100 Years on – The Easter Rising

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Behind the battle lines: British police mount a roadblock to support a search in Dublin

During Easter week, 1916 The Rising was launched by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in World War I – the conflict began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916 and lasted for six days, more than 2,600 were wounded and 485 lives were lost, 260 of them civilian.

Ireland merged with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom in 1800: Ireland lost its parliament in Dublin and was governed by a united parliament from Westminster in London. From the time of the Great Famine (1845 to 1847), certain sections of the Irish population lost all faith in the British government – they came to the conclusion that they had become second-class citizens in the world’s largest empire.

Home rule bills, which would give some rule to an Irish self-government, were defeated in Parliament in the late 1800s. The bill was finally  passed in 1914, however implementation of home rule was suspended due to the outbreak of World War I (1914-18).

The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) believed that home rule did not go far enough and wanted a completely independent Ireland. They hoped their rebellion would be aided by military support from Germany, and arranged for a shipment of German arms to aid the rebels – but the ship was detected by the British.

Conservative Lord Salisbury said in 1872: “Ireland must be kept, like India, at all hazards: by persuasion, if possible; if not, by force.” In a political attack closely resembling that of the 2015 general election, the Conservatives claimed that Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George were in the pockets of the Irish nationalist MP’s. 

 

"Birth of the Irish Republic" by Walter Paget, depicting the GPO during the shelling
“Birth of the Irish Republic” by Walter Paget, depicting the GPO during the shelling

A small radical militia group, the Irish Citizen Army joined the IRB and 1,200 men under the command of Padraig Pearse stormed the general post office and other Dublin landmarks on Easter Monday, 24 April. The rebels seized prominent buildings in Dublin and clashed with British troops.

 

As the week progressed, the fighting became more intense, leading to several fiercely contested street battles. By Friday 28 April, about 18-20,000 soldiers had been amassed in the capital against around 1,600 rebels. Much of the city centre was destroyed by British artillery fire. 

Dr Fearghal McGarry, from Queen’s University Belfast commented “They did not expect it to win power, what they planned was a spectacle, a gesture to transform public opinion,” 

“They knew they would not win, they knew some of them would die.” he said.

With vastly superior numbers and artillery, the British Army quickly suppressed the Rising, and Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender on Saturday 29 April. After the surrender, all of Ireland remained under martial law.

_88913959_easterrisingrebelsAt the end of the Easter Uprising, 15 men identified as leaders were executed at Kilmainham Jail. To some, these men became martyrs, and the events of Easter 1916 became a turning point in the fight for an independent Ireland.

In the 1918 general election to the parliament of the United Kingdom, Sinn Fein (whose goal was to establish a republic) won a majority of the Irish seats. The members of the party refused to sit in the UK Parliament, and in January 1919 met in Dublin to convene an Irish Parliament (the Dail Eireann) and to declare Ireland’s independence. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) then famously launched a guerilla war against the British government and its forces in Ireland that would last decades.

In 1921, a treaty was signed that in 1922 established the Irish Free State, which eventually became the modern-day Republic of Ireland. The fully independent Republic of Ireland (consisting of the 26 counties) was formally proclaimed on Easter Monday, 1949.

This Easter, 100 years on from the Easter Uprising there is a real feeling and determination to focus on the future as well as reflecting on the past, and make sure that the troubles or Ireland are left way in the past.