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John Bulmer Hobson (1883–1969) was a leading member of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) before the Easter Rising in 1916.[1] Though he was a member of the organisation that planned the Rising, he was opposed to it being carried out, and attempted to prevent it.

He is also notable for swearing Patrick Pearse into the IRB in late 1913.[2]

Early life

Hobson was born "John Bulmer Hobson" in Belfast,[3][4] County Antrim, Ireland in 1883,[5] though many sources give his place of birth as Holywood, County Down.[6] He had a "fairly strict" Quaker upbringing according to Charles Townshend, possibly intensified by being sent to a Friends' boarding school in Lisburn. Hobson later resigned on principle from the Quakers soon after the 1914 Howth gunrunning, as they disapproved of the use of violence.

Bulmer's father was born in Armagh although lived later in Monasterevin in County Kildare and was said to be a Gladstonian Home Ruler in politics, while his mother was English-born and a radical. In 1911 she was reported on a suffragist procession in London and was long involved in Belfast cultural activities. She gave a lecture, entitled 'Some Ulster Souterrains' as the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club's representative in 1901 at the British Association's annual meeting in Leicester. With the poet Alice Milligan, she organised the Irishwomen's Association whose home reading circle met in the Hobsons' house.

Hobson began at thirteen to subscribe to a nationalist journal, Shan Van Vocht. The journal belonged to Alice Milligan.[7] Soon after he joined the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association.[8]

I.R.B. and the Volunteers

Hobson was sworn into the IRB in 1904 by Denis McCullough, their head in Belfast.[9] Together they founded the Dungannon Clubs. The object of the club's title was to celebrate the victory of Volunteers of 1782 in restoring to Ireland her own Parliament,[10] though they were additionally an "open front" for the IRB.[11] The Volunteers of 1782 were an armed militia whose success, they suggested, could offer instructive lessons.[12] The first Dungannon Club manifesto read: “The Ireland we seek to build is not an Ireland for the Catholic or the Protestant, but an Ireland for every Irishman Irrespective of his creed or class."[12] Under the direction of Denis McCullough, Hobson became one of the key figures in the ongoing revitalisation of the IRB in Ulster, along with Sean MacDermott, Patrick McCartan and Ernest Blythe.[13]

Hobson moved to Dublin in 1907, and soon became a close friend of veteran Fenian Tom Clarke, with whom he had a very close relationship until 1914.[14] In August 1909, with Constance Markievicz, he founded Na Fianna Éireann as a Republican scouting movement.[15] In 1911 the republican newspaper Irish Freedom was founded, to which Hobson was an earlier contributor, and later that year he took over the editorship of it from Patrick McCartan.[16]

Hobson was elevated to the IRB's Supreme Council in 1911, which coincided with the resignations of P.T. Daly, Fred Allen and Sean O'Hanlon, opening the way for Tom Clarke and the younger men to take control of the IRB.[17] In 1913 he was elevated to the chairman of the Dublin Centres Board of the IRB,[18] and later that year was one of the founding organizers of the Irish Volunteers, remaining a primary connection between the Volunteers and the IRB. He put together the plan to bring sufficient Volunteers and their supporters, discreetly to Howth on Sunday 26 July 1914 to unload and distribute the arms being landed from the Asgard. This became known as the Howth gunrunning.

As secretary and a member of the Volunteers provisional council, Hobson was instrumental in allowing Parliamentary leader John Redmond to gain control of the Volunteers organisation.[1] He reluctantly gave in to Home Rulers' demands for control, believing that defying Redmond, who was popular with most rank-and-file Volunteers, would cause a split and would lead to the demise of the Volunteers.[19] Clarke, steadfastly opposed to this action, never forgave him or spoke to him informally again. Hobson resigned as a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB, and was fired from his job as Dublin correspondent for the newspaper the Gaelic American.[1]

Hobson remained a member of the IRB, but, like Volunteers chief-of-staff Eoin MacNeill, he was kept unaware of the plans for the Rising.[20] Though he could detect underground preparations, he had no certain evidence.[21] He would later be told by Volunteers officers J. J. O'Connell and Éimer Duffy that the Volunteers had received orders for the Rising, timed for Easter Sunday, and he subsequently alerted MacNeill about what the IRB had planned.[22] MacNeill issued a countermanding order, which served to delay the Rising a day, and kept most Volunteers from turning out. Hobson was kidnapped by the organisers of the rising to stop him from spreading news of MacNeill's order, and was held in a safehouse in Phibsboro until the Rising was well underway.[1]

Although MacNeill was later to serve in the government of the Irish Free State, Hobson was confined to a civil service job in the Department of Post and Telegraphs after independence.[1] Though he had been one of the most active members of the IRB for years, and was instrumental in the founding of the Volunteers, Hobson took no major role in politics (though he was later an occasional adviser to Clann na Poblachta) after the Rising, or the subsequent Irish War of Independence.[1]

Later years

After his retirement in 1948, Hobson built a house near Roundstone in Connemara. His wife Claire Gregan, from whom he separated in the late 1930s, died in 1958.[23] Following a heart attack during the 1960s, Bulmer Hobson lived with his daughter Camilla and son in law John Mitchell, in the village of Castleconnell, County Limerick. There he finished his definitive account of his life in the movement for Irish freedom, "Ireland Yesterday And Tomorrow" (Anvil Books, Ireland, 1968).

Published works

See also

  • Protestant Irish nationalists


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 D. J. Hickey & J. E. Doherty pg. 206-7
  2. Note on JBH enabling Pearse's membership of the IRB
  3. Hay, Marnie (2009). Bulmer Hobson and the Nationalist Movement in Twentieth—Century Ireland. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-7987-0. Retrieved 27/June/2009.  p7
  4. "Census, April 2, 1911". National Archives of Ireland. 2009. Retrieved 28 June 2009. Residents of house number 14 in Ballycultra (Holywood Urban, Down)
  5. Charles Townshend, pg.19, D. J. Hickey & J. E. Doherty pg. 206-7
  6. Sinn Féin: a Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, 2002, ISBN 0-86278-695-9, pg.39. A History of Ulster, Jonathan Bardon, Blackstaff Press, 1992, ISBN 0-85640-466-7, Pg.424. The enigma of Tom Kettle: Irish patriot, essayist, poet, British soldier, 1880–1916, John Benignus Lyons, Glendale Press, 1983, ISBN 0-907606-12-1, Pg.320. John Bull's famous circus: Ulster history through the postcard, 1905–1985, John Killen, O'Brien Press, 1985, ISBN 978-0-86278-039-5, Pg.19. A History of Ulster, Jonathan Bardon, Blackstaff Press, 1992, ISBN 0-85640-466-7 pg.424. Culture, Place and Identity: Papers Read Before the 26th Irish Conference of Historians Held at the University of Ulster, Magee Campus, 22–25 May 2003, Neal Garnham, Keith Jeffery, University College Dublin Press, 2005, ISBN 1-904558-34-8 pg.5. The End: an Illustrated Guide to the Graves of Irish writers, Ray Bateson, Irish Graves Publications, 2004, ISBN 0-9542275-1-4 pg.91. A Dictionary of Irish Biography (second edition), Henry Boylan, Gill and Macmillan, 1978, ISBN 0-7171-1004-4 pg.148. Roger Casement: A New Judgment, René MacColl, Hamish Hamilton, 1956, ISBN 0-340-18292-X pg.312. The Letters of P.H. Pearse, Padraic Pearse, Séamas Ó Buachalla, C. Smythe, 1980, ISBN 0-901072-87-7 pg.439. A New Dictionary of Irish History from 1800, D. J. Hickey, J. E. Doherty, Gill & Macmillan, 2003, ISBN 0-7171-2521-1 pg.206
  7. Charles Townshend, pg.19
  8. Martin, p. 98
  9. Martin, p.99
  10. T. A. Jackson, pg, 105-13
  11. Michael Tierney, Eoin MacNeill: Scholar and Man of Action 1867 – 1945, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1980, edited by F.X. Martin, p. 113
  12. 12.0 12.1 Charles Townshend, pg.18
  13. Martin p. 98
  14. Martin p. 101
  15. Martin, p.101
  16. Kee, p. 206
  17. Martin, p 102
  18. Tierney, p.113
  19. Kee, The Bold Fenian Men, p. 205
  20. O'Hegarty, pg.697-8
  21. Martin, p 106
  22. D. J. Hickey & J. E. Doherty pg. 206-7, Tim Pat Coogan, pg. 81
  23. Hay p. 230


  • Bulmer Hobson and the Nationalist Movement in Twentieth—Century Ireland, Marnie Hay, MUP, 2009, ISBN 978-0-7190-7987-0.
  • Leaders and Men of the Easter Rising: Dublin, 1916, F.X. Martin (ed.), Methuen, 1967.
  • A new Dictionary of Irish History from 1800, D. J. Hickey & J. E. Doherty, Gill & Macmillian, 2003, ISBN 0-7171-2520-3.
  • Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, Charles Townshend, Penguin Books, 2005, ISBN 978-0-14-101216-2.
  • 1916: The Easter Rising, Tim Pat Coogan, Phoenix, 2001, ISBN 0-7538-1852-3.
  • The Green Flag Vol. II: The Bold Fenian Men, Robert Kee, Penguin Books, 1972
  • Ireland Her Own, T. A. Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart, Fp 1947, Rp 1991, ISBN 0-85315-735-9.
  • A History of Ireland Under the Union, P. S. O'Hegarty, Methuen & Co. 1952.
  • Roger Casement: The Black Diaries with a Study of his Background, Sexuality and Irish Political Life, Jeffrey Dudgeon, Belfast Press 2002.
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Sweetman
Vice-President of Sinn Féin
with Arthur Griffith (1907–1908)
Succeeded by
Jennie Wyse Power

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