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Easter Rising

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The Easter Rising, sometimes called the Dublin Rising or Easter Rebellion, was a revolt against the Anglo-Irish union starting on Easter Monday, 1916. It was carried out by a faction of the Irish Volunteers with the support of some members of the Irish Citizen Army.

Background

The Liberal government of Herbert Asquith had put a Home Rule Bill through Parliament, but, faced with the militant opposition of the loyalist Unionists in Ulster, had proposed an Amending Act to exclude some or all of the nine Ulster counties. On the outbreak of the First World War it had agreed with the leader of the Irish Nationalist parliamentary party, John Redmond, that the Home Rule Bill would be signed into law, accompanied by an Act suspending it until an Amending Act could be passed. This was done. This solution was supported at the time by a majority of the Irish population, and large numbers of Irish men signed up for the British Army, though the Conscription Act of 1915 did not apply to Ireland.

There remained an element of Irish opinion that was strongly opposed to the terms of the Home Rule Act, to continuing under the British Crown, and to any possible division of Irish territory. This element found its strongest organisational expression in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which, moreover, adhered to the belief that England's difficulty (in this case the struggle with Germany) was Ireland's opportunity. The Irish Republican Brotherhood had secured key positions in the Irish Volunteers. Some members of it were convinced that a rising was necessary as part of the way forward, even if, as expected, it was to be a failure.

The Rising

The Rising was organised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood against the express orders of Eoin Mc Neill, the commander of the Irish Volunteers. On Monday 24 April 1916, members of the Irish Volunteers, together with members of Irish Citizen Army seized various points in Dublin and held out there until they were killed or captured, which happened in five days. Command was exercised from the Post Office, one of the points seized, by Padraig Pearse, who on the first day had read a proclamation from its steps. The first forces brought against them were units of the 3rd Irish Rifles and the 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Both sides killed unarmed men. There were minor revolts in other parts of Ireland. In Dublin, the republican action after the first points had been seized was essentially defensive but disciplined. The British Army used artillery, which reduced the Post Office to ruins.

The aftermath

Executions followed, not only of the leaders. These and other actions of the government, now a coalition with a strong unionist element, had the effect of swinging Irish sentiment towards the rebels, and reintroduced the sense that Ireland was an occupied country, rather than one which shared a legislature with the British.

It was difficult (and still is) to view the rising dispassionately. In 1926, when Sean O'Casey's play The Plough and the Stars — using the rising as a background, with the title referring to the "starry plough" flag of the Irish Citizen Army — was first put on in Dublin, his unromantic view of events caused disturbances, assaults and threats in the theatre.

Long-term effects

“A terrible beauty is born”, wrote Yeats (Easter 1916).

The effects of the Easter Rising are still a subject of controversy. It is arguable that in the long run the rising had little effect. Home Rule had been agreed in principle, and the only disagreement was over how many, if any, of the nine counties of Ulster should be excluded. On the other hand it is also arguable that it gave new life to the nationalist movement and particularly to its republican form.