Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter Rising Centenary Commemoration {Discussion}

The Easter Rising of April 1916 is an integral part of Irish history; there's no question about it.

Now, I'm not Irish (I've never been to Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland) so you're probably wondering why I'm talking about it. Well, a few reasons really: as a British citizen, it is a part of my history also; I'm currently studying Irish History as my A2 History course; the centenary of anything is a huge event.

Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, thousands attended celebrations in Dublin, along with wreaths being placed in cities all over Ireland. Thus, I felt as though today would be as good a day as any for me to share my knowledge and opinions on the event.

What Actually was the Easter Rising?

So, the basic facts: 
  • It was an uprising that was situated in Dublin during the week of April 24th - April 29th, 1916, led by dissident Irish Nationalists against the British Government.
  • Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Tom Clarke are considered by many to be the main perpetrators behind the uprising.
  • Began the radicalisation of Irish Nationalists
  • Brought about the rise in popularity for the political group Sinn Fein.
Some questions you may have: Who were Irish Nationalists? Who are Sinn Fein? What problems were there with the British Government? Why did they launch their assault at Easter?

To answer any of those questions, we have to go back just a little bit further than 100 years. British relations with Ireland have never been great- rebellions against British ruling in Ireland trace back as early as the C17th.

But let us start in 1886, the year of the first Home Rule Bill. Having Home Rule meant that the citizens of Ireland would be ruled by a government that was Irish, and in Ireland (unlike that at Westminster). Now, this bill wouldn't give them complete freedom and it wasn't desired by the majority - which is part of the reason as to why it took over 30 years to implement. 

Irish recruitment poster Great War

The terms of this bill:
  1. A bicameral legislature
  2. Executive power would be possessed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland - a representative of Britain.
  3. Irish MPs would be excluded from Westminster
  4. Land Purchase scheme to buy out landlords (as part of the Land League)
  5. Ireland would not have control over foreign policies, international trade, customs and excise, or the police.
This bill was declined, for reasons I will establish later on. The second bill, (also declined) was very much the same and was propositioned in 1892.

The terms:
  1. A bicameral legislature
  2. Executive Power would be possessed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
  3. 80 Irish MPs were allowed to sit at Westminster
  4. Land Purchase scheme to buy out landlords
This revised bill got further than the previous; it was passed by Commons, but not by Lords- many of those were land owners and landlords, as such it is no real surprise that they would not pass a bill that deducts coin from their pockets.

The Third Home Rule Bill was promised, in 1912, by Churchill to be instated after the end of the war. It didn't quite go as planned. Before I talk about that, however, I'll talk about opposition.

Who Opposed Home Rule and Why?

- Feared the break up and dissolution of the United Kingdom
- Unsure of the reliability of the Irish legislature members; could they be trusted to protect the lives and properties of Irish men?

- Majority of unionists were protestant workers; but they were also comprised of Conservatives and radical Liberals.
- Believed staying united with Britain would create a better functioning society than if they were to break apart.

The Middle Classes
- Successful businessmen - Home Rule would undeniable reduce trade, and Britain was the largest market.
- Most were Protestant

- The Easter Rising can easily be classed as a subsidy of Religious warfare; Protestants versus Catholics.
- Protestants believed that "Home Rule is Rome Rule", and feared a Catholic majority - Protestants, despite making up only 15% of the population, possessed 90% of the wealth.

- Strangely enough, some Nationalists were also against Home Rule as they did not believe Irish unity could exist.
- The terms of Home Rule were not, in simple terms, good enough.

The Third Home Rule Bill ► Became 'law' in 1912, with the region of Ulster essentially being overlooked and ignored (Ulster was the main pioneer for Unionism).

Circa. 1913-14: The Years Things Went Wrong

In 1913, an illegal army was formed by the Ulster Unionist Council, entitled the 'Ulster Volunteer Force' (UVF) and was supported by many MPs. In response, between 1913 and 1914, the Irish Volunteers (IVF) were formed, becoming a Nationalist Paramilitary Group. These would later be known as the IRA.

The Nationalist Movement was revived by John Redmond, a Nationalist Politician who was leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) from 1900-1918. He was a loyal supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell, and deeply opposed the use of violence and physical force.

The Larne Gun Running: April, 1914; Unionist UVF forces attained 25,000 rifles and 3 million rounds of ammunition from Germany - a country that would have benefited from a distraught Britain. You can read more about this incident here.

The Curragh Mutiny: March, 1914; in a show of support for Unionists, almost 100 officers resigned after being given an ultimatum - go against them, or be dismissed. This was perhaps the most significant, as the media coverage gave it the title of 'Mutiny' and as a consequence, the War Minister was forced to resign.

Now that we've got some of the background knowledge out of the way, we can begin to talk about the purpose of this discussion: the 1916 Easter Rising.

What Caused the Easter Rising?

Honestly, who knows? Historians (of which, remember, I am not) have been debating this since it happened. Was it the Irish Nationalists, becoming too radical and 'jumping the gun'? Was it the outbreak of the First World War? Did tensions between Nationalists and Unionists finally boil over? Or was it solely the British Government?

It can be said with certainty (at least, in my opinion) that the war fuelled the fire, particularly in respect to the UVF volunteers. Both Nationalists and Unionists volunteered to fight in the war, but the UVF volunteers were given what was viewed as special treatment.

Receiving their own regiment, the UVF formed the majority of the 36th Ulster Division. As a result, Edward Carson and other leading Irish Unionists were appointed to Asquith's coalition ministry - an obvious display of favouritism.

Over 5,000 of the UVF forces died on the first day of the Somme.

What Happened During the Easter Rising?

Now, it appears that my notes on this section are not as clear as my ones on the other sections. Still, I won't let that stop me!

The plan was to begin the uprising in Dublin under the guise of ordinary field manoeuvres, and at a time when the city would be relatively deserted. Peacefully, the Nationalists seized control of the General Post Office and transformed it into their Headquarters. 

A provisional government, with Patrick Pearse at the head, was established by the Rebels. By nightfall on the 24th, most of the key buildings in Dublin were occupied by the Rebels.

What followed was (this is where my notes are mysteriously sparse) five days of civil war. The Rebels were outnumbered by far, and on April 29th, after much bloodshed, Pearse surrendered unconditionally to the British authorities.

The Impact of the Easter Rising

The Easter Rising was met with hostility from Irish citizens, both Unionists and Nationalists, along with being condemned by the Catholic church and denounced by Redmond.

Martial Law was imposed upon Ireland by the British Government after this insurgence, which led to wholesale arrests and executions of the rebel leaders in an attempt to 'destroy revolutionary nationalism root and branch'. General Maxwell was in charge of the fate of Ireland, and there were 20,000 British troops in Ireland by the end of the week, introducing the infamous Black and Tans.

Accused rebels were denied access to their own witnesses or any type of defence - court martial's of individuals were held in secret, which was later revealed to be an illegal move. Most rebels were shot. This began to turn opinions of the rebels to that of sympathy.

Michael Collins began to build up the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which would also later on help to form the IRA.

The IPP started to decline, whilst Sinn Fein rose in popularity.

The Rise of Sinn Fein

The death of Thomas Ashe, a member of the IRB who went on hunger strike whilst imprisoned by the British Government and was consequently force fed (which lead to his death). reportedly made 100,000 Sinn Feiners out of 100,000 constitutional nationalists.

Sinn Fein was formed in 1907 by Arthur Griffith as a militant, non-violent Irish Nationalist organisation. It had very little influence before the war; the Easter Rebellion cultivated a myth that it was a Sinn Fein rebellion, which increased the prestige and influence of the organisation at the expense of the IPP.

Popularity increased further as a result of the policies pursued by the British Government and the army after the uprising (such as declaring Martial Law and sending in the Black and Tans).

By the end of 1916, Sinn Fein had, in effect, remodelled itself to conform with its current image:
A Revolutionary Party committed to the establishment of the Irish Republic whose birth had been announced in the Easter Monday Proclamation.

In 1917, Sinn Fein won two by-elections. Between July 1917 and May 1918, Sinn Fein boycotted an Irish Convention that was being held in the hopes of determining an Irish settlement. Ulster Unionists were as immoveable as ever on the premise.

Eamon de Valera  was elected the Sinn Fein MP for East Clare in July 1917, before succeeding Arthur Griffith in the election for President in October that same year.

According to historian Ray Foster, by 1918 Sinn Fein had succeeded the position enjoyed by Parnell's IPP in the 1880's.

Sinn Fein is still a political party in Ireland to this day, with the current president being Politician Gerry Adams. You can find out more about their policies by visiting their website;

Fancy reading more on the subject? 
Below is a list of some of books that I found interesting and relevant to my coursework. Most are focused on the events and years after 1916.
  • The Irish Question and British Politics, 1868 - 1996. by D.G Boyce
  • Ireland Since 1939: The Persistence of Conflict - Henry Patterson
  • The Ulster Question Since 1945  - James Loughlin
  • Interpreting Northern Ireland - John Whyte
  • Great Britain and the Irish Question - Paul Adelman and Robert Pearce
  • Northern Ireland and the Politics of Reconciliation - Dermot Keogh and Michael H. Haltzel
  • The Black and Tans - Richard Bennett
Thank you for taking the time to read this! I'm perhaps not as invested in politics as I'd like to be - I may make that a (albeit late) resolution for this year.

What are your thoughts on Ireland, and the troubles it has faced? Leave a comment below!

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