Shortly after 12 noon on Monday the 24th April 1916 Padraig Pearse stood beneath the pillars of the GPO and in the company of other members of the provisional Government, James Connolly, Joseph Plunket, Tom Clark, and Sean Mac Diarmada, read the Proclamation of The Irish Republic to the People Of Ireland. A Green Flag Bearing the inscription “Irish Republic” was raised at the corner of the GPO and Princes Street, and the Tricolour of green, white, and orange was hoisted shortly afterwards.
The Reading of the Proclamation signalled the start of the Easter Rising in Dublin 1916, and set in motion a chain of events that would eventually lead to Irish Independence in 1922.
From my point of view the language of the Proclamation is still valid today. As an Irish immigrant in the USA I hold onto my ‘Irishness’ but can see the resemblance of the 1916 Irish Proclamation with the USA Declaration of Independence.
Well this weekend marks a special centenary in Ireland. I was lucky enough to live in an area of Dublin that was steeped in the history and the stories of that momentous time in Irish history.
Below is an an article written for me by Wesley Bourke, the editor of Ireland’s only Military History magazine, Reveille, Telling Ireland’s Military Story.
I have known Wesley for over 15 years, working with him during our time in the Irish Defence Forces as photographer and journalist together in the Press Office. We started Reveille together and even though I am here in the States, I still help him out as much as I can, isn’t the internet a great thing. Wes traveled over to America last December to honour me by being my best man at my wedding to Leanne, I was delighted that he was able to take time out from running the magazine to join us on our special day and to stand by my side.
1916 – A Quick Introduction and Guide
This weekend marks the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland. There is no doubt that this was a complex time in Ireland. Ideas such as nationalism, unionism, republicanism, socialism, home rule or a republic, women and labour rights were highly debated and spoken of. In parallel to the home front tens of thousands of Irish men and women were serving, primarily in the British Army, in the battlefields, hospitals and factories of the First World War.
The rebellion that took place in Ireland during Easter Week 1916 effected many parts of the country. Caught up in this insurrection were Irish men and women on both sides. These included the various rebel organisations including the; Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, Hibernian Rifles and the Irish Citizen Army, but also those in the; National Volunteers, British Army, Dublin Metropolitan Police, and the Royal Irish Constabulary. As the Rebel Army rose up proclaiming an Irish Republic the crown forces responded resulting in armed engagements between both sides. Taking no side and giving assistance and aid when they could were the members of the St. John Ambulance and Dublin Fire Department, their story gives another aspect to the rebellion that has all but been forgotten.
Why the Rebellion or Rising as it is commonly known today, took place when it did continues to be heavily debated to this day. By the outbreak of the Great War the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood who had evolved from the Fenian Brotherhood, had reorganised and were rejuvenated by the arrival home of Thomas Clarke and new younger members such as Bulmer Hobson. The Brotherhood, like their Fenian brethren, supported armed struggle for an independent Ireland. They now wanted to use the fact that Great Britain was caught up in war with Germany and Turkey to strike.
Infiltrating Eoin MacNeil’s Irish Volunteers, men such as Patrick Pearse became very prominent in that organisation. It was Pearse as Irish Volunteer Director of Operations who published orders in the papers for the Volunteers to mobilise on Easter Sunday. The Brotherhood also brought onboard James Connolly and his Irish Citizen Army. In tandem to the planning at home John Devoy, leader of the republican Clan na Gael in the United States, had sent Roger Casement to Germany to try and gain support for an Irish rebellion. Securing a shipment of arms Casement made his was back to Ireland with some 20,000 rifles due to land in the south coast of Ireland on Holy Thursday/Good Friday.
Easter Sunday was chosen purely from a military point of view. It was deemed by the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood that as it was a holiday weekend most of the citizenry and authorities (police and military) would be at the horse races, cricket matches, or simple on leave. However as Eoin MacNeil was not aware of a planned rebellion when he did find out he sent out countermanding orders. Then when he was told of the shipment of arms due in Easter weekend he allowed his men to be mobilised. These orders and countermanding orders resulted in confusion all over Ireland. Some units mobilised and then went home, others stayed at home, while others carried on with whomever turned up.
Although there were significant unrest in Wexford, Galway, Cork, Laois, and Louth it was the Dublin Brigade Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army who took the brunt of the fighting in Dublin City, north county Dublin and Ashbourne in Co. Meath. Some 1,000 plus Volunteers mobilised in 5 battalions in Dublin City and north Dublin on Easter Monday April 24th. These Volunteers were augmented by around 30 Hibernian Rifles and 200 members of the women’s auxiliary Cumann na mBan and the scouting movements Fianna Éireann and Clan na Gael. The General Post Office in Sackville Street (now O’Connell St.) was deemed the Rebel Army Headquarters.
From the beginning it became very evident that the Rebels did not have enough men. Key positions such as Dublin Castle, Trinity College, Kingsbridge Railway Station, Broadstone Railway Station, the Customs House and the Docklands were not captured. Rebel efforts were also further hampered in part by the efforts of individual members from uniformed bodies such as; the Trinity Officer Cadets, the School of Musketry and Dublin Metropolitan Police.
The British authorities reacted swiftly and decisively. Military and Royal Irish Constabulary forces were mobilised throughout Ireland and reinforcements immediately dispatched from Britain. Around the country rebel positions were isolated and contained. In Dublin as more reinforcements arrived the city was surrounded. The rebel positions were cut off from each other one by one. Isolated they were shelled by artillery and assaulted by infantry. Some of the heaviest fighting was in the area of Ballsbridge and Mount Street bridge. Here only a handful of Volunteers held of several battalions of British reinforcements. As Caulfield says in ‘Easter Rebellion’, ‘It was a sickening slaughter’. The 2/7th and 2/8th Battalions Sherwood Foresters had no information about the insurgents’ strengths opposing them, or indeed as to their exact locations. They blindly persisted in an expensive frontal assault to enter the city while some hundreds of yards away two clear undefended routes lay open.
By mid week the city centre was heavily damaged and many buildings were alight. Looting was very prominent. Dublin Fire Brigade and St. John Ambulance did what they could to assist civilian, military and rebel alike, at times under heavy fire.
By week’s end there was no option but to surrender. Why the Rebellion took place and why individual men fought did not really matter as they were marched into captivity. Little did they know at that time that a new chapter in Irish history was about to begin.
I would like to thank Wesley for the article. I will post another few articles in relation to 1916 over the coming days.
My plan is over the coming week and leading up to Sunday 23rd and Monday 24th to mark the real centenary with some posts about my small knowledge of Irish history and in particular the Easter Rising of 1916. I also hope to have a guest post or 2 from the editor of Ireland’s Military Story which recently launched their own Easter 1916 Special.
Easter week in 1916 was a pivotal moment in Irish history and the following executions of the leaders by the British helped to sway public opinion in favour of the rising. Like most things Irish though, it has been mired in political debate ever since and even now, 100 years later, there is still animosity towards the leaders of 1916. I will nail my colours to the mast here, the loss of life by both the British forces, the Irish forces and civilians was horrendous, the decision to summarily execute the leaders was a shameful act by the British and the leaders and signatories of the proclamation died for the cause of Irish freedom from British rule.
As a proud Irishman now living in the USA, an Irish flag flies outside our house and even though I didn’t agree with the state holding the commemoration ceremonies at Easter instead of the real centenary weekend, I was proud to see it done so well and with immense pride from all involved.
Ireland really can be the best little country in the world when it puts to mind to something.
To be available in early March 2016, the book The 1916 Irish Rebellion (University of Notre Dame Press) includes a historical narrative; a lavish spread of contemporary images and photographs; and a rich selection of sidebar quotations from contemporary documents, prisoners’ statements, and other eyewitness accounts to capture the experiences of nationalists and unionists, Irish rebels and British soldiers, and Irish Americans during the turbulent events of Easter Week, 1916.
This weekend the Irish state remembered the men, women and children of 1916 and the Easter rising in a number of state occasions, the highlight of which was a parade down O’Connell St and wreath laying ceremonies across the country. I decided a long time ago that I would wait to commemorate 1916 on the correct anniversary, the weekend of April 23/24th 2016 rather than at Easter. I can see the governments thinking behind holding the events at Easter rather than on the real anniversary but it is flawed thinking. So what if this past weekend was a 3 day weekend anyway, it was not the centenary of an event that took place in April, it was a cop out by the government.
Regardless of this and me not being particularly happy with it, it still doesn’t stop me being proud to be Irish and of the events that did take place over this past Easter weekend. My ex colleagues in the Irish Defence Forces done themselves and the country proud. I think I have watched every video, looked at every photo gallery and to see faces I knew in the parade was great. It was a goal of mine to photograph the centenary parade for Reveille Magazine, but my personal life and changed circumstances meant I now live in the USA and am happy I missed out on the parade as I am living a different and happy life here.
Before I left Ireland I was working with my friend on a Military History Magazine for Ireland. He was the editor and I was the photographer/picture editor and together we brought an idea to fruition and got it published and we are now on Issue 5 with a special 1916 issue also published. It’s available to purchase across Ireland and UK but can also be subscribed to for anyone living overseas. Just go to http://www.irelandsmilitarystory.ie/subscribe and follow the information to get your copy delivered to your door every 3 months.
Ok less of the advertising, I have stated before that I lived within a stones throw of Kilmainham Gaol and went to school in St Michaels CBS which back in 1916 was called Richmond Barracks. Well both of those locations had important roles to play in 1916 and again this weekend. The leaders of 1916 were held in Richmond Barracks before bring brought to Kilmainham Gaol for execution. Living in such an historic part of Dublin gives you a certain outlook on the events of 1916 as it was there that the Rising and it’s leaders met their end, courtesy of the British government.
I hope to have a more comprehensive write up about the 1916 Rising on the weekend of April 23/24th and I may even ask a guest writer to pen a small history and fact based article to compliment my own blog post on the events of April 1916.
Even though I left the country of my birth just a few short months ago and have been slowly acclimatising to life here in the USA, I will never forget my home country or not be proud to be Irish. It defines everything I am and how I do things. We can be a bit mad, have funny ways of saying things (don’t get offended if I swear at you), live up to some stereotypes and be completely at odds with others.
Once again I start a post and start rambling on about stuff. This week, especially tomorrow, is a big week for anyone who is Irish, or claims Irish heritage. Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day and the whole world joins the Irish in celebrating our National holiday, the day of our patron saint; St Patrick. Yesterday was Proclamation Day, a day when schools all over Ireland will unveil their own version of the Proclamation for a New Generation. This is all part of the 1916 Centenary Celebrations that are taking place in Ireland over the whole of 2016 but especially over the next few weeks.
Things like Proclamation Day are a very good idea and as part of it every school in Ireland was given a National Flag and a copy of the 1916 Proclamation to display in their school. One thing I do feel the country, or more specifically got wrong was the timing of the biggest commemoration, which takes place on Easter Sunday. The 1916 Rising did take place over Easter, but Easter that year was on April 23/24th and as such the major commemoration should have taken place that weekend. But governments make decisions that are in their best interest and not in the interest of the people who gave them a job to do. But that is a whole other post/rant. I will post more about 1916 and the 2016 celebrations to commemorate it in a later post closer to the actual date of the Rising, and not the date made up by an inefficient faceless civil servant or politician.
Anyway, back to St Patrick’s Day. As a child growing up in Dublin one of the highlights of the year was going into the city center to view the parade with all its floats, marching bands and other fun things that any child would love. It was also a day where we could have sweets in the middle of Lent and if you go back to my post on Ash Wednesday you will get what I mean. As I got older I was able to take part in many parades as a member of the Scouts, and it was a great honour to march in the parade as a 12 year old. As I got older I have celebrated St Patrick’s Day in various places in the USA and overseas with the Irish Defence Forces. As a member if the Irish Air Corps Pipe Band I have marched in parades in Boston, Newport RI and Savannah.It was while here in Savannah in 2001 I met my future wife, I didnt know that back then and it did take us another 14 years before we finally got together. This will be my first St Patricks Day in the USA since 2004 and my first with my wife since I met her in 2001!
St Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate Ireland and our unique place in the world.Over 33 million Americans claim Irish descent of some sort and there are thousands of recent Irish immigrants into the USA, of which I am one. There are lots of misconceptions about Ireland and St Patrick’s Day but I alluded to them in an earlier post so wont go there again. Just of you are out celebrating our great little country, have fun, be safe and Sláinte from this proud Irishman to everyone in his newly adopted country and to everyone back home in Ireland.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh – Happy St Patrick’s Day to You All