Over 50 years before the Easter Rising, in 1858, the organisation of the 7 men who signed the declaration of independence in the Easter Rising, was founded. The Irish Republican Brotherhood, although probably never numbering over 2000 members and only first publishing it’s newspaper, Irish Freedom, in 1910, was the organisation that led the uprising. Others took part too – after the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Irish responded by founding the Irish Volunteers who grew to as many as 200,000 men. At the outbreak of World War 1, John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Nationalists, paused the issue of Home Rule, and many Irishmen joined the British army. The Irish Republican Brotherhood, however, saw the war differently – a month before its outbreak the supreme council came to the conclusion with the British army stretched, this was the time for Ireland to gain independence: “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”.
With money from Irish American supporters, the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s treasurer, Tom Clarke, was put in charge of a Military Council to plan the uprising. James Connolly became the sixth member of this, after his Irish Citizen Army, a group of around 200 socialists and trade unionists, threatened to stage an uprising on their own if not joined by other groups. After talks in January 1916, the ICA joined forces with the IRB. Of the Irish Volunteers founder and Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill wanting only to threaten an uprising in order to bargain. In order to get around this, Patrick Pearse, who was Director of Organization, announced three days of “parades and manoeuvres” which would signal an uprising to those in the know, but would be taken at face value by MacNeill, others against the uprising, and the British in Dublin Castle. MacNeill found out about this, and vowed to “do everything possible short of phoning Dublin Castle” to stop the rising, however was briefly convinced to join following Mac Diarmada’s revelation to him that a shipment of German arms was coming – this however was scuttled, and MacNeill returned to his old position.
In April 1916, on Easter Monday, around 1250 people including James Connolly and Patrick Pearse staged an uprising against British Rule in Ireland in which they aimed to capture buildings in Dublin that were vital to the running of the city, and hence damage Britain’s ability to rule. With only rifles, the rebels managed to capture the General Post Office, but failed to capture Dublin Castle, which was used by the British as their headquarters. At midday on Easter Monday they marched through Dublin in full view of all Dubliners on the bank holiday to start the rebellion. Quickly fourteen buildings were in rebel hands, and Patrick Pearse, who was stationed at the General Post Office with others including Michael Collins, announced the founding of the Republic of Ireland.
Although the Castle was not captured, the rebels cut telephone wires leading to it, which forced the British to use messenger boys to communicate – a practice that became too dangerous in parts of the conflict, leaving the British communications in tatters. Despite this, the British soon organised against the rebellion by bringing in troops stationed near Dublin and getting the most senior British officer in London, Lord French – an Irish Unionist, to order four divisions of the Army to be sent to Dublin.
Before these divisions arrived, the next day, Tuesday 25th April, saw little activity other than reinforcement of buildings taken by rebels and the British army moving around the areas that the rebels had captured – including moving in artillery from it’s base at Trinity College. This was a move that the rebels, who were not themselves armed with artillery, had not expected the British to take as so many buildings that they British would recapture would be damaged or destroyed, including many owned by British companies. The British plan was to split the rebels by driving a wedge between them. The Irish rebels, led by Eamonn de Valera at Boland’s Flour Mill which they had captured because it overlooked Dublin’s docks, failed to prevent the British bringing in reinforcements.
The day also saw the British declare martial law, which caused looting in Dublin and the shooting of Irish civilians who were not associated with the rebellion – something which caused embitterment by the Irish.
By Wednesday 26th of April, the Irish rebels were outnumbered by around 20-1, hence the British started their attack. Using artillery and Helga, a gun boat, they flattened and destroyed every building suspected of housing rebels – even those that were of value that the rebels expected to be safe in, and even those that may house civilians. The tactics used were very damaging to the British reputation in Ireland.
The British reputation was further damaged the next day, Thursday 27th of April, when General Sir John Maxwell who had arrived to take over the command of the British army in Dublin took his post. He had orders from British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to put down the rebellion as quickly as was possible without any dictation of policy and methods that could be used. The British, unable to determine between civilian and rebel because of the lack of rebel uniforms, shot anyone in the city. Furthermore, the artillery caused fires, which the British did not put out because they would damage the rebel positions and would mean they could concentrate their forces on fighting the rebels rather than putting out fires.
By Friday the 28th of April, the General Post Office was very badly damaged and forced the rebels to move to a building nearby. The remaining rebels then faced the British Army, 5000 strong, on King’s Street. The British Army attacked without mercy, and reportably killed many civilians who were hiding for safety in nearby areas.
The next day the rebels surrendered, led by Patrick Pearse since James Connolly had been injured. On Sunday the rebels were marched to prison. Already 64 rebels and 140 British army, 17 police and 220 civilians had been killed. In revenge the British arrested 3,430 people (and of these interned 1,480) and, after a military court held in secret sentenced them and 90 others to death, shot 16 of the leaders at Kilmainham Jail including all seven signatories of the independence proclamation. Included in these was James Connolly, who had to be strapped to a chair as he was too badly injured to stand.
At the time of the Easter Rising, it had very little support from the Irish public, who blamed them for the civilians killed in the conflict. Many Dubliners spat and jeered at the prisoners as they were being transported to Frongoch internment camp in Wales. It was the executions without a public trail that shocked Ireland and brought public opinion behind the rebels. In order to try to soothe this, Herbert Asquith sacked General Sir John Maxwell – although perhaps this was too little, too late.
The uprising ultimately failed, however taking a long term view it could be described as a victory: Patrick Pearse did not expect that the rising would lead to victory – he told his mother he expected to be shot – but believed that the rising would inspire the Irish to rebel against British Rule. Perhaps he felt that once a rebellion was under way he would be joined by many more people, forcing the British who were using all their available resources in fighting the First World War in Europe in a state of Total War would be forced to withdraw from Ireland. This did not happen, but it was partly in sympathy with those killed by the British and outrage at their actions that led, three years later, to Sinn Féin, who supported an independent Ireland and endorsed the Easter Rising, being elected with a overwhelming majority.
Books about the Easter Rising
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Poetry about the Easter Rising
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