Easter is a very special time for the people of Ireland and particularly Dublin. And not just for religious reasons. For it was in Easter 1916, 95 years ago, that the most significant event in modern Irish history occurred. The Easter Rising was led by three groups, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the Irish Citizens Army and the Irish Volunteers who formed an uneasy and often suspicious alliance. The Volunteers alone numbered more than 10,000 and plans were made to rise up on Easter Sunday in Dublin. Key to the operation was a delivery of arms and a million rounds of ammunition, to be landed in the south, from Germany. Unfortunately for the rebels however the British intercepted a message between rebel leaders in Washington DC, and Berlin, and boarded the ship on Easter Saturday. After a hasty meeting the rebel commanders postponed the coup by placing a pre-agreed coded advertisement in the Sunday newspaper cancelling the day’s “manoeuvres”. They met again on the Sunday and decided that at 12 noon, Easter Monday, the 1916 Rising would commence. Unfortunately the plans did not have the backing of the Volunteers who believed there was no reasonable chance of success. Their forces were thus withdrawn and it is estimated that when the fateful declaration of freedom was made at the General Post Office on Easter Monday, the total rebel army was less than 1800 strong. Led by Patrick (Padraig) Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and James Connolly, they made their HQ the General Post Office, and also occupied the Four Courts and Jameson’s Distillery.
The British response was to send an army of 20,000 troops equipped with heavy artillery. Despite the fierce fighting it was never a real contest. By the end of the week some 64 rebels, 142 British and 254 civilians had been killed, with a further 2,000 wounded on both sides. The core of Dublin was badly damaged and public opinion, at best lukewarm before the fighting began, now actually turned against the defeated rebels. The 15 ringleaders, including Pearse, Connolly, Plunkett and Eamon de Valera were all sentenced to death. Only the American-born de Valera was spared, pardoned as a result of his dual nationality. The consummate survivor and politician, he fought with Michael Collins as to the direction of the ongoing struggle, was implicated in his assassination, but went onto become head of the Irish government three times.
In the aftermath of the Easter Rising. a disproportionately large number of people – around 3500 – were arrest and detained, and the dignified behaviour of the captured rebel leaders contrasted sharply with that of their brutish British counterparts. The ensuing executions, at Kilmainham Gaol, were handled particularly insensitively: no priest was allowed to be present and the bodies were burned in quicklime, rather than be given back to relatives. The touching death-row marriage between Joseph Plunkett and his finacée, Grace Gifford, just hours before he was shot, also helped shift public opinion. The whole episode proved to be a major political blunder by the British government. And, just as Patrick Pearse had forecast, his (and his colleagues’) martyrdom had the effect of swinging public sympathy almost full circle overnight. Support for the Republican cause redoubled and the mood was set for the subsequent War of Independence. The Easter Rising may have failed but from its blood and ashes sprang new hope for Irish freedom.
To hear the stirring story of the people who took part, the key events as they unfolded and to see the central Dublin locations – some still pockmarked by bullet holes even today – where the Rising took place, take the 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour. No need to book, just turn up at the International Bar, 23 Wicklow Street. Tours run Mar-Oct 11.30 am Mon-Sat, 1pm Sun (12 Euros). For further details contact Lorcan Collins 086 85 83 847 or visit the website www.1916rising.com.