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The Road to Northern Ireland, 1167 to 1921

By BBC History
The Easter Rising

World War One broke out in Europe in 1914 and the issue of Home Rule was shelved for the duration of the conflict, although the bill itself was passed in September of that year. Both Catholics and Protestants served in the British Army, with resentment caused by the perception that the Ulster Protestant contribution was valued more.

'The Irish Republican Army fired the first shots of the Irish War of Independence.'

Meanwhile, the Military Council of the IRB was planning an uprising, working on the principle that, with Britain distracted by the war in Europe, there would be no better opportunity to strike for an independent Ireland.

The poorly armed Easter Rising of 1916 nonetheless caught the British government off guard and led to heavy fighting in the centre of Dublin. The rebellion was efficiently crushed and the ringleaders rounded up. Their subsequent execution achieved what the rising had failed to achieve - a dramatic shift in public opinion in favour of the republicans.

Sinn Fein, wrongly blamed for planning the rising, saw its popularity rise as more people supported the rebellion. One of the surviving leaders of the Easter Rising, Eamon de Valera, was elected president of Sinn Fein in October 1917, unifying all groups working towards an independent Ireland under a single leadership.

In the first post-war election, 73 Sinn Fein candidates were elected, but they refused to attend Westminster. Instead, an Irish assembly, the Dail Eireann, was formed by 27 Sinn Fein MPs and, after a slow start, was soon regarded by many in Ireland as a legitimate administrative body.

Sinn Fein had backed Germany in World War One and thus could expect little in terms of support for national self-determination from the peace conference of victorious allies, so violent confrontation with the British rose quickly up the agenda.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) fired the first shots of the Irish War of Independence on the same day as the Dail met for the first time, and owed much of the success of its guerrilla campaign to the strategy of Michael Collins, who served simultaneously as minister of finance in the Dail and director of intelligence for the IRA.

The British government responded by imposing curfews and deploying two new forces - the so-called 'Black and Tans' and the Auxiliaries. Atrocities were commited on both sides of the conflict as it became increasingly bitter and divisive.

Published: 2007-02-01

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