The years leading up to the Easter Rebellion in Ireland in 1916 were marked by significant political, cultural and military developments. The Easter Rebellion was a complete failure but without it, Ireland might never have been free from British Rule.
Conflict between Ireland and Britain commenced in 1169, when Henry II attempted to invade Ireland and was unsuccessful. In the centuries that followed the British made many attempts to take control of Irish lands to build a superior empire. During the years of 1485 to 1603, when the Tudor monarchs were ruling Britain, Elizabeth I introduced a policy, the “Plantation Policy”. This policy seized land from Irish Catholics and redistributed it among Protestants. This policy initiated ‘sectarianism’ that would distress Ireland for hundreds of years. Sectarianism is the view that one religious belief has superiority over others. In 1800, the British Parliament passed the ‘Act of Union’. This Act removed Irelands right to have its own parliament.
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In Ireland in the 1890’s ‘new nationalism’ emerged. This was in view of the fact that in the period leading up to the First World War there had been a move towards Home Rule for Ireland. Home Rule would have given the Irish their own parliament that would have the capacity to make laws relating to domestic issues, issues that affected the Irish population. Major decisions regarding the economy and foreign affairs would still be made in London. But the ‘Act of Union’ prevented this.
During 1913, the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) was formed during the Great Dublin Lockout, as a result of police violence against striking transport workers protesting, by James Connelly a socialist with the aim of creating a socialist state independent of British Rule. Also in 1913 Irish Nationalist members of British Parliament created a campaign to have a Home Rule bill passed for Ireland. The two attempts at this made previously were unsuccessful. In 1914, the bill was passed in both houses of British Parliament and was predicted to become law by the end of that year. The Ulster Unionists were a group created to defend the interests of Irish Protestants and were distressed regarding this. Irish nationalist groups observed this distress and were prepared to defend their rights. Irish nationalists were people that were dedicated to gaining independence for Ireland. Consequently the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) came into action. The IRB was a nationalist movement founded by James Stephens in 1858 with the aim of overthrowing British Rule and establishing an independent Irish republic. The IRB members were also known as the Fenians. This group was a small, underground, revolutionary body that planned and directed the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland in 1916.
In August 1914, World War I broke out. Britain, France and Russia went to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Many Irishmen volunteered to fight for Britain in the cause that if they did, Home Rule would become inevitable. But in September of 1914, the British government suspended the decision of the recently enacted Home Rule Bill until the war had come to an end. This suspension stimulated the growth of the ICA. The IRB decided to take advantage of Britain’s involvement and preoccupation with the war. By the end of 1914 they had armed themselves and were prepared for a nationwide uprising in support of Irish Independence. The date set was Easter 1916.
In 1915 the IRB formed the IRB Military Council. It was composed of seven members – Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Patrick Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Joseph Plunkett, James Connolly and Thomas MacDonagh. These men declared themselves to be the ‘Provisional Government’ of the Irish Republic when the rebellion began.
Sir Roger Casement was a dedicated supporter of Irish Independence and he was able to acquire German military supplies for the use in the uprising. He also obtained financial support from the great Irish population living within the United States of America. But the British caught Casement in April 1916 and the military supplies and was arrested and the supplies were seized. Even though this was a major setback, Patrick Pearse, the leader of the Irish Volunteers and James Connolly, leader of the ICA prepared to proceed.
Action began around 12:00 pm on Monday, April 24, a bank holiday in Ireland, when approximately 2000 men lead by Pearse gained control of the Dublin General Post Office (GPO) and other strategic points throughout the city. From their barricaded Post Office headquarters, the rebels proclaimed the Independence of Ireland with the creation of a provisional government with Pearse as president. Supplementary positions were occupied by rebels during the night and by the morning of April 25, they controlled a considerable part of Dublin. On this day, the British counteroffensive began. The British brought in heavy artillery and reinforcements. Martial Law was proclaimed throughout Ireland. Martial Law is brought into action when a situation arises when ordinary law is suspended and the military establish and enforce laws restricting people’s freedoms. As more than half of the rebels were unarmed the British forces began to steadily dislodge the Irish from their positions. By the morning of April 29 the GPO was under violent attack. Pearse surrendered unconditionally on April 29, seeing the futility of further resistance.
Casualties included about 440 British troops and about 75 Irish. Most of the leaders of the rebellion were sentenced to death, some were sentenced to life imprisonment. This rebellion was the first in a series of events that instigated the establishment of the ‘Irish Free State’. This Irish Free State was the predecessor of the Republic of Ireland.
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