An important and bloody piece in the history of Irish and their struggle for a republic was the Easter revolution of 1916, which was led by a group of Irish revolutionaries which were determined to release Northern Ireland from British colonial rule and end the conflict between these two enemies.
Background to the revolution
Before the story of the revolution is told, it is important to give a background to the conflict in Ireland and the events leading up to the Easter 1916 revolution.
The history of the conflict goes back to 1169, nearly 750 years before the Easter 1916 revolution, when English troops landed in Northern Ireland, over the next half millennium the English attempted to colonise the island, this often sparked rebellions by the Irish.
During the 16th century, the English gradually expanded the reach over the island, also during this time, the Protestant English, incited religious persecution over the Catholic Irish. The Irish Catholics suffered greatly during this period of British rule.
Over the next few centuries tensions between the English an Irish grew to breaking point.
In 1800, an act of parliament was passed which joined England and Ireland as one. During the 19th and 20th century, groups of opponents to British rule began to spring up. These groups brought about several uprisings. They also pushed for the implementation of Home rule, an act enabling Ireland to govern its domestic affairs, which was rejected many times in British parliament.
Planning for the revolution
Plans for the Easter 1916 revolution began after the breakout of the World War One when the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood called together leaders of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen army. The supreme council proposed an uprising in Dublin to take advantage of the war between Britain and Germany and to obtain Artillery and ammunition from the German’s through Roger Casement, who had contacts with the German Embassy in New York. All parties agreed to the plan, except for Eoin Macneill, a leader of the Irish volunteers who strongly opposed the uprising on grounds of principle. It was decided in secret that the plans for the uprising would go ahead without the knowledge of Eoin Macneill.
In January 1916, the supreme council set a date for the uprising of 23rd of April 1916, but complications arose such as British Intelligence intercepting messages between the rebels and the German Embassy in New York regarding a shipment of Arms and ammunition bound for the rebels. This caused the German cargo ship, Aud, carrying the Artillery and ammunition, to be captured by the British navy off the coast of Ireland. Full knowledge of this sensitive information was not passed onto Dublin authorities. Leaving the authorities unaware of any such uprising.
The Revolution begins
In spite of the setbacks to the uprising, the Easter 1916 revolution
began shortly after midday on Monday 24th of April 1916, in Dublin, when 200 members of the Irish citizen army and 1500 members of the Irish volunteers met at Liberty Hall, Dublin, to begin an uprising against British power. At 12.04pm, 150 rebels walked down Sackville Street towards their main target, Dublin’s General Post Office. From here, seven of the rebels proclaimed an Irish republic and the creation of a provisional government with Patrick Pearse as president. Other rebels controlled several other significant buildings in the city centre and in greater Dublin.
On Tuesday 25th the rebel’s provisional government proclaimed Martial Law throughout Ireland, an additional 3500 rebels came to Dublin to help with the uprising along with heavy artillery from Curragh, 56 kilometres outside Dublin.
Also on this day, the British began the task of regaining control of the city by setting up several barriers around Dublin to trap the rebels, particularly around the GPO and the countryside, so no new rebel enforcement’s could enter Dublin. By Tuesday evening, the rebels steadily began to retreat in the face of fierce street fighting between the rebels and the British who greatly outnumbered the rebels both in men and firepower. In the evening the city was in complete chaos, with many homes and business were destroyed by fire, the British unsure of who was a rebel or not, fired indiscriminately at any male civilian within their rights.
By Wednesday 26th, the tides began to turn greatly against the rebels. A gunboat called Helga, made its way down the River Liffey, destroying many rebel positions such as Liberty Hall and Boland’s Mill. By late afternoon on Wednesday, the British infantry and artillery regiments continued street fighting, the rebels began to crumble, by the evening, one group of rebels had surrendered the Mendicity institution. But several rebel groups fought on, at Mount street bridge, 12 rebels held off 400 British reinforcements, causing 200 British casualties.
Throughout the rest of the week, the Irish fought on, in spite of the rebels crumbling hold on Dublin as the British advanced closer to the rebel’s strongholds. The rebels situation was desperate, 10 000 more British reinforcements had arrived from London on the morning of Thursday 27th, Sackville street was on fire and was engulfing the buildings next to the GPO. By Thursday evening, the oil works opposite the GPO caught fire, the rebels had no choice but to evacuate.
On Friday 28th the British had advanced to within a few blocks of the GPO, the rebels were beginning to evacuate from the GPO to their new head quarters in 16 Moore Street, whilst under the constant gunfire of the British, it was during the evacuation that James Connolly was severely injured in the ankle and chest.
The End is Nigh
Saturday 29th of April, 40 percent of the city centre had been destroyed, the British were only a street away from their new headquarters. Patrick Pearce realised the futility of further resistance and sent a message to the British Commander, requesting a meeting to discuss the terms and conditions for a surrender, but the commander would only allow a unconditional surrender. Pearce, to weak to have any objections, handed over his sword as a formal symbol of surrender, then composed a formal surrender at army headquarters to be circulated amongst the remaining rebel outposts, most rebels surrendered, but some continued fighting until a complete surrender in the early evening.
The uprising had lasted only 6 days, caused 440 British and 75 Irish deaths and destroyed about 200 buildings in Dublin.
The Punishment is dealt
On May 9, the British brought the leaders of the uprising to 3 different trials before a field court-martial. Fifteen of the leaders including Patrick Pearse and James Connolly (by his hospital bedside) were sentenced to death by firing squad, except for Roger Casement, who was hanged for treason. Five of the executions took place on 10th May 1916 while the other ten were executed on 12th of April 1916, all executions took place at Kilmainham Jail. Four other rebels were sentenced to death but were commuted to life Imprisonment. Two of the rebel leaders were given amnesty one year later.
A dramatic increase in support for an Irish republic grew after the 1916 Easter uprising, in 1918, the Sinn Fein, an extremist political party, won 76 of the 106 seats allotted to Ireland in British party.
In 1919, the Sinn Fein party established a separate parliament in Dublin called the Dail Eireann, which was Gaelic for Assembly of Ireland. The newly formed party proclaimed Ireland as a republic, had it’s own constitution and leader, Eamon de Valera.
British troops were sent to Dublin to suppress the group, this cause a three-year Irish revolution, which involved much Guerilla warfare in the streets of Dublin. The revolution ended in late 1921 when the British government offered to instate the Ireland Act of 1921, which allowed to states too be created, Ireland and Northern Ireland (Ulster), each run by it’s own government under the loose control of Britain.
In late 1922, the Anglo-Irish treaty was bought before the Dail, who held there parliament in Dublin, if the treaty were to get the vote in the Dail, Ireland (which did not include Northern Ireland) would become a dominion of the United Kingdom Known as the Irish Free State. The Irish Free State would be self-governing but would still acknowledge allegiance to Britain. The treaty narrowly passed in the Dail. De Valera resigned as president weeks before the vote, rather than take the oath of allegiance to Britian.
In 1927, De Valera formed the Fianna Fail, which was Gaelic for Soldiers of destiny. The Fianna Fail won the election of 1932, which made De Valera Leader of the Irish Free State. In 1937, De Valera pushed through a new constitution and changed the countries name to Eire.
On Easter Monday, April 18, 1949, by the terms of the New Ireland Act of 1949,the Eire became a republic, free of the British, although Northern Ireland was to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Throughout the next 50 years, Northern Ireland would see riots and violence would continue between Catholics and Protestants due to discrimination and hatred. Violence would also break out between Irish extremists and British troops.
Throughout the 1960s Catholics held many civil rights marches due to discrimination from the government over the welfare plan. During the 1980s Hunger strikes were held due to the treatment of the Irish by the British.
Currently Northern Ireland is still under the control of Britain.