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Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion in an International Context

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin, a rebellion which started on Monday April 24, 1916 and lasted until the following Saturday. The Irish Volunteers, the main nationalist military organization, and the Irish Citizen Army, a socialist militia, captured key points throughout the city and proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic for the duration of Easter week in an attempt to rid the island of British rule. Given the Rising’s central role in accelerating the eventual formation of an independent state, the period is being commemorated and re-evaluated from many different angles in Irish society and beyond 100 years on. 

This rebellion itself cannot be properly remembered or analyzed outside of contemporary global events. Britain entered the war, like many of its allies, in defence of “small nations,” at the same time it was thwarting Irish national aspirations in its own backyard. Ireland, like other parts of the empire, had sent tens of thousands of men to the frontline in the first few years of World War I. Many nationalists supported the British war effort upon a half-hearted promise from the government in London of Irish self-government at the end of the war. 

Republicans, however, did not support these efforts, instead subscribing to the idea that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.” Rebellious leaders determined that Ireland’s greatest chance for independence was while Britain’s gaze was directed towards the continent. Republican officials made contact with the Germans, Britain’s adversaries, in ultimately underwhelming efforts to receive firearms and other forms of help.

On Easter Monday, rebel soldiers were mobilized, key points seized, and a republic was declared through a proclamation written by Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders who was a schoolmaster and poet by trade. Given the Rising’s links to the ongoing war in Europe, it is appropriate that a printed copy of the Proclamation, along with many other documents related to the Rising, is contained within Adam Matthew’s First World War resource.

Image © of the Imperial War Museums. Further reproduction without permission is prohibited. Click on the image to view in the collection.

A look at the wording of the Proclamation itself reflects the various international influences upon the Irish rebels. The form and language of the proclamation resembled that of the American Declaration of Independence, even replicating the famous phrase “pursuit of happiness.” The document specifically singles out the help of the “exiled children in America,” whose financial and political support made the Rising possible. The mentioning of Ireland’s “gallant allies in Europe” showed the rebels’ desire to garner support and sympathy from continental powers while the line mentioning “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” was a nod towards the international socialism espoused by Proclamation signatory James Connolly, the leader of the Irish Citizen Army and a Marxist theorist who was admired by Russian revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

After five chaotic days and nights in the city, the swift and efficient response of British military might eventually overwhelmed the insurrectionists, who were extremely short on arms and reinforcements. Those charged with leading the rebellion were quickly executed while thousands more were imprisoned in Britain. The Rising triggered years of fighting which eventually led to the partition of the island – the establishment of an independent republic in the south with six northern counties remaining under British control.

 

The ruins of Dublin following the Easter Rising. Image © of the Imperial War Museums. Further reproduction without permission is prohibited. Click on the image to view in the collection.

The events of Easter 1916 reverberated not just across Ireland, but throughout the world. The Bolsheviks drew inspiration from the rebellion and anti-imperial sentiment increased in India and other colonial outposts, making the British Empire suddenly appear unstable. One city fighting an empire in the pursuit of democratic ideals had dramatically altered the course of 20th century Irish, imperial, and global history.

Many other documents related to the Easter Rising can be found in the First World War resource. For more information, including trial access and price enquiries, please email us at info@amdigital.co.uk.









 




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