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Eoin MacNeill

Biography

Born and raised in the Glens of Antrim, Eoin MacNeill was appointed Chair of Early and Medieval Irish History at UCD in 1909. A keen student of Irish language and culture, he had already co-founded the Gaelic League in 1893. MacNeill also edited a number of publications during this period, including Fáinne an Lae and An Claideamh Soluis, and it was in this latter newspaper that he published “The North Began”, a response to the establishment of the Ulster Volunteers in 1913. This article spurred the establishment of the Irish Volunteers, of which MacNeill became President. Less than a year after its establishment, MacNeill led a split in the organisation after John Redmond committed its members to service in the First World War in September 1914. Unbeknownst to MacNeill, the IRB had effectively hijacked the movement and he only discovered their plans for a rising in Holy Week of 1916. Despite his best efforts, was unable to prevent its outbreak. As leader of the Irish Volunteers, he was arrested and sentenced to penal servitude for life, but was released in 1917. A year later he was elected as a Sinn Féin representative for both Derry City and the National University of Ireland, and when the First Dáil was convened he took the role of Minister for Finance. He later acted as chair of the Second Dáil, presiding over the debate on the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He served as Minister for Education in the subsequent Cumann na nGaedhal government and later sat on the Boundary Commission, before losing his seat and exiting politics in 1927. He maintained an active academic career until his retirement in 1941.


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