The Easter Rising - 1916
The Easter Rising was an attempt at an armed uprising in in Ireland during Easter Week in 1916. The aim of the rising was take the advantage of Britain’s distraction during the World War and bring about an independent Irish Republic, ending British rule, through armed rebellion.
Leading members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish Citizen Army organised with the Irish Volunteers (Óglaigh na hÉireann) and Cumann na mBan (Irish Women’s Council) in order to seize and take control of key buildings in Dublin and proclaim an Irish Republic.
Early on Monday morning, 24 April 1916, roughly 1,200 Volunteers and Citizen Army members took over strongpoints in Dublin city centre. A joint force of about 400 Volunteers and Citizen Army gathered at Liberty Hall under the command of Commandant James Connolly.
The rebel headquarters was located at the General Post Office (GPO) where James Connolly, overall military commander and four other members of the Military Council: Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, Seán Mac Dermott and Joseph Plunkett were located. After occupying the Post Office, the Volunteers hoisted two republican flags and Pearse read a Proclamation of the Republic.
The fighting lasted over a period of 5 days as the volunteers tried to hold their positions against the vastly superior military strength of the British Army. Whom at one stage had sailed a naval patrol boat up the River Liffey in order to supply artillery fire on the rebels in Liberty Hall.
On Saturday 29th April, upon realising that they could not break from their position without further loss to civilian life, the new headquarters of the rebellion issued an order for all units to surrender.
Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the rebellion, surrendered unconditionally to Brigadier-General Lowe.
At the time of the uprising, Dublin itself had no popular support for the rebels. The general consensus at the time was the view that these armed rebels were trouble-makers and causing a nuisance. When British soldiers arrived at the barricades in Dublin, it’s an often told tale that people were bringing them cups of tea and sandwiches during the fighting.
However the aftermath of the rising would prove a catalyst in turning the population against the British presence. The highest number of casualties from the rising wasn’t rebels of British soldiers, it was civilians. Artillery and incendiary shelling had shattered numerous buildings in Dublin and reports of British soldiers venting their frustration with the rebellion by shooting dead 15 civilians on North King Street would add fuel to the fire.
The handling of the aftermath of the rebellion by British authorities would prove the worst exacerbation of the already negative portrayal they were giving themselves.
General Maxwell commanded the arrest of all “dangerous Sinn Feiners” including those not involved in the rebellion. Over 3,500 people were arrested. Most were subsequently released but the event would bring Sinn Fein, a non-Republican and non-revoluntionary party, to the forefront of Irish politics.
A total of 90 people were sentenced to death. 15 of these were personally sentenced by General Maxwell and over the course of 9 days, the 7 signatories of the Irish Proclamation of Independence, along with 8 others, were executed by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol. Including James Connolly, the leader of the Irish Citizen Army and one of Ireland’s most famous socialists, who was tied to a chair and shot due to his injuries which prevented him from standing. One of the few leaders of the rebellion that escaped execution was Éamonn DeValera, who would later go on to become the president of the Irish Republic.
The executions received widespread public criticism and quickly turned uninvited rebels into martyred sons. The new attention Sinn Fein had received after wrongfully being identified as the orchestrator of the Irish Republican Brotherhood resulted in a political movement for Irish Independence uniting under the banner of one party driven by the anger born out of the aftermath of the Rebellion.
The events of Easter Week would prove a link in a chain of events leading up to Sinn Fein’s landslide victory in the general elections to British Parliament, increasing public hostility towards British occupation, the establishment of the first Dáil Éireann and inevitably the Irish War of Independence.
The Easter Rising is one of the most romanticised events in the Irish Republican ideology. A minority of men rising up against the might of the British Empire and becoming martyrs for the cause of Irish Independence. This romanticism sprinkled with the right amount of misinformation by omission (such as the fact the rebels were widely unsupported and shot dead a fair few civilians themselves) would be used by Sinn Fein to bolster their support for an Irish Republic and unite further generations of “revolutionaries” behind the anti-treaty forces in the Irish Civil War and recruit impressionable young Irishmen into the ranks of the terrorist organisations born out of the split of the Official IRA that lit Northern Ireland on fire.
Despite the misuse and misinformation of the event, it is commemorated as one of the most important moments in modern Irish history and a key event in the path of Irish Independence and the creation of the Republic of Ireland. Murals in Northern Ireland are dedicated to the executed leaders of the failed rebellion and songs such as “The Foggy Dew" were written to commemorate the rising. Each Easter Sunday, a parade is held in Dublin commemorating the Easter Rising with a military parade and a wreath laying ceremony at the Dublin GPO. In 1966 on the 50th anniversary of the rising, a Garden of Remembrance was opened in Dublin and is "dedicated to all those who gave their lives in the fight for Ireland’s freedom."