By Dougal MacDonald
The Easter Rising (Éirí Amach na Cásca), also known as the Easter Rebellion, was an armed uprising in Ireland during Easter Week in 1916, from April 24-29. The Rising was part of the centuries-long ongoing struggle of the Irish people for independence from England, which began in 1169 with Henry II’s annexation of Ireland. The Rising was no isolated incident or “putsch” as some labeled it at the time to denigrate it. The Irish people have always resisted British rule without letup. Prior to the Rising, at least 20 other separate rebellions had taken place since the 16th century, including within Canada. The single-minded aim of the Irish people has always been to fight to win their independence by ending British colonial rule so as to be free to decide their own destiny.
The Easter Rising was organized by the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, led by James Connolly, Patrick (Padraig) Pearse, Tom Clarke, Sean McDermott, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, and Eamonn Ceannt. On the morning of April 24, approximately 1,200 Irish Volunteers, Citizen Army members, and members of the Cumann na mBan, the paramilitary Irishwomen’s Council took over key locations in Dublin city centre (about 90 women took up arms in the rebellion). The Citizen Army was a defence organization formed during the Dublin Lockout of 1913 by James Connolly to protect strikers from police attacks. The main places which were occupied around Dublin were the General Post Office (GPO) which was the main headquarters, the Four Courts, the South Dublin Union, Boland’s Mill and Jacob’s biscuit factory. Patrick Pearse immediately announced the birth of the Irish Republic by reading a proclamation signed by the seven leaders. The Rising took place mainly in Dublin but there were also isolated actions in other counties, including Cork, Tyrone, Donegal, Meath, Louth, Wexford and Galway.
The British were at first taken by surprise as they had only 1,269 troops in the city on April 24. Lord Wimborne, the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, declared martial law and handed power to Brigadier-General William Lowe. Unfortunately, the rebels had failed to secure either of Dublin’s two main train stations or either of its ports, which allowed the British to bring in thousands of reinforcements from England and from their garrisons at the Curragh and Belfast. By the end of the week, British strength stood at over 16,000 men, vastly outnumbering the rebel forces. Fierce fighting took place over the next six days in a number of locations. Field artillery and the guns of the patrol vessel Helga were directed against the rebels. On April 29, Patrick Pearse called on the rebels to cease fire and to surrender.
The British Army reported casualties of 116 dead, 368 wounded and nine missing. Sixteen policemen died and 29 were wounded. Rebel and civilian casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. The Volunteers and Citizen Army recorded 64 killed in action. The majority of civilian casualties were the result of direct and indirect fire from British artillery, heavy machine guns and incendiary shells, none of which the rebels had access to. The British shooting was indiscriminate. As is the way with all occupying forces, the British considered anyone not in a British uniform as an enemy and fair game. Following the Rising, the British arrested a total of 3,430 men and 79 women. Most were subsequently released.
In May, military court martials were held and 93 rebels, including one woman, were sentenced to death by the British Military Court, presided over by Colonel Charles Blackader, commander of the 59th brigade of the 177th regiment which had fought against the rebels. Nearly 2,000 rebels were deported to England where they were imprisoned without trial. Fifteen rebels were executed by firing squad at Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol, including the seven leaders who signed the proclamation of the Irish Republic. One was hanged later. James Connolly, who was wounded in battle, was shot on May 12, 1916, tied to a chair with no blindfold. The British medical officer who attended the executions stated: “They all died like Lions.”
The Easter Rising resulted in the workers seizing power for just six days. It was another important step in the fight to free Ireland from colonial rule. Lenin wrote in 1916, just prior to the Rising: “The very fact that revolts do break out at different times, in different places, and are of different kinds, guarantees wide scope and depth to the general movement; but it is only in premature, individual, sporadic and therefore unsuccessful, revolutionary movements that the masses gain experience, acquire knowledge, gather strength, and get to know their real leaders, the socialist proletarians, and in this way prepare for the general onslaught.“