Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Blood on the Street: the Easter Rising of 1916

One of two Irish flags flown atop the General Post Office in Dublin during the Rising.
On Easter Monday, April, 26, 1916, in front of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin, Ireland, Patrick Pearse read his Proclamation of the Irish Republic: "Irishmen and Irish women. ... we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades in arms to the cause of its freedom..."
Rebel leader Patrick Pearse.

Patrick Pearce

Malachy Mccourt tells us that Pearse was, “a man who thinks with his heart and feels with his mind ... a poet, a teacher, a revolutionary.” Pearse was brought into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by the end of 1913. That same year saw the Irish Volunteers training in order to defend Home Rule if civil war broke out with the Unionists.

James Connolly

Born in 1868 in the Cowgate, Edinburgh in Scotland, he grew up in abject poverty. The Irish in Edinburgh were forced to live in the worst slums due to strong anti-Irish sentiments among the Scots. ‘Little Ireland’ was known for overcrowding, poverty, disease, drunkenness and unemployment. Arriving in Dublin around 1892, Connolly formed the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). He argued that traditional Marxist determinism was irrelevant in Ireland, due to the English ruination of Irish economic development. He also formed the Irish Citizens Army.
The Easter Rising
Monday, April 24. Arthur Norway, head of the Irish Post Office, witnessed the rebel storming of the GPO. About 150 rebels under the command of James Connolly and Patrick Pearse marched up O’Connell Street to the Imperial Hotel. Suddenly, Connolly gave a command to wheel left and charge the GPO. Helena Molony, along with nine other women members of the Irish Citizens Army, left Liberty Hall. Dressed in an Irish tweed costume, she had a revolver tucked into her belt. James Connolly, who gave the women the weapons, told them, “Don’t use them except in the last resort.”

Eamon Bulfin’s detachment saw a company of mounted lancers charging the GPO with sabers drawn. Rebel fire greeted them, killing four and scattering the rest of them. Bulfin got into the GPO, and Pearse sent him to the roof to hoist a green flag decorated with a golden harp and the words, “Irish Republic.”

A barricade made of carts in Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, during the Easter Rising.

Helena Molony was on the roof of the City Hall when she saw a stray bullet hit Sean Connolly. “He was bleeding very much from the stomach. I said the Act of Contrition into his ear, We had no priest.”
FrIday, April 28. Dick Humphreys manned his position in the GPO. What does he see that morning? “Clouds of grey smoke are wreathing around everywhere. ..Occasionally some side wall or roof falls in with a terrific crash. The heat is stupefying, and a heavy odor of burning cloth permeates the air. All the barbaric splendor that night had lent the scene has now faded away, and the pitiless sun illuminates the squalidness and horror of the destruction.”

Nurse O’Farrell was in the “White House.” Entering the parlor, she found “James Connolly lying on a stretcher in the middle of the room. I went over and asked him how he felt; he answered: ‘Bad,’ and remarked: ‘The soldier who wounded me did a good day’s work for the British government’.”
O’Farrell continues, “There were 17 wounded in the retreat from the GPO, and I spent the night helping to nurse them. Around us we could hear the roar of burning buildings, machine guns and at intervals what seemed to be hand grenades.”

The uprising lasted until Saturday, and, when the dust settled, sixty-four rebels and 300 civilians were dead. At 3:45 PM that day, Pearse signed a general order instructing the insurgents to surrender. Connolly, who had been taken to a Red Cross HospitaI in Dublin Castle, countersigned the Order. How many loses did the British suffer? “Officers 17 killed, 46 wounded. Other ranks 89 killed, 288 wounded.”
James Connolly.

Aftermath of the Easter Rising

Initially, the majority of the Irish people were against the rebels. Most people had no problem with British rule. No more than a few thousand men and women took part in the Easter Rising, both in Dublin and the countryside. Patrick Pearse delivered a speech from the dock during his court-martial that ended with, “If you strike us down now, we shall rise again and renew the fight. You cannot conquer Ireland; you cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom; if our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.”  James Connolly, ill in the hospital, wrote on May 9, 1916: “We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavoring to win for Ireland those national rights which the British Government has been asking them to die to win for Belgium.... I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys, and hundreds of Irish women and girls, were ready to affirm that truth, and to attest it with their lives if need be.”

The cross marks the spot where James Connolly was executed by the British while sitting in a chair. He was dying of gangrene poisoning when he was shot.

Irish patriots are executed by British

The Irish of Dublin turned on the rebels. Threats and jeers greeted the rebels as they were marched off to prison. What turned the tide of Irish public opinion, however, was the heavy-handed British reaction. Fourteen of the Rising’s leaders, including Pearse and his brother (who was not a leader), were court-martialed and executed by firing squad. Connolly’s ankle was shattered by a bullet during the Rising, and gangrene had set in. Nonetheless, the British insisted on executing him.

Father Aloysius was with Connolly at the end: “They carried the jail yard and put him in a chair. [He was strapped into the chair].... I said to him, “Will you pray for the men who are about to shoot you?” and he said, “I will say a prayer for all brave men who do their duty.” His [said his prayer] and then they shot him.”

Excerpt from James Connolly's last statement:
Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irishmen, of even a respectable minority, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that Government for ever a usurpation and a crime against human progress. I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys, and hundreds of Irish women and girls, were ready to affirm that truth, and to attest it with their lives if need be.
Photo of Irish rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916.

International reaction to execution on James Connolly

Irish and international reaction to that manner of punishment was horror and disgust. Connolly was the last man to be executed. The other 97 men sentenced to death had their sentences commuted. McCourt writes, “Not only was the Irish public more and more revolted by the British reprisals, but the world in general was sharing in the feeling of revulsion. While militarily the uprising was in many ways a fiasco, as a bloody, symbolic protest, it was enormously successful.”

How successful was It? Six years later, in 1922, a new nation stepped upon the world’s stage: the Irish Free State.


Coogan, Tim Pat. Ireland in the Twentieth Century. Palgrove MacMillian, 2004.

McCourt, Malachy. Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland. Running Press. Philadelphia, 2004.

Copyright (C) Eric Brothers 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This post is dedicated to Mary Claire McCarthy of Worcester, MA.

1 comment:

  1. Up the Republican Brotherhood !!


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