Commemorations of the Easter Rising are at this very moment underway in the Republic of Ireland. … because it’s Easter weekend.
The Rising, of course, was an armed insurrection staged by a small group of young men* who had the (ahem) novel idea that Ireland should belong wholly to the Irish. The last major uprising having been the rebellion of 1798—nearly 118 years earlier—this was not necessarily a popular idea among the regular folk. The older generation, in particular, appreciated the stable political situation. Many, many people had loved ones serving in the British Army, as well.
But the British had failed repeatedly to give the Irish “Home Rule” (political control at home, in Ireland), even promising it to get recruits to fight the Kaiser in the first World War—and the younger, radical nationalists were disillusioned. And on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, these rebels occupied the General Post Office downtown, raised republican flags over the building, and read a proclamation. “To the People of Ireland,” it said.
Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
It didn’t end well. The British Army (which included Irish nationals, as noted) put down the rebellion in six days. Wikipedia tells us,
Almost 500 people were killed in the Easter Rising. About 54% were civilians, 30% were British military and police, and 16% were Irish rebels. More than 2,600 were wounded. Most of the civilians were killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. The shelling and the fires it caused left parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.
A view of Sackville Street—now O’Connell Street—and the River Liffey on 11 May 1916. I borrowed this photo from the Irish Times, who credit the photo to PA/PA Wire.
And there it would have ended, at least for the time being, had the British not begun executing republicans within three days of their surrender. After that, all bets were off. By 1919 the Irish War of Independence was on, a treaty with the British was signed in 1921, and by 1922 the Irish Free State was a thing, followed by the Irish Civil War. (The Free State had the status of dominion until 1937, and was officially declared a republic in 1949. This is how long it takes to get shut of the British, it seems.)
But the Rising. It’s the one-hundredth anniversary this year, so there’s a lot going on. Interestingly, a lot of the activities are pegged to Easter (which is tomorrow, 27 March 2016) as opposed to the actual date of the actual event (which, as noted, was 24 April 1916). This op-ed piece suggests that the Irish stop attaching the commemoration to Easter and create a new national holiday on the day—which makes a lot of sense to me.
Nonetheless. There will be a parade. There will be walking tours, music, talks and debates, and a lot of historical presentations. The Journal has a schedule here. Dublin’s Easter Monday, it says, “is set to be a family-friendly 1916 spectacular.” There will be vintage, friends. (And even Americans are getting in on the act.)
If you’re interested in the story, the RTÉ has a lot of good information at their “Century Ireland” site. I’ve been reading these wonderful short essays from the best of Ireland’s literary community—Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Roddy Doyle, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Kevin Barry, Michael Longley, Joseph O’Neill, Sebastian Barry, Claire Kilroy, Glenn Patterson, and Paul Murray—their memories of Rising commemorations past.
And here’s another lovely essay from Fintan O’Toole, assistant editor of the Irish Times:
As a historical fact, the Rising seems quite small and self-contained. It was a little sideshow to the cataclysmic main event: the first world war. Even in Irish terms, it was, objectively, quite marginal. About 1,600 men and women took some part in the rebellion during Easter week of 1916. By contrast, about a quarter of a million Irishmen fought in the Great War. During the Rising 485 men, women and children (mostly civilians) died in Dublin. In the same week 570 Irish soldiers were killed in a single horrific German gas attack at Hulluch on the western front – an event that is scarcely remembered. The Rising is just a drop in an ocean of blood.
But, O’Toole notes, “What happened to the Rising is that it very quickly moved out of the realm of historical fact and into that of the imagination.”
Where it lives even today, not quite one hundred years later.
So start up your computer, turn on your television. It’s begun already. Irish president Michael D. Higgins has laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance.
* Signatories to the proclamation were Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Éamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, Seán MacDermott. Also executed for their role in the Rising were Ned Daly, Willie Pearse, Michael O’Hanrahan, John MacBride, Michael Mallin, Conn Colbert, Seán Heuston, Thomas Kent, and Roger Casement.