1916 Easter Rising

April 24, 1916: The Easter Rising Begins

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. Continue reading

The Bold Fenian Men

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. Continue reading

The Foggy Dew

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.

The Easter Rising 1916

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. Continue reading

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