The Easter Rising of 1916 

Brian Warfield

The Easter Rising of 1916 was one of the most significant milestones in the history of Ireland's long struggle for independence.  Since the Normans first came to Ireland in 1167 and cast a greedy eye upon the fertile land, many others followed in a succession of invasions, wars, conquests and re-conquests which resulted in land confiscations and displacement of generations of Irish people from the land they loved, bringing in its wake, destruction, poverty, famines, disease, emigration, banishment, enslavement and misgovernment over the centuries of colonisation and occupation. By the beginning of the 19th Century, Ireland was in a state of impoverishment what was the wonder of the world.  Throughout the period of English rule in Ireland, Irish industry was neglected, run down or overtaxed to favour England's industrial developments. And, so by the beginning of the twentieth century, many parts of Ireland had no industry or employment. It was thought by British intellectuals and many politicians in the early 19th Century that the problem in Ireland was overpopulated and they needed to cull its growth from a population height of 8,175,000 (but on a recount in two counties a 10% discrepancy was found to the statistics). Since the Census of 1941, after which the famine had devastated whole communities, whilst the language and culture were impoverished.

Unemployment was rife across Ireland and wages were below survival levels. The Landlords still had a grip on the land, but it was loosening somewhat for the few, after a series of land wars and resultant Land Acts which at last gave tenant farmers a chance to buy back their land from landlords.  There were still famines occurring in the west, right into the 1880's and 1890's. High rents and poor yields were crippling the small and medium sized farmers, whose circumstances had not changed much since the Great Hunger in the 1840's.  

Ireland was turned into one big garrison for the British Army. Whole communities depended on the military for survival. Every county had its barracks in every major town. Dublin, the second city of the Empire had numerous barracks scattered all over thec ity. Prostitution was one of the biggest industries in Dublin city as many impoverished women made a career of servicing the army personnel, passing through Dublin, seeking sexual encounters. The slums of Dublin had few comparisons across the Empire and were on of the worst in Europe. 

The poor sons of labourers or small farmers joined the army as there was no alternative except the emigrant shop. Many who came from wealthier families were flighting for commissions or seeking jobs in the foreign service of the Empire.  The division of the Irish people had been successfully completed.  The Protestants, Presbyterians and desenter who been favoured across the centuries mainly accepted Ireland's role.  The North East was thriving with its great shipyards and supporting industries. But the Southern parts of Ireland composed of mainly Catholic nationalists, were industrially neglected and so were seeking some form of home role (self rule) or at least a repeal of the Union, which had been so harmful to Ireland's economic progress.  Into this quagmire of poverty and neglect were born the leader's of 1916, who for their love and empathy with Ireland, tried to regress the devastation caused by the misrule of the English government in the past.  They touched the people of the famine generation and interacted with the Fenian generations, so much so that they had knowledge and understanding of the past history of Ireland and felt the colonisation of the Irish People would be final, unless the Irish People could show leadership and form cultural and educational institutions that would reverse the Anglicisation of Ireland. They sang the songs of Young Ireland and the Fenians and they read their writings and poetry. They created their own art, poetry, writings, music and song as they tried to stop the decline of the Irish language. These were all great and noble aspirations, but it was fight against the powerful Empire, who were at the height of their powers. They needed to awaken the people from their slumber instilling pride and confidence back into a lost generation, recovering from a devastating famine and years of subjective colonisation.

The struggle for Home Rule or Self Determination had gone on for a century, since the Act of Union was passed in 1801. Home rule was almost a reality when World War I commenced and it was put on hold until the war ended.  Now Ireland was called upon by its rulers and oppressors to contribute hundreds and thousands of her manhood as cannon fodder for a war that had little to do with Ireland, much less anything to be gained by it. The Irish Volunteers, a military movement started by the nationalists in reply to the unionist population of the north eastern part of Ireland, who had organised a large force called the Ulster Volunteers to fight against the introduction of home rule.  They were organised and ready to cause civil war to overturn a bill which had already been passed by their own parliament.  John Redmond, leader of the Nationalist MP's in parliament expressing his loyalty, encouraged the Nationalist Volunteers to sign up and join the British army in its fight against Germany in Europe. This caused a split in the movement, the Irish Volunteers broke away from Redmond's National Volunteers, because of his war policy.  Although the movement was divided, there were still 200,000 Irish men who joined the fight parading and marching behind bands playing "God Save the King" and other songs distasteful to them and many republican leaders saw this as the final colonisation and subjugation of Ireland.  The sight of young Irish manhood going to the slaughter under an English flag leaving Ireland at a huge loss of soldiers who could have fought who could have fought for Ireland's freedom.  Ireland's hope of getting some form of nationhood or independence was dashed and they believed they needed to strike a blow in the name of Ireland to encourage pride and the love of Erin in its people once again. The opportunity for rebellion should take place whist the war was raging.  James Connolly said that if he was joined by the others, he would strike a blow himself with his little small army.  Easter Sunday 1916 was the date set by the leaders, but the luck of the Irish once again brought disaster, disappointment and confusion to their efforts. Roger Casement was caught by the The Royal Irish Constablery (RIC) at Banna Strand, County Kerry. Amidst confusion, the local brigade were misinformed about the landing of the much needed arms and munitions; which went to the bottom of the seas, when the German Captain scuttled his ship rather than let it be caught by the English navy.  Eoin McNeill, head of the Irish Volunteers, called off manoeuvres for that sunday, which sent the whole rebel network in the country into confusion. The other leaders cried, when they heard the awful news.  The re-arranged the parading of volunteers for Easter Monday, but only a small proportion turned out.  When James Connolly was asked by his friend and labour leader, William O'Brien, what chance he thought they had; he answered grimly "Little or none, we're going out to be slaughtered"