Back to top

Inspiring Ireland 1916 blog: Bulmer Hobson, Easter's Forgotten Militant

Inspiring Ireland 1916 blog: Bulmer Hobson, Easter's Forgotten Militant

by Dr Timothy G. McMarron, Marquette University

A new blog reflecting on the Inspiring Ireland 1916 digital exhibitions, A Closer Look at Inspiring Ireland 1916 Objects, has been launched. Inspiring Ireland 1916 is the next phase of the multiple-award-winning cultural heritage resource Inspiring Ireland. The latest blog post, by social historian and author Dr. Timothy G. McMahon, Department of History, Marquette University (Wisconsin, USA), tells the intriguing and previously overlooked story of John Bulmer Hobson, who was central to the development of nationalism in Ulster, yet, on the eve of the Rising, found himself imprisoned in a terraced house in Phibsborough, Dublin guarded by fellow Irish Republican Brotherhood members. This post is based on Dr. McMahon’s  talk at the Inspiring Ireland 1916 event in the Royal Irish Academy on Easter Monday (March 28) 2016, which was part of RTE’s 1916 centenary commemorative programme 'Reflecting the Rising'.

Perhaps the least known major contributor to the revolutionary movement in early twentieth-century Ireland, John Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969) nevertheless deserves recognition for his part in building up the organizations that coalesced in the late-1910s. Undoubtedly his relative obscurity stemmed from his loss of face within the republican movement in the run-up to the Easter Rising of 1916, but prior to that point, this would-be artist, journalist, and political strategist and activist connected colleagues in his native Ulster with those based in Dublin. Born in Belfast to Quaker parents, Bulmer Hobson drew political inspiration from a variety of influences. His father Benjamin had supported Gladstonian Home Rule, while his mother Mary Ann was a suffragist whose friends included the republicans Anna Johnston and Alice Milligan, editors of the newspaper Shan Van Vocht. Milligan introduced the teenaged Bulmer to the works of Standish O’Grady and inspired him to participate in a variety of organizations associated with the emerging cultural nationalist movement. These bodies included both the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association, in whose ranks Hobson thrived and encountered other like-minded young people, including Dennis McCullough, with whom he struck up a vital working friendship. McCullough, whose father had been a leading member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Belfast, initiated Hobson into the IRB in 1904. Together, they recruited a young migrant from County Leitrim, Sean MacDiarmada, into the IRB as well. Along with Patrick McCartan, a Tyrone-born medical student, this group of young men played a major role in reinvigorating the largely moribund IRB alongside the veteran Fenian Tom Clarke, who returned to Ireland from the USA in 1907.