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
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
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
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
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.