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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - 1916 Rising

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Image of artist's impression of 1916 execution

Artist's Impression: A Capuchin priest prays as a firing squad prepares to execute a 1916 rebel leader ©

The civilian population was by no means uniformly hostile to the Rising, even during Easter week. There was, of course, anger expressed at the number of fatalities it had caused, and the scale of destruction and distress. Its timing outraged those with relatives fighting with the British Army. When they surrendered, some rebel garrisons had to be protected by the British Army from hostile crowds - for example, at the College of Surgeons. But in contrast elsewhere, at Boland’s Bakery and the South Dublin Union, the insurgents were heartened by the spontaneous warmth of the popular response. With justification some believed that sympathy for their action had grown as the week progressed. Certainly there was a widespread feeling that they had fought a clean fight in Ireland’s cause, and shown courage and conviction and also concern for the suffering caused to the civilian population. There was admiration for the fact that though poorly armed, the volunteers had held out for so long against the resources of an empire, apparently willing and able to deploy limitless numbers of well-equipped troops.

There can be no doubt that the response of the British government to the Rising contributed measurably to the further alienation of Irish public opinion. On 26th April 1916, it had introduced martial law and next day appointed Major-General Sir John Maxwell as Commander-in-Chief of troops, Ireland. He had full authority to restore order, put down the rebellion, and punish its participants. Maxwell never doubted that its leaders should be court-martialled and those most prominent executed. He was also determined that, in order to crush militant nationalism, those who had surrendered with them, and their suspected supporters, should be arrested and their arms seized in a nationwide sweep by soldiers, supported by police. In total, the security forces arrested 3,430 men and 79 women and of these 1,841 were sent to England and interned there. They were substantial figures in relation to the scale of the outbreak, though most (about 2,700) had been released by early August 1916. Meanwhile, those thought to have organised the insurrection had been held back in Ireland for trial – 190 men and 1 woman, Countess Markievicz. In 90 cases the court’s verdict was ‘Death by being shot’. Maxwell confirmed this judgement on 15 defendants, and these were executed between 3-12 May 1916.

Image of prisoner's Christmas card

Prisoner's Christmas card, 1917 showing the places in Britain where Irish prisoners were held after 1916 ©

The predictable effect of these measures was to increase public sympathy, both for the rebels and their goals. During May, the police authorities noted even amongst moderate nationalists a growing ‘wave of resentment,’ prompted by the feeling that ‘unnecessary severity had been deployed’. Symptoms of the change in attitudes included the following: the increasing frequency of memorial masses for the executed rebels; the growing sales of photographs of them; the setting up of aid funds for their families; the appearance of songs and ballads celebrating their actions; the ubiquity of republican flags and badges; the sight of young men marching military style at Gaelic football matches, and the shouting of rebel slogans anywhere people gathered anonymously together, such as at railway stations. The government also observed that recruitment levels to the British army had diminished to a trickle.

Moreover, there were ominous signs that militant nationalists were reorganising, reflected in a rise in arms thefts and hardening of attitudes towards the police. The release of many who had been interned after the Rising - far from earning public gratitude - fuelled resentment, as it was seen as providing evidence that the arrests had been made ‘without just cause’. Already in mid-June 1916, Maxwell predicted that in a General Election the moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party would probably be replaced. He was right; in December 1918, it was swept aside by Sinn Féin.

1916 Easter Rising: Aftermath
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Image of Fr. Leonard Coughlan Fr. Leonard Coughlan, O.F.M. Capuchin, Church Street, Dublin
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Image of Professor Keith Jeffery Keith Jeffery, Professor of Modern History, University of Ulster at Jordanstown
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Image of Dr. Eamon Phoenix Dr. Eamon Phoenix, Political Historian, Stranmillis University College, Belfast
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Image of President Eunan O'Halpin Eunan O'Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College, Dublin
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