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Easter Rising 1916: A Brief History of Ireland's Independence

Updated on January 10, 2016
Volunteers on Duty
Volunteers on Duty

Introduction


2016 marks an historic anniversary for the people of the Republic of Ireland. On April 24th 100 years ago, Irish rebellions mounted a 6-day insurrection against their English occupiers that would prove to be a catalyst for eventual independence from the United Kingdom.


Background

Since the introduction of the Acts of Union in 1800 to unite Ireland and Great Britain, opposition from the Irish people had been steadily growing. Irish nationalists saw the Union as an attempt to exploit and impoverish the country. Each generation of nationalists became more disillusioned with the occupation, which led to a more radicalized approach to the desire for independence. Militant groups such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Ulster Volunteer Force saw a spike in membership and with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the growing militant armies saw an opportunity to make a change and recapture their lost heritage.

Preparing for the Rising

With the UK government having declared war on Germany a month previously, the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood met in September 1914 and a decision was made to stage a rebellion before the war ended. Initial plans even discussed the possibility of garnering support and supplies from the German government to aid the fight for freedom. Military, training, and communications committees were established and great names in Irish history such as Padraig Pearse, Sean McDermott and Thomas McDonagh were elected as leaders of this quickly-mobilizing rebellion army. The Brotherhood were also able to enlist the help of the Irish Citizen Army who, along with their leader James Connolly, were planning their own uprising around the same time. After almost 18 months of intense planning and training, the Irish nationalists were ready to make a stand against their British oppressors.

Padraig Pearse
Padraig Pearse

The Rising

Early on Monday morning, 24th April 2016, a force of over 1,000 volunteers took control of key strongholds in the capital city of Dublin. The General Post Office on Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) was used as a military headquarters, whilst Liberty Hall, the Four Courts and St. Stephen's Green were also successfully seized. It wasn't all plain sailing for the rebellions however, with failed sieges at Dublin Castle and Trinity College dealing a blow to their chances of success.

The British military were very much caught unawares by the actions of the Irish forces, and suffered several casualties during a first day of uncoordinated efforts to quash the uprising. By Tuesday evening, the British had declared martial law in the capital. However, the advantages the Irish nationalists were able to secure in the early stages of the Rising were short-lived. Having been unable to secure either of Dublin's train stations or the Dublin Port, Britain were able to draft in thousands of reinforcements to take back the rebel strongholds. Even at such an early stage of the rising, the outcome seemed inevitable.

Although the numbers were against them, the key rebel positions saw little in the way of combat. The British were happy to surround and bombard the rebels rather than engage in direct assaults on the occupied locations. Where the British did mount assaults on the Irish they suffered severe casualties but sheer force of numbers saw them overcome the rebels across the city.

After 6 days of shelling and attacks on rebel-occupied territories in Dublin, leaders were eventually forced to abandon their headquarters on O'Connell Street after it had caught fire. Padraig Pearse offered an unconditional surrender to his British counterpart citing the prevention of further slaughter of Dublin citizens. As word filtered down to other rebel posts of Pearse's surrender other rebel leaders took similar action. The 1916 Easter Rising was officially over.

The Aftermath

Although the Rising had been defeated relatively swiftly, history remembers it as the key turning point in the fight for Irish Independence.Over 3,500 arrests were made by the British constabulary and 90 people were sentenced to death, including rebel leaders such as Pearse, Connolly and MacDonagh who were executed by firing squad in Kilmainham jail.

This British reaction to the Rising seemed to sway a large number of Irish nationalist opinions and the desire for an independent republic became stronger throughout the island of Ireland. It was this growing support amongst the Irish citizens that eventually paved the way for the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921 and the establishment of independent governments in Northern and Southern Ireland.

Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) after the Rising
Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) after the Rising

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