The Easter Rising was a rebellion staged in Ireland in Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was an attempt by militant Irish republicans to win independence from Britain.
For centuries, Ireland had been under English rule, the English perceiving the Irish to be barbarians who had to be tamed. The invasion by King Henry II of England in the twelfth century, the attempts by future English monarchs to colonize Ireland with English and the way the English had treated the Irish during "The Great Famine" in 1845-1852 had all contributed to the growing dissatisfaction among the Irish natives.
The centuries of national oppression by British landlords and increasing capitalism had led to the formation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood or I.R.B. in 1858. Their numbers never exceeded more than 2000 men, who were mostly intellectuals - writers, poets, teachers, professionals - and they were fiercely patriotic. Significantly, they were prepared to use force in order to achieve national independence for Ireland.
Another military force had been created on November 13, 1913, as a direct counterforce to the Ulster Volunteer Force, the latter of which had been formed by the English as a resistance to Home Rule(=Selbstverwaltung). The Irish Volunteers numbered around 200,000 Irish men and women, but only 2,000 were trained and armed. These two Irish armies were therefore waiting to fight for their country. Also, around the turn of the century, the English had tried to reduce the rights of Irish workers. The socialist and General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, James Connolly, supported a rebellion by the workers.
Planning the Rising:
Before the English could impose more laws on the Irish, another event occurred which would have massive impact - World War 1. This was the opportunity the I.R.B had been waiting for. They decided that another armed resistance should occur before the end of the War, believing that as most of the English army would be involved in the fighting in mainland Europe, their numbers would be weakened. The I.R.B. set up a Military Council, whose chief mission was to plan the rising, in secret.
The Council made three decisions: to establish a military council, seek whatever help possible from Germany, and secure control of the Volunteers.
The Council initially was made up of just three men - Eamonn Ceannt, Padriag Pearse and Joseph Plunkett. Pearse (1879-1916) was a poet and schoolmaster, but he was also a member of the I.R.B. with direct links with the Irish Volunteers. Later, Tom Clarke and Sean MacDiarmada joined the Council and by January 1916, James Connolly had become a member. Thomas MacDonagh joined the Council in April of 1916. These seven men were the 'intelligence' behind the uprising.
The Irish rebels had obtained a shipment of arms in 1914 but they were relying on more arms to be shipped from Germany. These were due to arrive between the 20th and 23rd April. The Council had already decided on Easter Sunday for the rising since January 1916.
Pearse had ordered mobilization of the Irish Volunteers on 8th April to prepare for an Uprising on Easter Sunday.
Unfortunately, the shipment of arms arrived earlier than expected and no one was there to meet it. The ship's captain, Spindler, could not convey the message that they had arrived due to the fact that there was no wireless on board. By the Friday evening (before Easter Sunday), the British Navy captured the ship, and while being escorted toward Cork Harbor, the Captain and his crew sank her. There were 20,000 rifles on board.
The loss of the arms was a huge blow to the Council as was the news that Sir Roger Casement, an Englishman who had been instrumental in securing the arms, had been captured. MacNeill ordered the Volunteers not to 'move' on Sunday and the Council's plans were thrown into disarray. They met on the morning of Easter Sunday, at Liberty Hall in Dublin, to discuss their next step.
Despite the huge setback the Council leaders decided to carry on. The Rising was now given the 'go-ahead' for the next day - Easter Monday, but could only feasibly take place in Dublin.
The Easter Rising:
At about 11.00 am on Easter Monday the Volunteers, along with the Irish Citizen Army, assembled at various prearranged meeting points in Dublin, and before noon set out to occupy a number of imposing buildings in the inner city area. These had been selected to command the main routes into the capital, and also because of their strategic position in relation to the major military barracks. They included the General Post Office, the Four Courts, Jacob's Factory, Boland's Bakery, the South Dublin Union, St. Stephen's Green and later the College of Surgeons. Given the advantage of surprise - British intelligence had failed hopelessly - the properties targeted were taken virtually without resistance and immediately the rebels set about making them defensible. The GPO (General Post Office) was the nerve centre of the rebellion. It served as the rebels' headquarters and the seat of the provisional government which they declared. Five of its members served there - Pearse, Clarke, Connolly, MacDermott and Plunkett.
The English plan to quash the Rising was a simple one - put a cordon around the central city Irish position and then use force to strike the headquarters - the G.P.O. At the beginning of Easter week the Irish numbered 1,800 and the British 2,500. By the end of the week the British, reinforced by additional troops, numbered 5,500. Despite being outnumbered and out armed the Irish put up a brave fight, which lasted for a week.
The inevitable attack on the G.P.O. came from the south, across the River Liffey, and by Friday, the British were in position to overtake it. The Rising had been a bloody war, the worst fighting and loss of life occurring at Mount Street Bridge. By Friday evening many central buildings were on fire, including the G.P.O. Pearse signed an order for unconditional surrender. The Rising ended on Sunday 30th April.
In the aftermath, 15 executions followed which included all seven of the Council leaders. The Rising had been momentarily unsuccessful, but it had made the Irish population more aware of the Republican Cause. The executions also caused widespread outrage. The Easter Rising was the first blow in the struggle that culminated in the War of Independence and therefore the first step on the road to that Independence. Some survivors of the Rising went on to become leaders of the nation and those who died were venerated as martyrs.
War of Independence:
The Irish War of Independence (January 1919 - July 1921) was a guerrilla campaign mounted against the British government in Ireland by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The plan for revolt was realised in the Easter Rising of 1916, in which the Volunteers, now explicitly declaring a republic, launched an insurrection whose aim was to end British rule and to found an Irish Republic. The rising was almost exclusively confined to Dublin and was put down within a week, but the British response executing the leaders of the insurrection and arresting thousands of nationalist activists galvanised support for the separatist Sinn Fin - the party which the republicans first adopted and then took over. By now support for the British war effort was on the wane, and Irish public opinion was shocked and outraged by some of the actions committed by British troops - particularly the murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and the imposition of wartime martial law.
Secondly, the British, in the face of the crisis caused by the German Spring Offensive in April 1918, attempted to introduce conscription into Ireland. This further alienated the Irish electorate and produced mass demonstrations during the Conscription Crisis of 1918. By the time of the November 1918 election alienation from British rule was widespread.
To Irish Republicans, the Irish War of Independence had begun with the Proclamation of the Irish Republic during the Easter Rising of 1916. Republicans argued that the conflict of 1919-21 was the defence of this Republic against attempts to destroy it.
In October 1921, representatives of the British and Irish people gathered in London to negotiate a peace treaty. The British were represented by highly experienced negotiators such as Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. The Irish were represented by novices: Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Gavan Duffy and Eamon Duggan.
As soon as the Irish delegation arrived, they were under great pressure. British police spied on them night and day, they had no secretarial back up and their government was not internationally recognised.
The main terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty stated that:
- An Irish Free State (Saorstt ireann) of 26 counties was established
- The Irish state was a Dominion and was still part of the Commonwealth
- The British Monarch would remain as head of state and would be represented by the Governor-General
- The Royal Navy retained control of the ports of Cobh, Berehaven and Lough Swilly
- The border between the Free State and Northern Ireland would be drawn up by a Boundary Commission