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Eoin MacNeill

Birthplace: Glenarm, Antrim, Northern Ireland (United Kingdom)
Death: October 15, 1945 (78)
Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
Place of Burial: Ireland
Immediate Family:

Son of Archibald MacNeill and Rosetta MacNeill
Husband of Agnes MacNeill
Father of Colonel Niall MacNeill; Eibhlin Tierney; Toirdbealbhach MacNeill; Seamus MacNeill; Brian MacNeill and 3 others
Brother of Margaret Magill; Ann MacNeill; Hugh Aloyisius MacNeill and James MacNeill

Occupation: Professor of early Irish history
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Eoin MacNeill

Eoin MacNeill

Eoin MacNeill and the Irish Volunteers

MacNeill contributed directly to the Rising by establishing, arming and training the Irish Volunteers. Eoin MacNeill (1867-1945) was born of middle-class Catholic parents at Glenarm on the Antrim coast. He was educated at St Malachy’s College, Belfast and gained a degree from the Royal University of Ireland. In 1893, together with Douglas Hyde and others he founded the Gaelic League, an organisation devoted to the preservation of the Irish language, literature, and traditional culture. He was the first secretary of the Gaelic League, and edited its influential journal An Claidheamh Soluis (the Sword of Light) for a period. A brilliant linguist and historian, MacNeill revolutionised Celtic studies, establishing that the sources did not extend beyond the fifth century and that accounts of earlier periods were based on late fabrications. In 1909, he became professor of early and medieval Irish history at University College, Dublin. While primarily a scholar and cultural activist, in an article entitled ‘The North began’ in An Claidheamh Soluis (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, its ostensible purpose being to safeguard Home Rule; a number of the executive, however, were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood who aimed at using the Volunteers to gain full independence, which indeed came to pass, most of the participants in the 1916 Rising being members of the Volunteers. MacNeill, also a separatist but moderate in tone and well regarded publicly, was given the role of chief of staff. Under MacNeill’s direction recruitment proceeded apace, the numbers eventually reaching 170,000. He also encouraged the creation of a complementary women’s force, Cumann na mBan, in April 1914. As chief of staff, he was involved in planning the importation of the Howth arms. Following the split in September 1914 and the defection of the vast majority of members to Redmond, the remaining Irish Volunteers, numbering about 10,000 and mainly located in Dublin, continued under MacNeill’s leadership. Many in this new and trimmed-down force of Irish Volunteers had little regard for Home Rule, the majority being committed republicans. MacNeill’s strategy was to organise an insurrection if there were adequate reasons and when circumstances seemed favourable; in the meantime, the Irish Volunteers should be fully armed, trained, and held in readiness to counter any attempt to disarm the organisation, impose conscription, or abandon Home Rule. Some of the IRB faction in the leadership, however, planned an insurrection for the more immediate future. It organised routine manoeuvres for Easter Sunday 1916 as a cover for an insurrection throughout the country. Learning of this on Easter Thursday, MacNeill confronted Patrick Pearse, one of the IRB ringleaders, telling him that he would not allow ‘a half-armed force to be called out’. Later, however, Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh and Seán MacDiarmada allayed his fears, informing him of the imminent landing of a German ship with substantial quantities of arms at Fenit, Co. Kerry. When it transpired on Saturday evening that the ship had sunk and the arms were lost, MacNeill countermanded the order for manoeuvres the following day.

He was an Irish scholar, nationalist, revolutionary and politician.

First professor of early Irish history at University College, Dublin.

Founder of the Gaelic League in 1893, formed to preserve Irish language and culture, going on to establish the Irish Volunteers in 1913 prompted and encouraged by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and becoming Chief of Staff and Commander in Chief in 1916.. Though he held this position at the outbreak of the Easter Rising, he took no role in it or its planning, and even went so far as to try to prevent it. However he was arrested and sentensed to life imprisionment. He was released in 1917 and elected Member of Parliament.

Later Minister of Education in Ireland. After retiring from politics he became Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission and published a number of books on Irish history.

He is the grandfather of the former Tianaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform, Michael McDowell.

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Eoin MacNeill's Timeline

May 15, 1867
Glenarm, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Dublin, Dublin City, Dublin, Ireland
September 23, 1901
County Dublin, Ireland
December 1904
Portmarnock, Dublin, Ireland
Dublin, Dublin City, Dublin, Ireland
Age 40
University College Dublin
October 15, 1945
Age 78
Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland