April 24, 1916: The Easter Rising Begins

Sunday, April 24, AD 2016

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.  A militarily hopeless venture, it was easily crushed by the British.  Yet, astonishingly, this doomed quixotic episode began the events that within five years would bring to an end in most of Ireland of almost a thousand years of English rule.

On Easter Monday April 24, 1916, a coalition of fractious Irish republican groups, organized under the Irish Republican Brotherhood, took over key locations in Dublin and proclaimed the provisional government of the Irish Republic.  The Irish Republican Brotherhood received substantial financial support from the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, Irish Americans playing a key role throughout the 19th and early 20th century in the struggle for Irish independence.  The Irish Republicans had around 1,250 troops in Dublin.  There was minor fighting elsewhere in Ireland, but the Easter Rising was basically a struggle for Dublin.

In retrospect it is difficult to see how the Republicans believed that the Rising had any chance of success.  Great Britain was fully mobilized to fight World War I, and Ireland, like Great Britain, was swarming with trained British troops, many commanded by veterans of the fighting on the Western Front.  By Saturday the provisional government had surrended.  About 500 people were killed in the Rising, half of them civilians.

Initially the majority of Irish civilians had little sympathy for the rising, viewing it as at best a mad adventure, and at worst treason when many Irish Catholics were serving in France.  However, British mass arrests, albeit swiftly releasing most arrested, began to alter public attitudes toward the rising.  This was enhanced as news of British atrocities, real and false,  against civilians during the Rising began to spread.  Finally, British executions of the leaders of the Rising appalled most Irish Catholics.   The men uniformly met their deaths with great courage, and the British added to this folly by including in the executions the badly wounded James Connolly who had to seated in a chair to be executed.  Asked by the priest who gave him the last rites to pray for the men who were executing him, he replied:   “I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights.”

Connolly was the last man executed, except for Sir Roger Casement, knighted by the British government in 1911, who was executed in London on August 3, 1916 and who converted to Catholicism on the date of his execution.  Public opinion was outraged, not only in Catholic areas in Ireland, but also in the United States, and the British Prime Minister ordered that no more executions be undertaken.

From this disaster sprouted the movement that would lead to Irish independence.  Michael Collins, who had taken part in the Rising, realized from his experiences during the fighting that attempting to stand up to the British in a conventional War was merely a form of suicide.  He began to devise a form of urban guerrilla war that would allow tiny Ireland to confront the mightiest empire in the world.

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5 Responses to April 24, 1916: The Easter Rising Begins

  • “. . . They flung out the flag of war.”
    “While Britannia’s Huns with their long range guns sailed in the foggy dew.”
    Ireland freed herself because her sons and daughters were willing to fight and long suffer. Indeed, “A terrible beauty is born.”

  • Recall too that the uprising never would have happened had London granted Ireland Commonwealth status a.k.a. Home Rule. Parliament had approved it in 1914, and it was then put on hold after the declaration of war despite the huge enlistment of Irish in the British Army.

  • The Brits were looking at Civil War in Ulster just prior to World War I, with a revolt in the British Army likely. That was the crisis that initially overshadowed Sarajevo for the British government. The delay in Home Rule due to the War served the interests of both the Ulster Protestant extremists and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, both groups, for different reasons, being opposed to Home Rule.

  • This is nice medley and narrative by the Clancys, with some Yeatts mixed in:

  • Precisely two years earlier, on the night of Friday 24th and Saturday 25th April 1914, Major Frederick Crawford and Captain Wilfred Spender had succeeded in landing 24,500 rifles and some 3 million rounds of ammunition at Larne, to arm the Ulster Volunteers.

    Following closely on the Curragh Incident, on 20th March 1914, in which Brigadier Hubert Gough and the officers of the 5th and 16th Lancers threatened instant resignation, if they were ordered to act against the Ulster Volunteers, it made partition inevitable. The military significance of the Larne gunrunning was trivial; its political significance was enormous and n o British government was ever again prepared to employ armed force against loyal British subjects in Ulster.

The Bold Fenian Men

Saturday, April 23, AD 2016

Something for the weekend.  Down by the Glenside (The Bold Fenian Men).   Tomorrow marks the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin which set in motion the chain of events leading to Irish independence.  Shortly before the Rising this song was written by  Peadar Kearney.  He would go on to fight in the Irish War of Independence.  A personal friend of Michael Collins, after Collins was slain in the Irish Civil War, Kearney sickened of politics.  He resumed his trade as a house painter and died in 1942 in relative obscurity and poverty.

Compare and contrast the above two versions of The Bold Fenian Men.  Although I have long been a fan of the Clancy Brothers, I confess that I prefer the acappella version.  The Sons of the Pioneers did a notable version of the song in the John Wayne movie Rio Grande, anachronistically singing a song in the 1870s that would not be written until 1916.

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One Response to The Bold Fenian Men

  • God bless you, Mac!

    That scene from the “Rio Grande” movie is one of my “go-to’s.” Victor McLaughlin blubbering – priceless. Also, priceless is the horsemen in those classic cavalry movies.

The Foggy Dew

Saturday, February 6, AD 2016

Something for the weekend:  The Foggy Dew, written by Canon Charles O’Neill, a parish priest, in 1919 and set to the tune of a popular love song.  We are just a bit over two months before the centennial commemoration of the Easter Rising in Ireland on April 24, 1916.  A militarily hopeless venture, it was easily crushed by the British.  Yet, astonishingly, this doomed quixotic episode began the events that within five years would bring to an end in most of Ireland of almost a thousand years of English rule.  History is usually so much more dramatic, and unlikely, than fiction.

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2 Responses to The Foggy Dew

  • The Walsh name is perhaps associated with that nasty business between Diarmait Mac Murchada King of Leinster, and Henry II whereby the English took over Ireland in the Twelfth Century. If so, we beg your pardon. But then it got us to Ireland where we were most prolific. Walsh is the fourth most common Irish name after all. What of the name McClarey pray tell?

  • It means “son of a clerk” and is not very common.

The Easter Rising 1916

Saturday, April 10, AD 2010

Something for the weekend.  The Clancy Brothers pay tribute to the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin which, although completely unsuccessful, started a chain of events which led to Irish independence, the dream of Irish men and women for centuries.  The songs featured are Legion of the Rearguard, the Foggy Dew and God Bless England.  Ironically, Legion of the Rearguard has nothing to do with the battle for Irish independence.  It was written during the Irish Civil War which was fought in 1922-23.  The title of the song is from  Eamon de Valera, who led the rebels and who, ironically, would end up leading independent Ireland for most of the rest of the Twentieth Century, and who admitted defeat in the Irish Civil War with his usual purple prose:   

Soldiers of the Republic! Legion of the Rearguard! The Republic can no longer be defended successfully by your arms. Further sacrifice of life would be in vain, and continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the National interest. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic.

De Valera of course was referring in his phrase to “those who have destroyed the Republic” to men like Michael Collins, who was killed in the Civil War, who were responsible for the creation of an independent Ireland.  De Valera, at the end of the Irish fight for independence, realizing that the only terms that the British would grant which would lead to an independent Ireland would be unacceptable to many hard core Irish Republicans, refused to engage in the negotiations with the British himself, sending Collins instead, over the protests of Collins.  When Collins came back with the best treaty terms possible that would be granted by the British, de Valera denounced him and the treaty and the Irish Civil War was the result.  De Valera therefore got the benefit of the treaty terms, an Irish Free State, while still able to pose as an uncompromising champion of complete independence, something which benefited him politically to no end, for over half a century after Collins died in the Civil War de Valera started after he rejected the treaty.  Very shrewd of de Valera.  The morality I will leave for the reader to judge.

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13 Responses to The Easter Rising 1916

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  • The Irish didn’t cover themselves with glory in the Second World War. Unlike the Swiss they were seperated from the Germans by a large body of water, they could have pushed the boundary a lot more without the Nazis being provoked into action. Much of the Irish behaviour can be reduced to indifference. Of course being Irish they had to cover their actions with a swarm of empty words.

  • Well Ivan, 70,000 citizens of the Republic of Ireland volunteered to serve in the British armed forces during World War II, which, considering the size of Ireland, was not an insignificant contribution. Additionally, calling to mind the “great kindness” which Great Britain has shown to the Irish over the centuries, it can be considered a tribute to the Irish that any of them were willing to fight on the same side as Great Britain at all.

  • Donald, 70,000 is a huge proportion of a small population like Ireland’s. I take back my stupid remarks.

  • No sweat Ivan. A lot of us over here still recall the debt of gratitude the entire world owes the UK, and the British Empire and Dominions, for standing alone against Hitler for a year.

  • Irish Independence is rooted in neutrality. De Valera said that small states which enter major wars risk their existence without the possibility of gaining influence on either the course of the war or the ensuing peace.

    When the 1916 Rising and developments it inspired led to the democratic assertion of Irish Independence in the 1918 Election, and Britain continued to rule Ireland by force, and the Irish resisted by force, Whitehall determined to destroy the Irish democracy to preserve its own strategic interests. Britain offered a measure of self-government under the authority of the Crown, and threatened unrestrained warfare on the democractically elected government if they refused the offer, and manipulated those who accepted the offer into making war on those who rejected it. The Army who fought the British to the negotating table were crushed with weaponary supplied from London.

    Michael Collins recognized that his acceptance of the Treaty was made under duress (which as a plenipotentiary he had no authority to do), which is why he showed no scruple in ordering the killing of Sir Henry Wilson, heavily arming the Belfast IRA (while scrupulously ensuring the weapons could not be identified as British), and infilitrating the RUC and B-specials with IRA spies after the Craig-Collins Pact. He wanted to use the machinery of the southern Irish state to destroy the northern state, which is something no southern government has since attempted. A very cunning man.

    Although their anguish and fury at the plight of northern Catholics led Collins and Mulcahy to continue supplying them with arms (albeit secretly and indirectly through the IRA) the process already described whereby they became locked ever more tightly into the treaty in the early summer of 1922 rendered enterprises jeopardising the treaty settlement increasingly foolhardy. It has been well said that ‘the Republicans had nothing to lose by attacking the North, the Free Staters everything’ and we have seen how the IRA forces in the Four Courts decided to attack the north in a last gamble to overthrow the treaty in the days before civil war began. Until then active non-cooperation remained Collins’s order of the day” (J. M. Curran, “The Birth Of The Irish Free State 1921-23”, p179).

  • I doubt if Collins was involved in the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson, for the reasons set forth in the article linked below.


  • “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it will be recorded at my expense.”

    ~ Eamon de Valera

    Don, I won’t be as reticent about passing judgment on de Valera, but I’ll allow the words of our friend Dale Price to suffice for my own:


    “Eamonn de Valera was a grade-A certified sack of what I know from shinola… morally withered descendent of Armada boat trash.”

    Yep, that about covers it.

  • That chapter is from a controversial book The IRA and Its Enemies authored by the customary sensationalist Peter Hart. It has been heavily criticized by Cork history expert Owen Sheridan in its methodology [..the reviewer here is head of History Dept, Limerick University]

    and by Niall Meehan at Griffith College and Benedictine monk Brian Murphy :

  • I’d like to hear some application of “just war” theology to the Easter Rising. The IRB and their allies had no chance of success, and they knew it. Besides the loss of life, they created heavy damage to central Dublin, and caused serious hunger among the spouses and widows of Irish solidiers, who were living hand to mouth in Dublin at the time. Home Rule was already the law, the implementation of which was postponed due to the start of the Great War immediately after its passage. The Rising only served as an excuse, after the War, to go backwards, since “the Irish” had now stabbed their country (as the Brits saw it) in the back, with the help of the Germans.

    The Civil War was clearly an unjust war, since the anti-treaty side had lost, overwhelmingly, the referendum on approval of the treaty with Britain.

    Dev’s character was clearly manifested by his opportunistic split with the IRA, to enter the Dail as the leader of Fianna Fail, swearing allegiance to the British King. When challenged about how he could have done that, he explained that when he did so “my hand never actually touched the Bible.”

    Politicians. No matter the country or the party, you can not trust them.

  • “Home Rule was already the law, the implementation of which was postponed due to the start of the Great War immediately after its passage.”

    Actually the implementation of Home Rule caused a threatened rebellion by Protestants just before the outbreak of WWI. Segments of the Royal Army had agreed to mutiny if the British government used troops against the Protestants in Belfast. I can’t blame Irish nationalists for being skeptical as to whether Home Rule would be implemented after the War.

    “The Rising only served as an excuse, after the War, to go backwards, since “the Irish” had now stabbed their country (as the Brits saw it) in the back, with the help of the Germans.”

    The Brits already had plenty of reason to go backwards since the Protestants in Belfast had indicated prior to World War I that they would rather fight than submit to Home Rule. The huge overreaction by the British to the Easter rising played completely into the hands of the Irish Republicans.

    “The IRB and their allies had no chance of success, and they knew it.”

    Yep, it was doomed from the first. I can think of few military adventures that were less likely to succeed. It was crushed with relative ease by the British. Yet, it set in motion events which led to independence for most of Ireland. When it comes to predicting the future from what we know today, the 1916 uprising and its aftermath teaches us all humility on that score.

    “The Civil War was clearly an unjust war, since the anti-treaty side had lost, overwhelmingly, the referendum on approval of the treaty with Britain.”

    Unjust and completely futile.

    “Politicians. No matter the country or the party, you can not trust them.”

    Certainly I would agree as to the vast majority of them.

  • “The Rising only served as an excuse, after the War, to go backwards, since “the Irish” had now stabbed their country (as the Brits saw it) in the back, with the help of the Germans.”

    The 1916 Rising took place in the context of the British Government having rewarded those who had openly, ostentatiously, and remorselessly committed treason (the Ulster Unionists) by putting them in government. Formerly, in 1912, Home Rule had the backing of the vast majority of people in Ireland, including many of the 1916 rebels such as Patrick Pearse, who actually then supported the Home Rule Bill. Ulster Unionists, backed by the British Conservative Party and the Liberal Unionists threatened the Liberal Governemnt with civil war. (Fenianism by 1912 as a military force was all but dead). Andrew Bonar Law showed his utter contempt for the democratic process when he declared that: “Unionsits would be justified in resisting by all means in their power including force” and that he could “imagine no lenth of resistance to which Ulster will go in which I will not be reasy to support them”. This changed the scenario completely. The government’s backing away from the Parliamentary procedure to establish Home Rule when the Unionists threatened it with civil war allowed Republicans to demand equal treatment. If Britain was stabbed in the back (she wasn’t) it was entirely her own fault.

    RE: “the loss of life”

    The handful of people killed in the Easter Rising immediately resulted in an instant collapse in recruitment for the mass killing in the futile trench war in France – a war which had been marketed in Ireland as being undertaken for the “freedom of small nations”, a rationale now exposed as a lie. Overall the Rising saved incalculable thousands of lives.

    Patrick esteems the 1922 Election as democratic but does not refer to the 1918 election when Sinn Fein won an overwhelming electoral mandate for complete seperation. Britain’s response to that decision was to threaten the country with a brutal conquest. The 1922 Election was held under the threat that the British Empire would undertake massive force to subdue Ireland if she voted the wrong way. An election held on those terms is hardly democratic and would not be recognized as so today.

    DeValera was not being ‘opportunistic’ by taking the oath, he was being pragmatic. There was no other way to take his seat, and Fine Gael had threatened his party with proscription if he failed to do so. De Valera had widely consulted theologians and ethicists before doing so. The Bishop of Galway, Michael Browne, advised him that his course of action was perfectly permissible so long as he made it clear before hand that he was merely repeating a prescribed formula and was not actually giving it internal assent. And that was precisely what he did.

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