TRANSITION IN IRELAND
MELLOWS spent four years in the United States.1 He was thus absent from Ireland during the springtime of revolution, when the mass movement against imperialism grew most rapidly and imposed unity on all currents of discontent. Unable to express itself through the traditional nationalist party it annexed Griffith’s Sinn Fein, moulding it to the new purpose, with a new constitution and an expanded leadership. The first stage in the process can with advantage be described at this point, since Mellows’ work in the U.S.A. was at all times oriented towards developments in Ireland. It will moreover be convenient to anticipate his experiences by a few months.
Official mythology makes Easter Week the demiurge of modern Ireland. A small group of heroes defied the might of British Imperialism. The national soul was re-awakened. A terrible beauty was born, and behold, the rulers of today safely installed in Leinster House, the only fly in the ointment being the parallel installation of the Unionists at Stormont. Reduced to its bare bones this interpretation of events by the bourgeoisie of today amounts to this: Actions at Westminster having failed to secure a decent bargain from the imperialists, the Rising created a position where they had to concede one. There is of course a grain of truth in it. Only the I.R.B. and Connolly’s followers considered possible a successful rising against Britain. Feeling that there must at some time be a bargain, Griffith, the man above all responsible for the actual bargain struck, always denied that the Rising had done more than accelerate an inevitable process. But no formula can summarise the history of a revolution. It is necessary to see what actually happened, dealing first with British policy, and then with its impact on the classes existing in Ireland.
The Easter Rising befell at that fateful moment when the British Cabinet, summoned to discuss the crisis of its war policy, decided to fight on. So Irish food and manpower were still required. The question was how to get them. True to form, the imperialists reacted to the fright they had had with coercion. The flames of rebellion were
1 This chapter deals with the dynamics of the revolution in Ireland. The life story of Mellows is resumed in Chapter 7.