Apr 2, 2013

1916 Easter Rising

Almost a hundred years ago, the Irish Republic was declared on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. The building was seized and held, along with others across the city, for six days.

1,250 young men in the city itself, against 16,000 British troops and 1,000 armed police. There was also minor fighting in other parts of Ireland.

The ringleaders were imprisoned and executed by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol. The only senior officer who survived was Eamonn de Valera, on account of his American citizenship.

It's widely accepted that the goal of this rising was not successful rebellion, but a glorious, bloody defeat. A defeat to inspire others to rise up against English rule. To what extent that goal was achieved I don't know, but it was the start of the Irish War of Independence, during which Michael Collins led a guerrilla war against the British in Ireland.

The Rising is akin to the signing of the American Declaration of Independence in our history, or possibly the Boston Tea Party. It was the trigger event that led to the establishment of the Irish Republic.

But what always struck me as strange was that we're never taught the dates in school.

It's the Easter Rising, given only solemn, almost overlooked attention every Easter Monday. Not like other nations that celebrate their independence or birth of their rulers.

Perhaps it's because the end of the War of Independence led directly to the Irish Civil War, and the violence we're still living with today. We can't celebrate the birth of our nation because we've got too much blood in too recent memory. There are people alive whose parents and grandparents fought in both conflicts. The wounds still run deep.

Unfortunately, I think the Irish habit of not talking about painful things has left the rest of the world utterly in the dark about what blood has been spilled and why. This is why you get foreign bars selling drinks called "Irish Carbombs" or "Black and Tans." I really don't have the stomach to go into just why these things are offensive. I just wish the leftover hate could end, and we could start to acknowledge our history, beautiful and ugly, in ways that are more than reasons to incite more violence.

War happened, we killed people, and it started on Monday, April 24th.


  1. Totally agree its sad we don't commemorate things properly.

    But I always thought we should commemorate the 18th April 1949 more then 1916, I think it's much more symbolic as its the date we officially became a Republic and not the Free State anymore. There was no fighting it was peaceful so it shouldn't be a firebrand for more fighting, but everyone seems afraid to do anything that might upset the loyalists and the British.

    1. That would be even better, to celebrate a peaceful event that came about through democratic process.

      I would expect that the majority of people would either welcome such a thing, or simply wouldn't care. Unfortunately it's the violent minority that always seem to get their way.

  2. That's an interesting theory about it being a defeat to inspire others to rise up. There's evidence that many 'ordinary' people in Dublin were initially opposed to the 'rebels' and tried to stop them from taking over some of the buildings. It was, of course, the British reaction to the rising and the ensuing arrests and death sentences that changed the attitude of many people. Britain has never known how to 'deal' with Ireland, it seems, ever since way back when they first tried to rule the island (King John's reign, I think?). In hindsight, they should have never have tried!

    1. You're right. Witnesses to the reading of the declaration of the Republic thought it was a joke at first. And insurgents were spat on when they were led away after being arrested.

    2. It's the normal reaction of 'ordinary' people, isn't it? Most of them don't want their way of life (however unsatisfactory) disturbed by what they consider extremists.
      As a historian by profession, I've been fascinated and intrigued by Irish history for many years, particularly 19th and 20th century history!