THE release of the prisoners marked the commencement of a new phase in the Irish struggle.1 The entire surviving leadership of the national movement was now free. Throughout the country Sinn Fein membership grew with a fresh impetus. In the week immediately following the return eighty newly established clubs sought affiliation. But the prisoners, for all their greater prestige, were no more politically homogeneous than those outside, and differences had already revealed themselves among them.
Perhaps the leading “offensivist” was Thomas Ashe. He had early grasped the importance of political action and supported participation in by-elections while others still hesitated. A native of Castlegregory in the County Kerry and an Irish speaker, he had been for some years a school-teacher in County Dublin. He had visited the U.S.A. with Diarmuid Lynch in 1914 in order to raise funds for the Gaelic League. It was he who led the skilful actions in north County Dublin during the Rising. He was a staunch I.R.B. man.
At the other pole was Eoin MacNeill. The instinct of many of the prisoners had been to shun him. De Valera had insisted on his rehabilitation, thereby revealing that, for him at least, there would be no second Rising. Some of the I.R.B. men gravitated towards this position. They drew from defeat not the conclusion that Easter Week was ill-timed, but that the principle of national insurrection was at best “propaganda by the deed” .
Before the prisoners dispersed to their homes, Michael Collins handing out the rail fares, a meeting was held. De Valera revealed his uncertainties frankly. At this point Thomas Ashe could almost certainly have taken the leadership. But the I.R.B. had not yet reorganised its forces. And Griffith was on the flank. Collins’ group was pursuing the old “offensivist” policy. But the leadership established under Mrs. Clarke’s auspices was following more complex designs, which were not all to her liking. Following the March revolution, which was received with general rejoicing in Ireland, came a Bolshevik declaration in
1 This chapter continues the story of events in Ireland. The life-story of Mellows is resumed in Chapter 9.