No 52 - England's shelling in Dublin horrified Catholics in New Zealand but many still went to fight Germany.

To be Irish but fighting for Britain was to be conflicted.

In the middle of World War I came the Easter Rising or Easter "Rebellion", while Britain was preoccupied by the continental war. Incensed that home rule during the war had been promised but not delivered, Patrick Pearse read a declaration of independence from the steps of the Dublin post office on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Artillery was brought in by the British, the rebels were bombed out of their captured buildings, and 300 people were killed.

New Zealand Hibernians and Catholics were reported by the Poverty Bay Herald of April 27, 1916, to be "horrified, regretful and sympathetic toward the Irish Party" upon hearing of the repression.

While initially Kiwi Catholics were proud with their high rate of volunteering for the war, and the Catholic Church initially approved conscription, the church became caught up with the pro-Irish cause.


Wellington farmer and policeman Jeremiah O'Brien was pro-Irish and served as president of the Hibernian Society. Still, he signed up to defend the British Empire.

President of the society until he embarked in July 1917 aged 38, the Blenheim-born O'Brien fought until he received a Distinguished Conduct Medal. The next thing his comrades knew, O'Brien had gone missing. He was declared killed in action on August 26, 1918.

O'Brien had been involved with the NZ Catholic Federation and St Joseph's Catholic Education Committee. The only word which describes his unexplained death was, according to the Evening Post, "heroic".

Dying neither in New Zealand nor Ireland, O'Brien was instead put to rest 60km south of Ypres. His death rocked the Hibernian Society.

New Zealand Catholics had gradually become "a scapegoat by a war-weary nation", according to Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, with Catholic leaders accused of using the war to push their religious interests.

The Catholic Church was even blamed for starting WWI by Orangeman Howard Elliott, secretary of the Baptist Union of New Zealand until 1916 who then formed the Loyal Orange Institution of New Zealand and Protestant Political Association of New Zealand.

Jeremiah O'Brien was buried at Achiet-le-Grand Communal Cemetery in France.

The movement against the Irish died around the same time the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in 1922.


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