Sonja Tiernan
University of Otago, New Zealand | Views:

Creative Commons 4.0 by Sonja Tiernan. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

In an interview for a student newspaper in 2016, Bríona Nic Dhiarmada described the making of her highly acclaimed documentary series, 1916: The Irish Rebellion, as an opportunity “to look at that [Easter Rising] event not only simply as Irish history or Irish-British history, but as part of actually world history.”[1] The success of that series caused many to reflect on the events of Easter week from a global perspective. The centenary commemorations in 2016 were marked by Irish Embassies, community groups, and academics world-wide interrogating Irish emigrant involvement and reactions to the rebellion abroad. While commemorations occurred in England, Scotland, the United States, Canada, and Australia, many links were found in less obviously connected countries. On 22 March 2016, a two-day conference was held at Toitū, Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin, New Zealand. The conference theme, “Yet no clear fact to be discerned,” involved presentations from fifteen speakers examining New Zealand’s response to the 1916 Rising. This volume, edited by conference organiser, Peter Kuch along with Lisa Marr, includes ten chapters stemming from this commemorative event.

The involvement of New Zealand troops during the six days of the rebellion, or indeed the responses to the insurrection against British rule as seen in New Zealand have, to this point, been vastly overlooked. Indeed, Kuch accurately claims in the introduction that this volume is the “first considered account.” The ten essays are presented chronologically and together they weave an engaging, if not surprising, story of New Zealand responses to the Irish rebellion. There is unfortunately no focus on Māori in this volume, although the editors note that a call was made to include contributions relating to the indigenous population of New Zealand, who have many close ties with early Irish settlers. The ten chapters successfully cover a wide aspect of accounts including perspectives of women and the rising, literary and theatrical responses, media assessments, and religious interventions.

The first chapter details an often overlooked account of New Zealand troops who fought alongside British forces in Dublin to quash the rebellion. “‘The Empire Strikes Back’: Anzacs and the Easter Rising 1916,” is by Jeff Kildea who, in his previous role as Professor of Australian History at University College Dublin, uncovered vital new research contributing to our knowledge of the Irish at Galllipoli during the 2014 centenary of World War One. This chapter does not disappoint, as Kildea assesses how New Zealanders got caught up the fighting in Dublin when British authorities marshalled all available troops in the area. Kildea describes how some New Zealand troops were on leave in Dublin when the fighting broke out and as members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force they were called to action. This chapter is littered with interesting accounts such as that of Corporal John Godwin Garland who describes being shot at by Countess Markievicz travelling past him in a car as he stood on Sackville Street. Of course, as Kildea notes, this is most unlikely to have happened as Markievicz was by then stationed in the area of St Stephen’s Green and later at the Royal College of Surgeons. Nonetheless, such witness accounts provide an insight into New Zealand troops’ perceptions of the fight for Irish independence.

The following two chapters focus on women and the rising. The first of these focuses on a detailed assessment of Australasian press coverage of women involved in the rising written by Dianne Hall, an Irish historian based at Victoria University in Melbourne. Hall has written extensively on the history of the Irish in Australia, most significantly she co-wrote, with Elisabeth Malcolm, a New History of the Irish in Australia which offered a vital re-evaluation of this area. Hall’s chapter is this volume provides an insightful overview of the changing attitudes towards Irishness and gender in Australia and New Zealand following the rising. Her assessment of newspaper reports provides interesting perspectives; she cites, for example, the New Zealand newspaper the Otago Daily Times who reported on the wedding of Grace Gifford and James Plunkett in the chapel at Kilmainham Gaol. The article describing the “Sinn Fein Romance” managed to find a New Zealand link, reporting that Grace’s brother-in-law, Thomas MacDonagh, had attended school with Chaplain-Captain P. Dore of the Auckland Rifles, who was injured at Gallipoli.

In the following chapter, Lisa Marr provides an insightful assessment of New Zealand women’s reaction to the rising. This chapter provides a deeper understanding of negative reactions in dominion territories to the Irish insurrection. As Marr aptly observes, news of the rising reached New Zealand the day following the first Anzac Day commemoration there, held on 25 April 1916. Anzac day remains a significant memorial day in New Zealand, most evident by a national public holiday marking the landing of the Anzacs, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli. Women were at the centre of organising this first commemorative event and many women reacted with what Marr describes as shock and outrage at the news of the Easter Rising. One woman, named Elizabeth, wrote scathingly in the “Ladies’ Pages” of the Dunedin newspaper the Otago Witness, hoping for a speedy execution of Roger Casement. As Marr attests, it was difficult for women to express views that would be considered disloyal to the British crown at a time when New Zealand was celebrating their loyalty to the Empire. However, when the executions and reprisals began in Ireland, many other women in New Zealand did become vocal, empathising with the plight of the Irish. This chapter is meticulously researched and offers the reader fascinating accounts.

Peter Kuch’s article “Play v. Play: The Otago Daily Times and the Dunedin stage as a regional New Zealand response to the Easter Rising 1916,” offers a welcome inclusion from a literary and theatrical perspective. His assessment focuses on one Dunedin newspaper which Kuch singles out as offering a markedly different approach to other New Zealand newspapers at this time. This approach works exceptionally well as Dunedin journalists were offered the opportunity to provide an assessment of the rising through the lens of productions of Cathleen ni Houlihan and Peg o’ My Heart, staged in the city months prior to and following the rising. This chapter offers a wealth of information regarding not only The Otago Daily Times interrogations of Irishness but also provides an account of Irish influence on theatre in Dunedin following the influx of Irish settlers to the region, attracted partly by the goldrush of the 1860s and the ensuing development of the city.

This volume is packed with fascinating new information regarding the Irish in New Zealand at the time prior to and after the Easter Rising. The contributors have produced chapters imbedded with thorough research uncovering how Ireland was perceived by New Zealanders more broadly in the wake of the Irish strike for independence. Other chapters include Rory Sweetman’s account of “Bishop Henry Cleary and the North King Street Murders.” Cleary, originally from Wexford, was appointed as the Catholic Bishop of Auckland in 1910. After visiting the scene of the atrocities at North King Street, Cleary exposed his outrage through the pages of the New Zealand Tablet, a weekly Catholic newspaper. Veteran historian of Ireland, Brad Patterson, provides a most engaging account of the rise and fall of the Protestant Political Association in New Zealand in the wake of the rising. This chapter sheds light on sectarianism at this time and Patterson has produced a much welcome assessment of this often overlooked aspect of New Zealand: Irish history.

Other chapters include contributions by Jim McAloon who assesses The Maoriland Worker; Seán Brosnahan’s extraordinarily detailed account of objectors to military conscription in New Zealand in the aftermath of the rising; Stephanie James’s examination of the Irish-Catholic press in Dunedin and Adelaide in the three years following the rising; and Malcom Campbell’s insightful assessment of reactions to the rising in the British Empire and the United States.

New Zealand’s Response to the 1916 Rising is a welcome addition to the field of Irish studies in Australasia and will no doubt be of interest to this field globally. Peter Kuch and Lisa Marr have produced a volume brimming with new and engaging perspectives, showcasing fresh archival research.

[1] Becker, Courtney. “Documentary reflects on 1916 Irish rebellion”. The Observer (16 Apr. 2016).