The Easter Rising 1916

Detail of the events leading up to the Easter Rising of 1916 and the impact they had on subsequent Irish History.

The Easter Rising of 1916 had profound and far-reaching effects on Ireland's subsequent history. It has been referred to as 'The Irish War for Independence' and was the pivotal event in ultimately securing independence for the Republic of Ireland.

For centuries, Ireland had been under English rule, the English perceiving the Irish to be barbarians who had to be tamed. The invasion by King Henry II of England in the twelfth century, the attempts by future English monarchs to colonize Ireland with English, the massacres orchestrated by Cromwell (1652), and the way the English had treated the Irish during their 'darkest hour' (The Famine 1845-1852) had all contributed to the growing dissatisfaction among the Irish natives. Many had attempted rebellions before, none had succeeded in obtaining what most of the Irish population desired - a free country, one in which they could claim back their rightful heritage as landowners.

Several events led up to the 1916 Rising, all of which had bearing on what would take place. Firstly, the centuries of national oppression by British landlords and increasing capitalism had led to the formation, in a Dublin timber yard, of the Irish Republican Brotherhood or I.R.B. in 1858. They were direct descendents of the rebels known as the Fenians. Their numbers never exceeded more than 2000 men, who were mostly intellectuals - writers, poets, teachers, professionals - and they were fiercely patriotic. Significantly, they were prepared to use force in order to achieve national independence for Ireland.

Another military force had been created on November 13, 1913, as a direct counterforce to the Ulster Volunteer Force, the latter of which had been formed by the English as a resistance to Home Rule. The Irish Volunteers numbered around 200,000 Irish men and women, but only 2,000 were trained and armed. These two Irish armies were therefore waiting to fight for their country. Also, around the turn of the century, the English had tried to reduce the rights of Irish workers. The socialist and General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, James Connolly, supported a rebellion by the workers.

Before the English could impose more laws on the Irish, another event occurred which would have massive impact - World War 1. This was the opportunity the I.R.B had been waiting for. They decided that another armed resistance should occur before the end of the War, believing that as most of the English army would be involved in the fighting in mainland Europe, their numbers would be weakened. The I.R.B. set up a Military Council, whose chief mission was to plan the rising, in secret.

The Council initially was made up of just three men - Eamonn Ceannt, Padriag Pearse and Joseph Plunkett. Pearse (1879-1916) was a poet and schoolmaster, but he was also a member of the I.R.B. with direct links with the Irish Volunteers. Later, Tom Clarke and Sean MacDiarmada joined the Council and by January 1916, James Connolly had become a member. Connolly had formed the Socialist Republican Party in 1896 and the Irish Citizen Army in 1913. He was later regarded by many to be the leader of the Easter Rising. Thomas MacDonagh joined the Council in April of 1916. These seven men were the 'intelligence' behind the uprising.

The Council continued to plot. They remained secret due to the fact that they did not have complete control over the military organizations and also because they knew that the Irish Volunteers Chief of Staff (Eoin MacNeill) opposed any military action against the British garrisons.

The Irish rebels had obtained a shipment of arms in 1914, aided by the Carsonite Volunteers and British sympathizers, but they were relying on more arms to be shipped from Germany. These were due to arrive between the 20th and 23rd April into Fenit, Tralee Bay. The Council had already decided on Easter Sunday for the rising since January 1916.

Pearse had ordered mobilization of the Irish Volunteers on 8th April to prepare for an Uprising on Easter Sunday. MacNeill, the Chief of Staff of the Volunteers, first heard about the planned rebellion on the Wednesday of Holy Week. He tried to prevent it from happening which caused some confusion among the troops. When MacNeill heard about the expected arrival of arms at Fenit he withdrew his opposition believing that the fighting was inevitable.

Unfortunately, the shipment of arms arrived earlier than expected and no one was there to meet it. The ship's captain, Spindler, could not convey the message that they had arrived due to the fact that there was no wireless on board. By the Friday evening (before Easter Sunday), the British Navy captured the ship, and while being escorted toward Cork Harbor, the Captain and his crew sank her. There were 20,000 rifles on board.

The loss of the arms was a huge blow to the Council as was the news that Sir Roger Casement, an Englishman who had been instrumental in securing the arms, had been captured at Banna Strand. MacNeill ordered the Volunteers not to 'move' on Sunday and the Council's plans were thrown into disarray. They met on the morning of Easter Sunday, at Liberty Hall in Dublin, to discuss their next step. The mood of that meeting was somber - with the loss of the arms all chance of victory seemed to have vanished.

Despite the huge setback the Council leaders decided to carry on. The Rising was now given the 'go-ahead' for the next day - Easter Monday, but could only feasibly (due to the lack of weapons) take place in Dublin. Smaller Risings were still scheduled for Galway and Wexford, however. Pearse ordered the troops for action at noon.

Headquarters was the General Post Office (G.P.O.) in the center of Dublin, which Pearse, Connolly and their men held. Commandant Edward Daly held the Four Courts, the Mendicity Institute and various central Dublin streets; Commandant Thomas MacDonagh was stationed at Jacob's biscuit factory; Commandant Eamonn de Valera held Boland's Flour Mill and various streets; Commandant Eamonn Ceantt was stationed at the South Dublin Union and Marrowbone Distillery and, the only woman, Countess Markievicz held, along with Commandant Michael Mallin, St. Stephen's Green and the College of Surgeons. All the rebel armies were now in place. The British were ill prepared and little fighting took place on the first day of the Rising.

At 12.30 on Easter Monday, flags that had been sent for from Liberty Hall, flew over the G.P.O.; one was green with a golden harp bearing the words (in Irish) 'The Irish Republic', and the other was a flag that had never been seen before - a tricolor of green, white and gold (the Tricolor was to later become the national flag of Ireland). Pearse emerged from the G.P.O. into O'Connell street, where he read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic or 'Poblacht na h Eireann' to a bemused and bewildered gathering of Dubliners.

The English plan to quash the Rising was a simple one - put a cordon around the central city Irish position and then use force to strike the headquarters - the G.P.O. At the beginning of Easter week the Irish numbered 1,800 and the British 2,500. By the end of the week the British, reinforced by additional troops, numbered 5,500. Despite being outnumbered and out armed the Irish put up a brave fight, which lasted for a week.

The inevitable attack on the G.P.O. came from the south, across the River Liffey, and by Friday, the British were in position to overtake it. The Rising had been a bloody war, the worst fighting and loss of life occurring at Mount Street Bridge. By Friday evening many central buildings were on fire, including the G.P.O. Pearse signed an order for unconditional surrender on Saturday at 3.45pm, but officially, the Rising ended on Sunday 30th April.

In the aftermath, 15 executions followed which included all seven of the Council leaders. Eamonn de Valera was given a life sentence, which was overturned a year later (thanks to propaganda in the USA, where there were many Irish sympathizers). The Rising had been momentarily unsuccessful, but it had made the Irish population more aware of the Republican Cause. The executions also caused widespread outrage. The Rising sowed the seeds of an Irish Republic, which was granted in 1921 with the clause that Ulster should remain part of the United Kingdom. Also, de Valera was to become the new Free State's President in 1931.

The leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 had partially achieved their aim. Today, Ulster remains tied to Britain, and the fight for a United Ireland continues. It is debatable however, whether the ideals of the rebels of Easter 1916 remain in the forefront of Irish Republicans' minds. That is another question entirely.

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