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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - 1916 Rising

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The background to the rising Hear audio clips Audio Clips
Image of Citizens' Army on Parade

Citizen Army on parade, Croyden Park, Fairview, Dublin, 1914 ©

The roots of the Rising lie in the ‘new nationalism’ which emerged in Ireland from the 1890s. Its most significant outcome was the rejuvenation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). This small, underground, revolutionary body planned and directed the insurrection in 1916. The truly dynamic element was a tiny minority within this organisation; they were acting on the old republican principle: ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’. In August 1915, this group formed the IRB Military Council. It was eventually composed of seven members – Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDermott, Patrick Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, Joseph Plunkett, James Connolly, and Thomas MacDonagh. All seven approved and signed the Proclamation, and together they declared themselves to be the ‘Provisional Government’ of the Irish Republic when the Rising began. They were aided throughout by an Irish-American organisation, Clan na Gael, which shared their aims and provided virtually the only channel of contact between the insurgents and Germany, from whom they hoped to receive military backing.

The IRB was too small in number and covert in operation to precipitate a full-scale rising. For this purpose, it hoped to use the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF). This organisation had been formed in 1913 by moderate nationalists, impressed by the impact of the Ulster Volunteer Force and frustrated by the delay in Britain granting Ireland self-government. It had recruited 180,000 men by mid-1914, but then formally split over whether its volunteers should enlist in British Forces and fight in the European war. Its more extreme rump of 11,000 men strongly opposed this and kept the original name (IVF). The Military Council members hoped to use this body as a strike force in the planned rebellion. Of necessity, their efforts to do so involved covert infiltration and deceit as some of the IVF leaders, notably Eoin MacNeill, rejected a wartime rising on grounds of principle. However, they did form an alliance with James Connolly, the revolutionary socialist and commander of the Irish Citizen Army.

During 1915, the rebel leaders’ preparations for a rising were gathering momentum. Their plan was centred on an insurrection in Dublin; to be supported by munitions, and hopefully troops from Germany, which were to be landed on the coast of County Kerry. Meanwhile, leadership positions within the IVF were successfully infiltrated, both in Dublin and elsewhere, and its rank and file members trained in street-fighting techniques. By January 1916 the Military Council had set the date for a rising – initially Good Friday, 21st April 1916, later changed to Easter Sunday, 23rd April. Their revolutionary intentions were to be masked behind publicly advertised and apparently routine manoeuvres arranged for that day.

Image of Irish Citizen Army on the roof of Liberty Hall

Irish Citizen Army members on the roof of Liberty Hall Dublin, headquarters of the Transport Union ©

On 19th April, IVF commandants were given details of the plan for insurrection, despite the risk of this information leaking to those members who opposed it or to the British authorities. Disaster threatened when MacNeill received confirmation of their true intentions on 21st April. After initial hesitation, he issued countermand orders cancelling the now publicised manoeuvres for Easter Sunday, by placing a note to this effect in that morning’s edition of the Sunday Independent.

By then news had reached Dublin that the ship transporting German arms to Ireland had been captured (21 April). In confusion and despair, the Military Council members met in emergency session on Sunday morning, 23rd April, to consider their options. They decided to proceed with the rising next day with such forces as they could muster.

1916 Easter Rising: Insurrection
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Image of Professor Alvin Jackson Alvin Jackson, Professor of Modern History, Queen's University of Belfast
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Image of Dr. Brian Barton Dr. Brian Barton, Historian, Open University
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Image of Ruth Taillon Ruth Taillon, Feminist Historian
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Image of Professor Liam Kennedy Liam Kennedy, Professor of Modern History, Queen's University of Belfast
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