The Irish Easter Rebellion 1916

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  • Topic: Easter Rising, Irish Volunteers, Ireland
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The 1916 Irish Easter Uprising

Ever since the occupation of Ireland by the English began in 1169, Irish patriots have fought back against British rule, and the many Irish rebellions and civil wars had always been defeated. To quash further rebellion, the Act of Union was imposed in 1800, tying Ireland to the United Kingdom of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Laws discriminating against Catholics and the handling of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-50 led to increased tension and the proposal of introducing Home Rule gained support.

In 1913 there was a general strike of workers in Dublin led by James Connolly of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (I.T.G.W.U.). This action was followed by the 1913 Lock-Out during which employers literally locked workers out of their factories. Also in 1913 John Redmond, leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, created the Irish Volunteers to counter the Ulster Volunteers, an organisation created to fight against Home Rule. His chief-of-staff was Eoin MacNeill and his commandant was Patrick Pearse.

When World War I began, Irish nationalists flocked to sign up for Britain's war effort in the hundreds of thousands. They believed they were at last making Ireland one of the small nations of Europe, and that in showing their good faith in Britain they were ensuring Home Rule be passed. However, another more extreme tradition of patriotism considered Home Rule a sell-out. Thomas J. Clarke, who had been previously gaoled after being sent to England on a dynamiting mission in 1883, immigrated to America and then returned to Ireland in 1907. In his tobacconist's shop in Dublin the Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B.), a group of patriots who wanted national independence, was being revived. He held a meeting with, among others, Patrick Pearse, Eoin MacNeill and Sean MacDermott, who had broken away with a minority of extremist Volunteers when Redmond co-operated with the war effort, and Connolly who was now the creator and commander of the Irish Citizen Army, a worker's fighting force designed to defend against police brutality. There they made the decision to rise in arms against British rule.

Together they created front organisations for propaganda purposes, such as the Neutrality League and the Wolfe Tone Memorial Committee. The latter organised the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, a supporter of the republican political party, Sinn Féin. It is here on the 15th August 1915 that Patrick Pearse delivered his famous speech: Life springs from death: and from the graves of patriotic men and women spring living nations. …they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.

It was a call for a blood sacrifice in order to free Ireland from British rule. In organising an uprising, the funeral was proof that the Volunteers could organise when secretly directed by the I.R.B. and on St. Patrick's Day (17th March), Connolly took his Citizen Army on a tour of key Dublin sites which could be used as strategic strongholds during an uprising.

However, there were many difficulties in organising and executing such a rebellion and one thing the rebels needed were weapons. Sir Roger Casement had organised for a shipment of as many as 200,000 rifles to be smuggled into Ireland on a "neutral" German freighter, the Aud. But when Casement arrived in Ireland on a German submarine he was arrested immediately and the freighter was intercepted by the Royal Navy and scuttled itself. Another attempt was made to gain large quantities of arms and ammunition during the actual uprising from the arsenal at Phoenix Park known as Magazine Fort. However this was not very successful and the rebels seized only a few rifles.

Throughout the organisation of the rebellion, Eoin MacNeill, leader of the minority Volunteers had to be kept in the dark about the I.R.B.'s plans because he believed that his Irish Volunteers should only rise...
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