105th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion, 1916

Glorious uprising of the Irish people | Dougal MacDonald

Mural, Falls Road, Ireland, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016

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. Today they are fighting to reunify Ireland. “A United Ireland Is an Idea Whose Time Has Come,” the leader of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald said in 2021.

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.

Proclamation of the Irish Republic, April 24, 1916

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.”

Women played an important role in the Rebellion, with many members of Cumann na mBan (Women’s Council), the women’s auxiliary branch of the Irish Volunteers and the major nationalist women’s organization fighting for independence. Established in 1914, it maintained the struggle for independence following the Easter Rising and in 1921 became the first organisation to reject the treaty which partitioned Ireland. Only James Connolly’s socialist Irish Citizen Army, on the left wing of the national movement, accepted women on an equal footing.

(TML Archives)

From James Connolly’s Message to the Field General Court Martial, held at Dublin Castle, on May 9, 1916

We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire, and to establish an Irish Republic. We believed that the call we then issued to the people of Ireland, was a nobler call, in a holier cause, than any call issued to them during this war , having any connection with the war. We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavouring to win for Ireland those national rights which the British Government has been asking them to die to win for Belgium. As long as that remains the case, the cause of Irish freedom is safe.

Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irishmen, of even a respectable minority, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that Government for ever a usurpation and a crime against human progress.

Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997

Related reading on this blog

105th anniversary of the Easter Rising, Ireland

(April 5, 2021 ) Republican organisations issued statements and made speeches to mark the 105th anniversary of the heroic Easter Rising in Dublin of 1916, affirming their commitment to the unification of Ireland.

The signatories of the Irish Proclamation of Independence 1916

Short biographies of the seven patriots who signed Ireland’s historic declaration of independence in 1916.

Commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising: A timeline (1)

Commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising: A timeline (2)

Close-quarter combat in the Easter Rising: A reportage-style account of the combat that took place during the Easter Rising. 

105th Anniversary of the Irish Rebellion, 1916: The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up – V.I. Lenin

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