The Easter Rising: Insurrection Within Ireland During World War I
Irish Citizen Army group lined up outside ITGWU HQ under a banner proclaiming "We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland!" (National Library of Ireland on The Commons/Wikimedia Commons)
On April 24, 1916, an otherwise quiet Easter Monday morning in the middle of World War I, a group referring to themselves as the Irish Republican Brotherhood kick-started a short-lived rebellion to remove the British government from Ireland. The uprising was shut down in just a few days, but its impact was felt for decades.
Ireland In The U.K.
By 1916, British rule was well established in Ireland. They had maintained some kind of presence in the country since the 12th century, but the Acts of Union in 1800 brought Ireland into the United Kingdom, dissolving Ireland's parliament in Dublin and forcing Irish citizens with government business to travel hundreds of miles to meet with representatives who didn't understand the culture or people they were governing.
In 1914, John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party pushed the Home Rule Bill through the House of Commons, hoping to return some form of parliament to the Irish people, but when the bill was postponed due to World War I, some Irish activists decided they were tired of waiting. One faction, including the underground revolutionary group called the Irish Republican Brotherhood, never thought the Home Rule Bill went far enough in the first place, demanding total independence from the United Kingdom. Prominent Irish republican Roger Casement even appealed to the German military, England's adversaries in World War I, for help in the form of weapons and ammunition just ahead of the attack I.R.B. was planning, but the British military intercepted the shipment. Casement was later executed for the incident, which the British government regarded as an act of treason.
With or without ammunition from the German military, a patchwork collection of volunteers, members of the Irish Citizen Army, and the I.R.B. seized buildings across Dublin in the name of Irish independence on April 24. British troops poured into the country and kept most of the fighting within the city, where they destroyed buildings and set much of the Sackville Street area ablaze. Irish rebels manned several sites that proved key to holding back British forces, but they failed to secure local railway stations or docks, allowing the British to send wave after wave of forces into the country. Less than a week after the Easter Rising began, it was over.
If the rebels hoped the Irish public would rally behind them, they were disappointed. Nearly 2,000 civilians were injured during the uprising, and many were outraged by the rebels' destruction of their own home. However, public support turned away from the British by May 1916, when they executed the leaders of the uprising by firing squad while imprisoning more than 3,000 others.
The Easter Rising may have technically failed, but Britain's response turned the Irish rebels they executed into martyrs. Thanks to the revival of public support, Irish nationalist Sinn Fein won a majority stake in the Irish parliament in 1918 and refused to take part in U.K. politics. By 1921, a more carefully planned war against the British ended with a ceasefire and treaty that led to the creation of the Irish Free State, a self-governing country within Great Britain. The independent Republic of Ireland was formally established on April 18, 1949—Easter Monday.
Tags: 1910s | Ireland | World War I
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