Irish in Rebellion - The 1916 rising

By Sean MacCarthaigh

The 1916 rising is regarded as a seminal moment in Irish history, but it failed to attract popular support at the time, writes IrishAbroad's Sean MacCarthaigh.

By 1916, the First World War was grinding along, and the Home Rule Bill, which would have given a measure of independence to Ireland, had been suspended in the British parliament.

The Irish Volunteers, a paramilitary group seeking freedom for Ireland, continued to train and drill its men, as did the Ulster Volunteers, a similar organisation dedicated to keeping the union with Britain.

But a secret section within the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), had lost patience with the British and was planning a rebellion.

They knew that with a massive British military garrison in Ireland, they would be outnumbered. But they hoped the very act of armed resistance would spark a national uprising.

By January, the IRB hooked up with the socialist leader James Connolly and his Irish Citizens' Army, and the rebels began working towards an Easter deadline.

On Easter Monday - 24 April - about 1,200 men and women ignored a countermanding order from the head of the Irish Volunteers not to rebel, and seized the General Post Office (GPO) and other buildings around Dublin.

In a written proclamation, they stated that Ireland was now a republic, and guaranteed "religious and civil liberty, [and] equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens". (Click here to read proclamation)

The British reacted with fury, and crushed the Dublin rebellion, along with smaller uprisings in Wexford and Galway, over the following five days. By the end, 64 rebels, 132 British soldiers and 230 civilians had died; a large part of the centre of Dublin had suffered damage, mostly from British artillery fire.

The rising did not spark a national rebellion, but the vengeful manner in which the British executed its leaders - which included tying the wounded James Connolly to a chair before shooting him - sickened most people.

Within a short time, the participants in the rising were regarded as heroes motivated by the highest of ideals, and this paved the way for the emergence of the more pragmatic campaign of guerrilla warfare under Michael Collins' Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In the decades since independence -- particularly during the IRA's most recent campaign in the North -- the 1916 Rising has remained a subject for debate and controversy. It is clear that the vast majority of ordinary Irish people in 1916 did not, at the time, approve of the violence of the Rising, but had some sympathy with its aims.

This example of 'retrospective support' for political violence represented an uncomfortable occurrence for commentators opposed to the IRA's actions. Some reacted by claiming that Padraic Pearse, along with James Connolly the Rising's most inspirational figure, was a naive and bloodthirsty idealist with homosexual tendencies.


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