MacNeill’s letter was a command to the Irish Volunteers to cancel a mobilisation which had been planned for Easter Sunday 1916.
He also heard that Roger Casement had attempted to import arms from Germany.
MacNeill wanted no part of a violent rebellion and wrote several copies of his command which were sent to local commanders across Ireland. He wrote: “Volunteers completely deceived. All orders for tomorrow Sunday are completely cancelled.”
There were no Risings in Cork or Limerick thanks to MacNeill’s letters. However the Rising did take place in Dublin on Easter Monday, 24 hours later than originally planned. The lack of activity elsewhere in the country made it easier for the British to concentrate their efforts on quashing the rebellion in Dublin.
MacNeill’s letter is to be sold at auction next month and is the only known copy in private ownership. It has been described as being of ‘the highest significance and rarity’ and is expected to sell for at least €50,000.
Adam’s Auctioneers of St Stephen’s Green said: “With the exception of the Proclamation itself, it is probably the most important and influential document of the period of the Rising”.