On This Day

easter rising, easter rising prisoners, easter rising dublin
Associated Press
Irish prisoners are marched along a Dublin Quay under a British guard during the Easater Rising.

On This Day: Birth of the Irish Republic Declared in Easter Rising

April 24, 2011 06:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On April 24, 1916, Irish nationalists proclaimed the formation of the Irish Republic in a doomed uprising that would galvanize the republican movement.

Nationalists Read Proclamation of the Irish Republic

In 1914, after years of campaigning by moderate Irish leader John Redmond, British Parliament passed the Irish Home Rule bill, granting self-government to Ireland. However, the implementation of the bill was delayed due to the outbreak of World War I.

Redmond, hoping to retain positive relations with Britain, advised Irishmen to join the British Army, but a group of militant nationalists saw the war as an opportunity to launch an insurrection. Five members of the clandestine Irish Republican Brotherhood—Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Sean MacDermott, Eamonn Ceannt and Thomas Clarke— formed the IRB Military Council in 1915; they were joined a year later by socialist labor leader James Connolly, head of the Irish Citizens Army, and Thomas MacDonagh.

They formulated a plan to launch an insurrection in Dublin on the weekend of Easter, using an army of men from the IRB, ICA and Irish Volunteers, a paramilitary group of moderate nationalists. However, days before the uprising, Irish Volunteers leader Eoin MacNeill heard of the plan and ordered his men not to participate. The plan was further compromised when a shipment of German arms was intercepted.

“The leaders of the Rising may have begun with the notion of staging a real military revolt that would overthrow British rule, but by Easter Monday, when the hoped-for German aid had failed to materialise and a countermanding order had weakened their mobilisation, they knew that this was an impossibility,” writes the Irish Times. “They settled for a symbolic act, a dramatic gesture.”

On Easter Monday, the rebels marched through Dublin to the General Post Office, where they took down the British flag and replaced it with the Irish tricolor and a flag with the words “Irish Republic.” Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, declaring “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.”

The rebels seized other points in the city with little resistance, as the British were not prepared for such a rebellion. The outnumbered British troops waited for reinforcements as intense street battles broke out during the week. Some soldiers killed unarmed men, including pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, who was killed by firing squad.

By Friday reinforcements had arrived and the British forces, roughly five times the size of the Irish fighters, launched an assault on the post office. On Saturday the rebels were forced to surrender, thereby ending the Easter Rising. According to the BBC, 116 British soldiers died and were 368 wounded, while 64 rebels and 254 civilians died.

The Aftermath and Legacy of the Easter Rising

The British arrested 3,430 men and 79 women, and began court-martials on May 2. Pearse, Clarke and MacDonagh were executed the following day; 13 others would also be executed, including Connolly, who had been so seriously injured during the fighting that he had to be propped up on a chair to face the firing squad.

The majority of Dubliners had not supported the Easter Rising, and indeed some were angered by the rebels’ actions. The brutal British response, however, made martyrs out of the leaders and galvanized the republican cause.

The republican party Sinn Fein gained widespread support and won a landslide victory in the 1918 elections. It formed its own Irish legislative body—the Dail Eireann—and, as its first act, ratified the Easter Proclamation and declared the founding of the Irish Republic.

Other members of the rebellion were imprisoned in Wales’ Frongoch internment camp, which became known as the “university of revolution.” Prisoners such as Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera plotted future resistance and became leaders of the republican movement upon their release.

Though a military failure, the Easter Rising is celebrated as the first step toward the independence that was won in 1921, and its leaders are remembered as Irish heroes.

Historical Context: Irish Fight for Independence

The Easter Rising was one event in a long history of Irish resistance to British rule. Irish leader John Redmond, in the tradition of Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stuart Parnell, fought for a Home Rule bill in British Parliament and would have succeeded if not for World War I. The Irish Republican Brotherhood favored militant action, like the doomed rebellions of Wolfe Tone in 1798 and the Young Irelanders in 1848.

Key Players: Patrick Pearse and James Connolly

Patrick Pearse
Patrick (or Padraig) Pearse was an idealistic writer and leader of the IRB. He is assumed to have written the Proclamation of the Irish Republic that he read in front of the post office during the Easter Rising. He is also considered the face of the rebellion.

After being sentenced to execution, Pearse called to the British forces, “You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion of freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.”

James Connolly
James Connolly led workers’ strikes around Dublin and founded the Irish Citizen Army. He became involved in the nationalist movement to launch a revolution against the imperial, capitalist British government.

The ICA, originally formed to protect workers, would join the Irish Volunteers for the Easter Rising and Connolly commanded his forces in the General Post Office. Badly wounded during the fight, Connolly was executed by firing squad while strapped to a chair.

Yeats’ “Easter, 1916”

Irish poet Williams Butler Yeats immortalized the leaders of the Easter Rising in his poem “Easter, 1916.” Yeats admires their sacrifice, but expresses fear of the uncertain future.

“I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”

Easter Rising Resources

The Irish Times produced a section on the Easter Rising in honor of its 90th anniversary. It includes a detailed look at each day of the Rising, a copy of the Easter Proclamation, a look at how the Irish Times covered it in 1916 and an examination of how it signaled the “beginning of the end” of the British Empire.

The BBC offers a detailed summary of the Easter Rising by examining both its prelude and aftermath. The summary explains the way John Redmond’s fight for Home Rule and the rise of cultural and militant nationalism in Ireland helped foment the rebellion, then looks at how the Easter Rising incited the republican cause and led to the Anglo-Irish War that formed the Irish Free State.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines