rising in Dublin. It soon became the orthodox view that the Irish Catholic vote was decisive and that the Easter rising and the British government’s response to it were major factors influencing Australian Catholics of Irish descent to oppose conscription.

Soon after the result was known, the Australian prime minister, William Morris Hughes, claimed in a letter to the leader of the British Conservative Party that ‘the selfish vote, and shirker vote and the Irish vote were too much for us’. In August 1917 Hughes wrote to his British counterpart David Lloyd George, ‘The [Catholic] Church is secretly against recruiting. Its influence killed conscription’. But it was not only supporters of conscription who regarded the vote of Australian Catholics of Irish descent as decisive. The Catholic Press, which had opposed conscription, declared soon after the vote, ‘It would be futile to deny that the continuance of martial law in Ireland was perhaps the strongest factor in swelling the “no-conscription” returns’. Labor’s Frank Anstey wrote, ‘[I]f there had been no Easter Week in Ireland … there would have been no hope of defeating conscription in Australia’.

Many historians agreed. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter rising Ken Inglis wrote, ‘Had it not been for the Sinn Feiners and Sir John Maxwell [military governor in Ireland], Australian conscripts would have gone to France.’ However, subsequent research has questioned the significance of the vote of Catholics of Irish descent and the influence which the Easter rising and its aftermath had on their voting intentions.

 In a paper I gave to the Australian Catholic Historical Society on 16 October 2016 (published in the Society’s journal), I discussed Catholic attitudes to conscription in 1916-17 and examined whether it was the Catholic Church which killed conscription, as Hughes claimed, and to what extent events in Ireland influenced the result.

Sydney Commemorates the Easter Rising

 

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Sydney commemorates the Easter Rising: Outside Mitchell Library during a break in the screening of films on the Rising (Mike O’Flynn)

Under grey skies, reminiscent of weather in Dublin, a crowd of more than 300 gathered outside the GPO in Martin Place at 10 am on Easter Monday to hear Irish-Australian actor Maeliosa Stafford read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, first read 100 years ago outside the GPO in Dublin. The reading was part of a day of commemoration organised by the Aisling Society of Sydney to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.

Before the proceedings began Kevin O’Connor kept the growing numbers entertained by playing Irish tunes on his fiddle. Once the GPO clock had finished striking the hour, I gave a short address on the significance of the Easter Rising for Ireland and Australia. (A longer version can be read by clicking here.) This was followed by the reading of the Proclamation, after which those fortunate enough to have secured tickets moved to the Mitchell Library for the screening of three films on the Rising: excerpts from Ireland Will Be Free (1920); the docu-drama A Terrible Beauty (2013); and the feature film Irish Destiny (1926).

In the Dixon Room of the library Indigenous elder Ken Canning gave an acknowledgement to country before Irish Consul General Jane Connolly formally opened the film screening. In between films members of the audience came forward to relate personal stories of their family’s involvement with the Rising.

Organiser of the event Tony Earls is to be congratulated on what turned out to be a very successful and enjoyable day of commemoration. The event was funded by a grant from the Irish government’s 1916-2016 Centenary Programme.

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Maeliosa Stafford reading the Proclamation. On his left is Tony Earls (Mike O’Flynn)

Photographs of the day’s proceedings taken by Mike O’Flynn can be seen by clicking here. A video of the reading of the Proclamation can be seen on YouTube.

Against the Odds: Battle of Vinegar Hill 1804 and the Easter Rising 1916

Battle_of_Vinegar_Hill_Memorial-32635-22941On Sunday 6 March 2016 I gave an address at the Battle of Vinegar Hill Monument, Castlebrook Memorial Park, Rouse Hill on the occasion of the 212th anniversary of the convict rebellion there in 1804. In the address I reflected on the relationship between that event and the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, the centenary of which we commemorate this year. In the address I observed, “In both cases, the plans though bold were ill-conceived, poorly executed and destined to fail. As the Americans say, ‘You can’t fight City Hall’. And yet in both cases, Irishmen were prepared to risk their lives in a reckless endeavour against overwhelming odds.” I then went on to ask and consider the following question: “So, what is it that drove the Irish convicts of 1804 and the Volunteers of 1916, to answer the call to rise up and to rush, lemming like, towards the ramparts of the ruler, only to plunge to inevitable defeat and in many cases certain death?” To read the address click here.

Easter Rising and Captain Bowen-Colthurst

Terrible DutyNext year the centenary of the Easter Rising will be marked by many commemorative events and the publication of articles and books on numerous aspects of this significant event in the history of modern Ireland. A book recently published depicts the life of a little known participant in the rising on the British side, Captain John Bowen-Colthurst, who was responsible for the murder of innocent civilians, including the well-known newspaper editor and Dublin eccentric Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. A Terrible Duty: The Madness of Captain Bowen-Colthurst (Thena Press, 2015) by Bryan Bacon is available online from Amazon. Bowen-Colthurst’s story has significance for Australians as some of his crimes were witnessed by an Australian soldier, who was in Dublin on leave when the rising broke out and who had reported for duty at Portobello Barracks, Rathmines. The soldier wrote a letter home describing his participation in a patrol led by Bowen-Colthurst during which an innocent young man was shot in the street and a number of civilians, including two journalists, were arrested and taken back to the barracks. The next morning Bowen-Colthurst ordered that Sheehy-Skeffington and the two journalists be shot by firing squad. The Australian soldier’s letter was published in the Age newspaper causing a scandal, particularly amongst the Irish-Catholic community in Australia. I tell the story of the Australian soldier’s involvement in these events in Anzacs and Ireland (pp. 68-72). Ultimately, Bowen-Colthurst was court-martialled and found guilty of murder but because he was also found to be insane he was sent to Broadmoor Asylum. Released in 1918, he travelled to Canada in 1921 where he lived a long life, dying in 1965. A Terrible Duty provides a valuable insight into Bowen-Colthurst’s life and character.

Governor Richard Bourke Commemorated

On 3 December 1831 Irishman Major-General Richard Bourke arrived in Sydney to begin a six-year term as the eighth governor of the colony of New South Wales. On the 184th anniversary of Bourke’s arrival, his contribution to the colony was marked by a reception at Government House in Sydney hosted by the current governor General David Hurley and Mrs Hurley. During the evening the invited guests were informed and entertained by talks on Bourke given by Dr Richard O’Brien, who spoke on Bourke’s relationship with his cousin Edmund Burke, Professor Tony Parr, who spoke on Bourke’s period as acting governor in Cape Colony, and Dr Jeff Brownrigg, who spoke on Bourke and music in colonial Australia. This event was followed by a colloquium in Canberra on 7 and 8 December at the Australian National University. Speakers included the three from the Government House reception, who expanded on their topics, and Dr Christine Wright on Bourke’s soldiering, Dr David Roberts on Bourke’s convicts, Dr Richard Reid on Bourke and immigration, Dr Jeff Kildea on Bourke’s law, Prof John Molony on Bourke and Plunkett, Dr Cheryl Mongan on Bourke and his Australian travels, Dr James Warden on Bourke and Batman’s “treaty” with the Aborigines, and Dr David Headon on Bourke’s statue in Sydney. It is proposed to publish the papers in an edited collection.

The Irish at Gallipoli 100 years on

In this centenary year of the Gallipoli campaign the main focus of commemoration in Australia and New Zealand has been the anniversary of the landing on 25 April. For the Irish, however, August rather than April is the most significant month. Although three Irish battalions took part in the landing at Cape Helles as part of the 29th Division, it was in August that the Irish arrived in strength with the 10th (Irish) Division taking part in the major offensive that was intended to break the stalemate which had set in after the original landings three and half months before.

The August offensive also has significance for Australians and New Zealanders as it saw their soldiers engaged in battles which have become iconic in each country’s remembrance of the campaign. For the Australians it is Lone Pine; for the New Zealanders it is Chunuk Bair.

But in each case Irish soldiers of the 29th Brigade of the 10th (Irish) Division fought in support of their Antipodean allies. At Lone Pine the 5th Connaught Ranges assisted the 1st Australian Division by clearing the dead and wounded from the labyrinth of Turkish trenches while the fighting raged around them. At Chunuk Bair the 6th Royal Irish Rifles, the 6th Leinster Regiment and the 5th Connaught Rangers fought alongside the New Zealand Brigade. A few weeks later the soldiers of all three nations fought literally shoulder to shoulder in the struggle to take Hill 60.

In the meantime, the remaining brigades of the 10th (Irish) Division, the 30th and 31st, landed at Suvla Bay on the morning of 7 August and over the following weeks suffered huge casualties trying to extend the Suvla beachhead by capturing the high ground of Kirsch Tepe Sirt, which dominated the allied position.

In the end the Turks held firm against the August offensive, confining the British forces to their narrow footholds around Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay. And in the overall campaign they prevailed leading to the evacuations in December and January.

Gallipoli was a severe defeat for the military forces of the British Empire, and was to have a profound effect on its emerging nations. Anzacs and Irishmen both came away from the peninsula convinced they had been mucked about and butchered by the incompetence of the British generals. But, unlike the Australians and New Zealanders, for whom Gallipoli had a salutary effect on the nation-building process without rupturing relations with the British Empire, the Irish were not so forgiving.

Separatist nationalists, who were opposed to the war, exploited the Dardanelles fiasco to whip up anti-British sentiment, while moderate nationalists began to lose faith in the idea that supporting Britain in the war would assure home rule. For some it was Gallipoli rather than the Easter Rising of 1916 that marked the moment their feelings towards the British began to turn.

So, the Gallipoli campaign is an important event for all three nations, yet the cost was high in lives lost – 8700 Australians, 2700 New Zealanders and more than 3000 Irishmen – and in lives shattered. For that reason alone Gallipoli deserves to be remembered, not only in Australia and New Zealand but in Ireland as well.

Further information: The July/August issue of History Ireland contains an article I wrote outlining the part which the Irish played in the August offensive, while University College Dublin’s History Hub hosts a six-part podcast I recorded called “The Irish at Gallipoli”. In addition, in the Autumn issue of Reveille I rebut an allegation by a New Zealand historian that the 6th Leinster Regiment fled during the battle for Chunuk Bair. Far from fleeing, the evidence indicates that the Leinsters helped save the day when the Turks counter-attacked and threatened to drive the British Empire troops off Rhododendron Ridge, the spur running from Chunuk Bair down to the sea.

Anzac Day in Dublin 2014

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Jeff Kildea giving Anzac address at Grangegorman Military Cemetery (Courtesy Michael Lee)

When I arrived at Dublin’s Grangegorman Military Cemetery this morning at 6 o’clock for the Anzac Day dawn service to commemorate all those who died in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, a crescent moon was rising in the east. Very appropriate, I thought. After all, the victors in that campaign were the Turks, whose national flag includes a crescent moon. Just as Australians and New Zealanders regard that campaign as of the utmost significance in the emergence of their nationhood, so too do the people of modern Turkey, whose first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the great military hero of the campaign, had defended his country from the invaders.

I am well familiar with Grangegorman Military Cemetery. I had visited it many times while researching Anzacs and Ireland. Buried there are seven Australian soldiers of the First World War and three New Zealanders. Of those, four Australians and two New Zealanders died when the RMS Leinster, the mailboat from Dublin to Holyhead, was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast, just one month before the end of the war, with the loss of more than 500 lives. I had written about those soldiers in the book.

For Australians and New Zealanders, the 25th of April, the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli is the main focus of their national commemorations of their countrymen who died in that campaign and in other military conflicts. Thousands of Irishmen also died at Gallipoli, but they have largely been forgotten in Ireland.

While the antipodean nations along with the Turks see the Gallipoli campaign as the crucible of their nations, for the Irish it is the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence (1919-1921). After the Irish had won their independence and established their state in 1922, their nation-building understandably focussed on the struggle for independence, not the part that Irish soldiers had played in what many regarded as “England’s war”. In recent years attitudes have changed. Ireland is now a mature, confident nation state and its people are increasingly looking back to that war and giving recognition to the sacrifice made by the more than 35 000 Irishmen who died fighting for what they believed was a righteous cause.

That recognition was evidenced today by the presence at the ceremony of more than 200 people, mostly Irish, including the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan and representatives of the Defence Forces of Ireland.

To me, today’s service in Dublin was extra special as I had been given the honour of delivering the Anzac Day address. It gave me, as an Australian of Irish descent, the opportunity to pay regard to the part played by the Irish in the war, particularly the more than 6000 Irish men and women who served in the Australian forces and the more than 900 who were killed or died of wounds or illness related to their war service. Among them were thirteen Irishmen who, wearing the Australian uniform, were killed on the day of the landing at Gallipoli 99 years ago today. And to underline the personal tragedy which is the nature of war, I recited the name, age, occupation and birthplace of each of them. I was delighted afterwards by the number of Irish people who took the trouble to speak with me and to commend me for having done so and for having spoken about the part played by the Irish in the war.

As the rising sun broke through the trees overlooking the graves at Grangegorman and cast its light and warmth on this cold place, I concluded my address with the following words:

Mindful that the loss of life in war is “always personal, always tragic, and always has consequences”,* it is right that we remember the individual men and women killed in the war and their families left with long mourning and deep grief. In that way, we commemorate our war dead, not to glorify their deeds, for there is no glory in war, but to see them as our father, our mother; our brother, our sister; our son, our daughter, whose life was precious, and then to echo Pope Paul’s exhortation to the UN: “No more war, war never again”.

(* Michael McKernan, Gallipoli, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2010)