The Situation In Ireland
"But who are we that we should hesitate to die for Ireland. Are not the claims of Ireland greater on us than any personal ones? Is it fear that deters us from such an enterprise? Away with such fears. Cowards die many times, the brave only die once."
Padraic Pearse (rebellion leader), 1916 (The New Republic, 34)
Pearse's words, spoken just before the Easter rebellion, summarizes many Irish feelings toward rebellion for independence. In order to gain freedom from the British, revolutionaries were willing to sacrifice anything, even their lives. For centuries, the Irish had been part of the vast British empire and for most of that time, they struggled to obtain their sovereignty. Numerous events sparked this discontent in Ireland in the early 20th century. At the top of their list of grievances was the political treatment of the Irish. The Irish parliament was highly inadequate and inefficient with no real power to represent the people (The Outlook, pg 116). Additionally, Britain governed Ireland in the same manner that it governed all of its territories; it ruled according to what would best serve Great Britain, not the territory. For example, Ireland's commerce was discouraged and their manufacturing was paralyzed by British legislation (The Outlook, pg 116). Religious treatment of Roman Catholics also angered the Irish. A large number of Irish were (and still are) Catholic and were repressed in many ways by English legislature. They were expected to pay taxes to support the Established Church of England, which gave Catholics no services. Furthermore, Britain forbade Catholics from providing education for their own children. Catholics could not be teachers and parents could not send their children abroad for education without forfeiture of their property and citizenship (The Outlook, pg 117). Although these actions by the British government infuriated the Irish, the new wave of rebellion actually began again in 1914 with the British government's repeal of the recently enacted Home Rule Bill, which gave the Irish some measure of political autonomy.
These feelings came to a peak on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916 in the Irish capital of Dublin when approximately 1500 men, led by Pearse, seized the post office and other strategic points. These men were members of the Citizen Army, an illegal force of Dublin citizens organized by labor leader Jim Larkin and socialist James Connolly. From here, they established themselves in military fashion by erecting barricades of sandbags and closing off the streets with barbed wire. Shortly after, the leaders of the rebellion declared Ireland independent and raised the national flag above the city. Among those who signed the proclamation of independence were Pearse, Connolly, poet Thomas McDonagh, and Sir Roger David Casement. Pearse was named president and Connolly was named "Commander General of the Irish Republican Army" (The Independent, pg 203). From the roofs and nearby houses, snipers shot any uniformed British soldier who came into sight. By April 25, the rebels controlled a great deal of the city. The British quickly launched their counterattack on Tuesday, when additional troops arrived in Dublin. Violent street fighting soon developed in the city, during which the British steadily removed the Irish from their positions. The Irish became no match for the British forces, and realizing they had no chance for victory, Pearse surrendered on April 29.
The Easter Rebellion had several effects on Irish politics and history. Civilians suffered severely in the few short days of fighting; over 100 deaths were reported, including women and children (The Independent, pg 204). The British lost approximately 440 troops and about 200 buildings were destroyed in Dublin (Encarta). Fifteen men, including Pearse and Connolly, who led the rebellion and declared Ireland's independence were executed by a firing squad as well. Other participants in the rebellion received imprisonment for life. The Easter Rebellion also led to the increased power of the Senn Fein movement, an organization who promoted Celtic language and literature and pushed for absolute independence of Ireland. Pearse, Connolly and several other leaders were members of the Senn Fein organization. Finally, this uprising was the first in a series of events that resulted with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921.
One final point of interest to note