Easter Rebellion

The Ireland List

"On the Road to Peace"

'My wish to be remembered by a child By something said which pleased his mind.'
-- Patrick Pearse - Padraic Mac Piarais - 1916


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Seumas O'Sullivan:
Dublin (1916)

Even as the empty spaces
That front the intruding sky,
Are the absent faces
In the crowds that pass me by.

The brave salute of John MacBride,
The quick transforming smile,
Thomas MacDonagh's laughing mouth
And the eyes of a happy child.

The strange prophetic glance of Pearse,
The half-averted eyes.
Even as the empty spaces
That front the intruding sky,
Are the absent faces
In the crowds that pass me by.

W.B. Yeats:
Sixteen Dead Men

O BUT we talked at large before
The sixteen men were shot,
But who can talk of give and take,
What should be and what not

While those dead men are loitering there
To stir the boiling pot?
You say that we should still the land
Till Germany's overcome;

But who is there to argue that
Now Pearse is deaf and dumb?
And is their logic to outweigh
MacDonagh's bony thumb?

How could you dream they'd listen
That have an ear alone
For those new comrades they have found,
Lord Edward and Wolfe Tone,

Or meddle with our give and take
That converse bone to bone?

By William Butler Yeats


that were executed by the British after the Easter Rising of 1916:

  • Padraig Pearse
  • Thomas McDonagh
  • Joseph Plunkett
  • Edmund Kent
  • Thomas J Clarke
  • James Connolly
  • John McDermott
  • Edward Daly
  • William Pearse
  • Cornelius Colbert
  • JJ Heuston
  • Michael O'Hanran
  • John MacBride
  • Michael Mallin
  • Roger Casement


On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a force of Irishmen under arms estimated at between 1,000 and 1,500 men and women attempted to seize Dublin, with the ultimate intention of destroying British rule in Ireland and creating an entirely independent Irish Republic to include all 32 counties of Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connaught. Their leaders, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and the others, knew that their chances of success were so slight as to be almost non-existent. Yet they fought, and died. Why?

The circumstances that led to the Irish rebellion of 1916 are of an intense complexity, historical, social, political and, perhaps above all, psychological. The Irish writer, Sean O'Faolain, has written of his country: 'Most of our physical embodiments of the past are ruins, as most of our songs are songs of lament and defiance. The Easter Rising was a complete failure, which left large parts of Dublin in ruins; yet without it Ireland might never have been free of English rule. The leaders, alive, had very few supporters even among the Irish patriots; dead, they became and have remained their country's heroes. It was a great historical paradox, and one that to this day the British have perhaps never understood. Had they understood it, it is conceivable that the British might still have an empire, since the overthrow of British rule in Ireland marked the beginning of the overthrow of British imperial might in Asia, in Africa, and elsewhere..

The historical complexity, from the British point of view, can be traced to a general misunderstanding of the Irish character and of Irish desires. The English were bewildered by the fact that most Irishmen, and all educated Irishmen, spoke English, and wrote it, as well as, and often better than, most Englishmen. They were further bewildered by the fact that a very large proportion of the Irish governing class was of English or Norman ancestry. In 1916, the English had not grasped the fact that for two centuries - since the brutal smashing of the old Irish governing class and the theft of their lands-it was precisely these people, Grattan, Tone, Parnell and so on, who had led the Irish in their longing to be free of alien rule. And the reason for this gross misunderstanding was that the English in England did not realise that the Irish way of life was in many ways--at least in terms of human relationships -culturally superior to the English way. Always technologically backward, the Irish were overwhelmed in the course of 1,000 and more years by waves of conquerors. If those conquerors remained in Ireland, they became, as the English would and did say, seduced by the ease and pleasure of an Irish attitude that looks for charm, gaiety and wit as well as for profit: they became `more Irish than the Irish'.

And this the English, in England, dismissed as fecklessness. The fact that the Irish had different values from their own was regarded as funny-and the 'stage Irishman' was created in London. The fact that English might had always, eventually, crushed Irish rebellion was remembered; the fact that Irishmen had fought with immense distinction in all the major armies of Europe, and not least in that of Great Britain, was sometimes ignored From the point of view of Whitehall at the turn of the century, Paddy-and-his-pig was an essentially comical, childlike figure. He should know, in English terms, his proper station in life. Perhaps, at a pinch, the Angle-Irish (an odious and meaningless term) might administer this province of Great Britain, but Paddy, never.

On the other hand, these people were politically troublesome and, furthermore, the English of the late Victorian age were a decent lot on the whole. During the Great Famine of 1846 the English liberals had let Ireland starve in the interests of their laissez-faire ideology-to have fed them would have interfered with the workings of the free market so far as corn chandlers were concerned - but later second thoughts prevailed. The Irish were to be given partial sovereignty over their own affairs, and a Home Rule Bill was passed. But then the First World War began. Home Rule was postponed until victory over the Germans should have been achieved. The Irish would not mind, why should they? Paddy would join the British Army, as he had always done and as scores of thousands of Irishmen did. The Irish would not understand-and many, perhaps most, did not.

Secret Society

But some Irishmen did understand. The most important of these were the members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood or IRB (which must not be confused with the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, a later creation). The IRB had been formed in 1858. It was a secret society which probably never numbered more than 2,000 including those Irishmen who belonged to it and who lived in England, America or elsewhere. The majority of its members were what might be loosely called 'intellectuals' and in this, in their determination, and in their secrecy they bore a certain resemblance to their Russian contemporaries, Lenin's small Bolshevik Party. However, their aims were political rather than economic. They were patriots, dedicated to the ideal of national independence, and were prepared to use all means-including force to achieve this end. They provided, as it were, the general staff of the mass movement for Irish freedom from British rule, and their fortnightly publication, Irish Freedom (founded in 1910), advocated complete republican government for the whole of Ireland. It is significant that all the men who signed the proclamation of an Irish Republic on Easter Monday were members of the IRE.

When the First World War began, John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Nationalist Party and Parnell's heir, immediately proclaimed his acceptance of the postponement of Home Rule, both for himself and for his followers. These included the Irish Volunteers, perhaps then some 200,000 strong (of whom maybe 2,000 were trained and armed). This force had been created in November 1913 as a counter to the Ulster Volunteers, an organisation originally formed to fight against Home Rule. The Ulster Volunteers were also prepared to postpone a struggle that had recently seemed both inevitable and imminent, and from the North of Ireland as from the South scores of thousands of young volunteers went off to fight, and only too often to die, in Flanders. Indeed, Redmond suggested to the government in London that they could remove all British troops from Ireland: his Volunteer force and the Ulster Volunteers were quite capable of seeing that there were no disturbances in Ireland throughout the period of the war.

The IRB had other ideas. At a meeting of their supreme council, as early as August 1914, the decision was taken-in secret of course-that there must be an Irish insurrection before the end of Britain's war with Germany. Until Easter Week 1916 the active members of the IRB were fully occupied in mounting this revolution.

They had at their disposal brains, a fairly considerable amount of money-mostly from Irish Americans-and little else. They had to act through the Irish patriotic organisations, over many of which they had obtained partial control, and if the rising were to be a military success they had to acquire arms, either from British arsenals, or from abroad, which meant in effect from Germany. The balance sheet was roughly as follows: with the exception of Ulstermen and certain landlords and industrialists, a large number of the Irish wanted freedom from British rule. However, the people were temporarily agreeable to the Home Rule solution, even though the postponed bill gave Ireland less than Dominion status in fiscal and other matters. Furthermore, the farming community was doing very well out of the war. Thus the IRB could rely on considerable emotional sympathy but little, if any, practical help from the mass of the people. And since the Irish are in some measure a volatile race, there was no telling how they would react to a rising. Certainly the Roman Catholic Church would be against such a deed: and the Parish priests were very powerful spokesmen in Ireland.

So far as fighting men went, any insurrection would seem doomed to certain defeat. Redmond's huge numbers of Volunteers were mostly unarmed, or were fig;fighting for the British in France. However, some of those who remained in Ireland and were armed and trained could be relied upon. Their Chief-of-Staff was the historian Eoin MacNeill, and their commandant a schoolmaster named Patrick Pearse. Both of these men were members of the IRE, but as events will show they did not see eye to eye on tactics. The Volunteers were scattered throughout Ireland.

Another Private Army

The other para-military force was James Connolly's Irish Citizen Army. Connolly was a socialist who in 1896 had founded the Socialist Republican Party. He was a trained soldier. In 1908 James Larkin had created the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. When that union organised a strike in 1913, and the strike was broken by strong-arm methods. Connolly decided that a workers' defensive force was needed and created his Citizen Army. It was led by himself and by an ex-British army officer named Jack White. It has been said that this was the most efficient military force at the disposal of the Republicans. It was, however, very small. When it came to the actual fighting, it was only some 250 men who went out, as opposed to about 1,000 from the Volunteers.

Supporting these was the women's organisation. Countess Markiewicz -an Irish woman, born a Gore-Booth, and of aristocratic ancestry -- was one of the most prominent. She fought as an officer of the Citizen Army throughout the Easter Rising for she was not only a patriot but a socialist. There were also the so-called 'Fianna Boys', lads who enjoyed the manoeuvring before the Rising, as most boys would, and who also showed guts and resourcefulness when the real thing happened. They were messengers, runners and so on.

Against them they had what was, on paper at least, a most formidable force.

To maintain their control over Ireland, the British relied primarily on the Royal Irish Constabulary, an armed police force, living largely in barracks, some 10,000 strong. They were almost all Irishmen, knew their districts thoroughly, and were in 1916, with a very few exceptions, entirely loyal to the Crown. They were well trained, well equipped, only moderately unpopular and well informed. The centre of British power was Dublin Castle, and 'the Castle' relied on the RIC for its field Intelligence.

In Dublin itself the police were not armed, though of course, there were arms available. They numbered about 1,000 and were organised on the model of the London police. The Special Branch was concerned with politics. Through its investigations, and general infiltration of Irish republican politics, the Castle was supposed to know what the IRB was planning. The Special Branch did not seem, however, to have been particularly good at this job, nor to have infiltrated the IRB to any great extent. On the other hand the blame may rest with those in the Castle to whom they sent their reports. The evaluation of Intelligence is infinitely more important than its accumulation.

And behind those 'occupation' forces there was a large British army in Ireland and what, in wartime and in Irish terms, were almost infinite reserves in Great Britain. If it were a mere question of manpower, the Irish had not a hope.

As for firearms, the David and Goliath ratio was even more vivid. Before the outbreak of the First World War the Ulster Volunteers had bought some 35,000 German rifles, the Irish Volunteers about 1,000. And, of course, the British army had everything, including artillery of all sorts. The Irish made an attempt to rectify this by getting rifles from Germany. Sir Rodger Casement, an Irishman with a distinguished past, went to Germany from neutral America. He was to bring the weapons for the Easter Rising that the IRB had agreed on. His mission was a failure. British Naval Intelligence had broken some German cyphers. The British navy was thus able to intercept the German ship carrying the guns. Casement himself was immediately arrested when he came ashore from a U-Boat near Tralee, in County Kerry, on Good Friday. The guns on which the Irish had been relying, even for this forlorn hope, had not arrived. Were they still to go on?

It is here that the different personalities and attitudes become important. We must pause to look at the men, English and Irish, involved; and also at the whole meaning of Sinn Fein.

Irish Let Down

Sinn Fein is usually translated as 'ourselves alone', and this is perhaps the best rendering in English of a complicated Irish concept. It means above all, independence from British rule. But since Irish history was in those days so much bound up with contemporary Irish politics, it had a secondary meaning. For many centuries the Irish had hoped for the help of England's enemies to get rid of the English. The Spaniards and the French had let them down as the Germans were to do in 1916. This was not so much because Britain's enemies lacked the anxiety to defeat Britain in Ireland but because of geographical-military complications (tides, prevailing winds and so on). Thus Sinn Fein also meant that the Irish must rely upon themselves alone in order to rid themselves of their British rulers. For the British, in the years to come, the 'Shinners' were to be the epitome of violent republicanism in Ireland. In fact, the party, which only had its first annual convention as late as 1905, was essentially democratic. It had run a parliamentary candidate (who was defeated) in the Leitrim election of 1908. But as time went on it gained an increasing number of the extremists from Redmond's Nationalist Party. Arthur Griffith, its leader and also the editor of the United Irishmen, was never a fanatic. He believed in constitutional tactics - and was thus far less of an extremist than many of the IRB leaders - but, unlike Redmond's and Parnell's old party, he no longer trusted the alliance with the Liberal Party in Great Britain.`Ourselves alone'-to many young men it was a most attractive idea.

The British rulers were, on the whole, a shadowy lot. The Liberal government in London was inevitably devoting almost all its attention to the gigantic struggle on the Continent. Since Ireland appeared so placid in 1916, neither the best politicians nor by any means the best British soldiers were in the country. Augustine Birrell was Chief Secretary. Possessed, it was said, of extreme personal charm, he was a belle lettrist whose books, now forgotten, enjoyed in their time considerable esteem. He appears to have regarded his job in Dublin - which might be described as active head of the administration-as something of a sideline to his career as a litterateur, and spent a very large proportion of his time being charming in London. His principal Assistant Secretary, responsible for political affairs, was a civil servant experienced in colonial administration, Sir Matthew Nathan. He seems to have had little comprehension of the Irish temperament and to have been happiest behind his desk, dealing with routine paperwork. The general officer commanding the British army in Ireland was a Major-General Field. He, even more, seems to have had no idea of what was going on in Ireland at all. And finally there was Lord Wimborne, the Lord Lieutenant and the King's representative, who presided over the British administration as a sort of constitutional monarch with all the powers, and most of the limitations, that that implies. However, he knew Ireland well. He had sponsored the Land Act of 1903, which had pacified the Irish countrymen by further advantageous changes of the tenant-landlord relationship. He was popular with the Irish govern Governing class, as was Birrell; but, unlike his Chief Secretary, he did not at all care for the situation that was developing.

The British Intelligence services had, as we have seen, infiltrated the various Irish `resistance' movements. The Volunteers, it must be assumed, had few secrets not known to Dublin Castle. And the Castle knew that a rising was planned to take place as soon as possible after the landing of Casement and his German guns. On April 21, 1916, Casement landed and was immediately arrested. Wimborne, who was to have gone to Belfast, cancelled his visit and on Sunday the 23rd (that is to say only a matter of hours before the Rising took place) demanded of Nathan that he immediately arrest 'between 60 and 100' of the Irish leaders. Had this been done successfully, it seems unlikely that any Rising would have taken place at that time. However, it was probably too late for a mere police action by that date. The men of the Citizen Army and the more militant Volunteers were under arms and ready to fight. As it was, Nathan persuaded his 'constitutional monarch' that there was no need for action. And Birrell was in London.

Failing of British Intelligence?

It would seem probable that Nathan's Intelligence service had briefed him as to what was happening within the high command of the Volunteers after the news of Casement's arrest, and that he knew Eoin MacNeill had decided that without the guns the Rising must be cancelled or at least postponed. What Nathan presumably did not know was that this decision finally split the Volunteers, and that the IRB was almost solidly behind Patrick Pearse and those other Irish patriots who were prepared to go ahead with the Rising even in these disadvantageous, indeed well-nigh suicidal, circumstances. All this sounds very neat when put down on paper, but of` course the reality was far more chaotic, involving a clash of personalities, orders and counter orders and very considerable bitterness. Indeed, MacNeill's decision to call off the Rising, and Pearse's to go ahead, was really the death-knell of the Volunteers and of the Nationalist Party whose armed force they were supposed to be. After the Rising, the political leadership of those hostile to British rule in Ireland passed to the Sinn Fein, while those who fought in Easter week became the nucleus of' the Irish Republican Army.

Certainly MacNeill's last-minute proclamation that the Rising be cancelled-he had boys bicycling all over the country, and even announced this supposed non-happening in the Sunday papers -- cannot possibly have been unknown to Nathan. He must have taken into account the fact that a few hot-heads were likely to ignore this order: he must also have known that the vast bulk of the Volunteers would breathe a sigh of relief and that the clergy-to whom the English have often attached an exaggerated political importance in Ireland as a result of their ubiquity and their marked difference from the Anglican clergy in England - would support MacNeill and the mass of his supporters, content with the promise of eventual, diluted Home Rule. The handful of extremists could be dealt with-though not at all as easily as the English thought-by the overwhelming forces arraigned against them. No special precautions were taken, despite Lord Wimborne's fully justified fears. Indeed, on Easter Monday, the first day of the Rising, a great many British officers were at Fairyhouse Races.

The Easter Rising was suicidal. Patrick Pearse was well aware of this. Before ever it happened he said to his mother: 'The day is coming when I shall be shot, swept away, and my colleagues like me.' When his mother enquired about her other son, William, who was also an extreme nationalist, Pearse is reported to have replied:'Willie? Shot like the others. We'll all be shot.' And James Connolly is said to have remarked: 'The chances against us are a thousand to one.' On the morning of the Rising, when asked by one of his men if there was any hope, he replied, cheerfully: 'None whatever!'

It was hard for the staff officers and colonial administrators of Dublin Castle, accustomed to weighing possibilities so far as their own actions were concerned, to realise that a group of men, perhaps 1,250 strong (the Citizen Army took no notice of MacNeill), was prepared to fight and die in such circumstances. But they should have been wiser in their age: Langemark was recent, Verdun was going on. Seldom in history have men been so willing, indeed so eager, to throw away their lives for an ideal, almost any ideal, and the Irish ideal had long roots. The men went out and fought.

The essence of the Irish plan was to seize certain key points in the city, and hold these for as long as possible, thus disrupting British control of the capital. It was then hoped that one of three things might happen: the country might rise in sympathy; the British might realise the ultimate impossibility of controlling Ireland and pull out; and last and faintest of hopes, the Germans might somehow come to the rescue of the rebels. Since the rebels had no artillery of any sort, their strongpoints could only hold out provided that the British did not use their artillery. Connolly and the socialists hoped that the British would, for capitalist reasons, not bombard Dublin and thus destroy their own -or largely their own-property. This, too, was an illusion.

The Irish march out

H-hour was 12 noon and since this was a Bank Holiday there were crowds in the streets, and these witnessed the small bodies of Volunteers and of the Citizen Army marching, armed, through the city to seize their various strongpoints. It went, on the whole, remarkably smoothly. Five major buildings or groups of buildings were seized north of the River Liffey, nine south of it, and some of the railway stations were occupied. Headquarters were established in the massive General Post Office in Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) from which Irish flags were flown and where Patrick Pearse announced the creation of a provisional government of the new Irish Republic. With him in the Post Office were Connolly as military commander, Joseph Plunkett (a very sick man), The O'Rahilly, Tom Clark, Sean MacDermott and other leaders. There, too, was a young man named Michael Collins. The rebels immediately set about preparing the Post Office against the attack which they expected almost at once. The four other principal strongpoints seized were the South Dublin Union, a congeries of poor-houses and the like (commanded by Eamonn Ceannt); the Four Courts, the headquarters of the legal profession, where heavy law books were used as sandbags (Eamonn Daly); St Stephen's Green, where trenches were dug and barricades of motorcars erected (Michael Mallin and Countess Markiewicz), and Boland's Flour Mill, which covered the approach roads from Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, where any reinforcements from England would almost certainly disembark (Eamon de Valera).

An attempt to seize Dublin Castle failed. An attempt to capture a large quantity of arms and ammunition from the arsenal in Phoenix Park known as the Magazine Fort, was not very successful and only a few rifles were seized. On the other hand, the rebels successfully cut telephone lines, and the Castle was for a time almost isolated. A further success was that a troop of Lancers which attempted to charge down Sackville Street was repulsed with casualties.

In the dark

The British had been taken by surprise and were now almost completely in the dark. The Castle immediately ordered troops up from the Curragh and other camps outside Dublin and appealed to London for reinforcements. There, Lord French was Commander-in-Chief. He was an Irishman and an ardent Unionist. He immediately ordered that no less than four divisions be alerted for transfer to Ireland. British policy was in fact thrown into reverse. Appeasement of the Irish was out; the rebels were to be crushed, rapidly and massively. But if the British in Dublin were in the dark, so were the rebels. They had no wireless links either between the strongpoints they had seized or with the outside world. Communication by runner became difficult and eventually impossible when the fighting reached its peak.

From a military point of view, Tuesday was comparatively calm. The British were closing in cautiously. Their strategy was to throw a cordon around that area of Dublin where the rebels' strongpoints were, then cut that area in two, and finally mop up. They moved artillery and troops into Trinity College, a natural fortress which the rebels had failed to seize, though they had planned to do so. The reason was the small number of fighting men available. Looting by the crowds began. Martial law was declared. British reinforcements arrived at Kingstown. A mad British officer, a Captain Bowen-Colthurst, had three harmless journalists shot 'while trying to escape'-a phrase to become hideously familiar, and not only in Ireland. The 'atrocities' had begun.

By Wednesday morning the rebels were outnumbered 20 to one. The British now began to attack in earnest. Their first major action was to destroy Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Labour Party and of the trade unions, by shellfire from the gunboat Helga. As it happened, the rebels had anticipated this, and the building was empty. The British gunfire was inaccurate and many other buildings were hit and many civilians killed. The army also was using artillery: a 9 -pounder gun was fired against a single sniper. Dublin began to burn, and the Dubliners to starve, for there was no food coming into the city. This was no longer a police action but full-scale war in which no attempt was made to spare the civilians. Meanwhile, British reinforcements marching in from Kingstown were ambushed by de Valera's men and suffered heavy casualties, but by dint of numbers forced their way through. St Stephen's Green had been cleared of rebels, who retreated into the Royal College of Surgeons, and established a strongpoint there.

Ruthless commander

On Thursday the new British commander in-chief arrived. Since Ireland was under martial law, he held full powers there. This was General Sir John Maxwell, a soldier of some distinction who had returned the month before from Egypt, where he had been Commander-in-Chief of the Angle-Egyptian armies. Although he numbered the Countess Markiewicz among his relations, he had no knowledge of the current political mood in Ireland, and, indeed, as events were to prove, did more to undermine British rule in Ireland than all the rebels put together. He had been ordered by the British Prime Minister, Asquith, to put down the rebellion with all possible speed. And this he did regardless of political consequences.

The reinforcements from England were now in action. These were largely untrained men, and when they discovered that many of the men of the Irish Republican Army-as the rebels now and henceforth styled themselves-were not in uniform (how could they be?) they began shooting male civilians on sight.

On that day (Thursday) attacks were made on Boland's Mill, the men in the South Dublin Union were forced to give ground, and there was shelling of' the General Post Office, which began to burn from the top down. Connolly was wounded twice. The first wound he hid from his men the second was more serious, for one foot was shattered and he was in great pain. With the aid of morphia he carried on, directing the battle as best he could. The Dublin fires were now great conflagrations. With the streets full of smallarms fire and the water supplies often cut, these could not be dealt with. Still, no major rebel strongpoint surrendered.

On Friday, Connolly ordered the women who had fought so bravely to leave the General Post Office building, which was now cut off and burning. Later that day he and Pearse and the remaining rebels escaped from a building that was by now almost red-hot and about to collapse. They found temporary refuge nearby, while the British continued to shell the empty building. All knew that the end was near. A last battle was fought for King's Street, near the Four Courts. It took some 5,000 British soldiers, equipped with armoured cars and artillery, 28 hours to advance about 150 yards against some 200 rebels. It was then that the troops of the South Staffordshire Regiment bayoneted and shot civilians hiding in cellars. And now all was over. On Saturday morning Pearse and Connolly surrendered unconditionally.

Like so much else about the Easter Rising, casualties are hard.

This has been taken from an article written by Constantine Fitzgibbon. If copyright has been breached, the article will be removed

The Mother
by Padraic Pearse
1879 - 1916

I do not grudge them; Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing.
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names so my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow - And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.


The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way

-- Patrick H. Pearse
Poet, scholar, teacher, and Irish freedom fighter
Last poem, written on the eve of his execution (May 2, 1916).

You Can Not Conquer Ireland

"You cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed."
-- Patrick Pearse at his court-martial, May 2, 1916

On the 24th A pril, 1916, Irish poet, scholar, and teacher Patrick Pearse stepped from the GPO into the Dublin afternoon and faced the crowds going about their usual business in busy Sackville Street (now O'Connell St.). With a curious lack of his usual magnetism, reflecting the gravity of the deed t which he had long devoted himself and which was now at hand, he read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to the onlookers:

"Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom..." From that moment on Ireland would, in the words of Yeats' memorial poem, be 'changed, changed utterly'.

The day began at Liberty Hall, where the Volunteers gathered under their commanders for the march to the GPO just before noon. It was a ragged and ill-armed band that set out to defy the British occupation of their land. Plans for the Rising had gone awry in a number of ways. Ideological splits between the various nationalist organizations had led to confusion in orders, which drastically thinned the ranks of Volunteers. A German arms landing, arranged by Roger Casement, had been thwarted by bad timing and Casement was captured (he was later hanged in an English prison). It was determined that the Rising would take place regardless of the setbacks. There would be no going back.

There were no illusions that the British could be defeated -- the goal had become to strike a resounding blow which would ripple out beyond the Rising, to force the door to freedom open wide enough that it could never quite be closed again. The architects of the Rising, who included James Connolly, Thomas Clarke (a leader of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and veteran of various acts of rebellion and grueling stints in English prisons), Sean Mac Diarmada, Joseph Plunkett, and Pearse's good friend Thomas MacDonagh, among others, fully expected to die in the attempt. A fierce devotion to Ireland's freedom obliterated all concerns for self-preservation. On that April morning, a group of Irish men and women, probably numbering no more than 1,000 at most, set out to face down the formidable might of the British empire to strike a blow for Ireland's freedom. A force of around 150, led by Pearse, Connolly, and the others, commandeered the GPO and established their General Headquarters there. A young Michael Collins was in attendance as Plunkett's aide-de-camp, and would acquit himself admirably in the coming battle. No time was wasted in preparation for the inevitable British backlash. Windows were duly smashed and fortified and the doors barricaded. Two flags were hoisted over the GPO to replace their British counterparts. One was green with a gold harp in the center and "Irish Republic" spelled out in white and gold Irish lettering. The other was the tricolor which is now the official flag of the Republic. Foraging parties were sent out for food and medical supplies.

Across Dublin the Volunteers dug in at other key locations. St. Stephen's Green was occupied under the command of Michael Mallin and Constance Markiewicz. Eamonn De Valera operated out of Boland's Mill, the Four Courts were occupied by Ned Daly's 1st Battalion, Thomas MacDonagh held Jacob's factory and Eamonn Ceannt the South Dublin Union. Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy had relative success throughout with their 5th Dublin Battalion in Dublin and Meath. An attack was made on Dublin Castle but the rebels withdrew, believing it to be more heavily guarded than it actually was. Rumors were rife that other parts of the country were rising also, but the earlier confusion and countermanding of orders had effectively halted that possibility. Apart from some concentrated rebellion in Wexford and Galway, and a few scattered skirmishes, the rest of Ireland was quiet throughout the week.

The Volunteers did not have long to wait for the first British move. Just after 1 pm a small force on horseback charged down Sackville Street, to be met with fire from the Volunteers. Four of the mounted Lancers were killed and the rest retreated. After this episode, the suspense lay thick as the British still made no show of force on the GPO, though they were tackling the rebel outposts and had driven the St. Stephen's Green forces into the Royal College of Surgeons. By Monday night the Volunteers had effectively set up a fortified defense of the city center. Tuesday brought more of the same, with no real attack on the GHQ area by the British. But by Tuesday night the reinforcements came pouring in and the British troops numbered over 6,500. Heavy artillery had also been brought in, an ominous sign.

Wednesday morning, April 26th, saw the arrival of the British gunboat Helga up the Liffey. The now-empty Liberty Hall was shelled and destroyed. The British now launched a concerted and sustained campaign against the rebels, slowly advancing artillery and infantry, closing in on the GPO. Incendiary bombs were launched from Trinity College into Sackville Street, setting some buildings alight. By Thursday morning the British had set their sights on the rebel headquarters at the GPO. Another 10,000 troops arrived and rifle, machine gun and artillery fire increased. A shell scored a direct hit on the GPO. But a larger concern for the Volunteers was the increasing threat of the flames engulfing many of the buildings around them. Connolly led a contingent out of the building to form an outpost, and received two serious wounds. He made it back to the GPO and spent the few remaining days of his life incapacitated.

By Friday the British were well within range and shelling the building ferociously. The GPO was in flames and the men inside fought desperately against the inferno. Plans were hammered out for evacuation. This was accomplished in stages, with risky runs for outposts through the non-stop hail of bullets. The O'Rahilly led a charge up Moore Street only to be felled along with 20 of his men. Other groups scattered for cover where they could. Connolly and Pearse remained till the last of the Volunteers had evacuated. Then they, too, made their bid to escape the crumbling fiery remains of the GPO, Connolly being borne on a stretcher.

At a shop in Moore Street, Connolly met up with Plunkett, Clarke and Mac Diarmada. Pearse and his brother Willie arrived a short time later. On Saturday the 5 leaders went through anguished conferences, trying to decide the next course of action. News of civilian deaths greatly distressed them (Pearse witnessed a family shot in the street by the British as they emerged from their beleaguered home waving a white flag). It was finally decided that they should end the conflict for the sake of the remaining Volunteers and the citizenry of Dublin. Pearse accordingly sent a message to British Brigadier-General Lowe to open negotiations. Lowe sent back word that they would accept nothing short of unconditional surrender. After another conference, the rebels agreed to this. Pearse walked up Moore Street and met General Lowe to formally surrender. Messages were got out to the remaining rebel outposts. De Valera, who had held his area in a Herculean effort, was the last to sur! render. The Rising had ended, 6 days after it began. The leaders of the Rising were picked out for court-martial. There was no doubt as to the outcome: execution by firing squad.

The British had fatally misjudged the mood of the Irish. May had seriously doubted the wisdom of the tactics employed by the Rebels, and a simple imprisonment of the leaders would very likely have ended the matter.

Pearse and others were transferred to death cells in Kilmainham Gaol. The president of the courts-martial was deeply distressed at having to condemn Pearse. He remarked to an acquaintance that "I have just had to condemn to death one of the finest characters I have ever come across". However, like Pilate, his misgivings did not extend to radical action, and he fulfilled the role pre-assigned to him. Pearse was executed at 3:30 am on May 3rd in the stonebreaking yard at Kilmainham, as were Thomas Clarke and Thomas MacDonagh. The bodies were thrown into a pit of quicklime. May 4th brought the executions of Willie Pearse, Ned Daly, Plunkett, and Michael O'Hanrahan, who had fought in Jacob's. Joseph Mary Plunkett, direct collateral descendent of Saint Oliver Plunkett, Married Grace his beloved in the chapel of Kilmainham jail only hours before his execution. She died, his faithful widow, their marriage unconsummated, only very recently. John MacBride, married to !

Maud Gonne (Yeats' love) was executed the following day. On May 8th, Eamonn Ceannt, Con Colbert, Michael Mallin and Sean Heuston were shot. May 9th saw the execution of Thomas Kent, who had fought in Cork. On May 12th, Sean Mac Diarmada and James Connolly were executed -- Connolly having to be propped up in a chair to face the firing squad due to the severity of his injuries. He had been nursed with care for fear he would die a natural death before the scheduled execution. It was the last straw. Irish opinion, at first hostile to the rebels, then changing as they witnessed British savagery, now swung vehemently in their favor. "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."

The men and women of 1916 had cast the die. The door to the Irish Nation was open and could never be completely closed again.

Posted to the List by: TMeehan. with this note: "Sent to me by my good friend Micheal O'Fearghal in memory of those heroic lovers of Ireland whose sacrafice helped reshape Ireland forever."

Our Heritage
by Joseph Mary Plunkett
1887 - 1916

This heritage to the race of Kings:
Their children and their children's seed
Have wrought their prophecies in deed
Of terrible and splendid things.

The hands that fought, the hearts that broke
In old immortal tragedies,
These have not failed beneath the skies,
Their children's heads refuse the yoke.

And still their hands shall guard the sod
That holds their father's funeral urn,
Still shall their hearts volcanic burn
With anger of the Sons of God.

No alien sword shall earn as wage
The entail of their blood and tears,
No shamful price for peaceful years
Shall ever part this heritage.

I See His Blood Upon The Rose
also by Joseph Mary Plunkett

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice - and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Thomas James Clarke

On March 11, 1857, Irish revolutionary Thomas James Clarke was born of Irish parents on the Isle of Wight. He spent part of his early life in South Africa and the Unites States, as well as Ireland. At 21, living in the U.S., he joined the Clan na Gael and was sent to England as part of the Clan's bombing campaign. He was arrested and spent 15 torturous years in prison there before being released. He lived in the U.S. for a time, then returned to Ireland and helped reorganize the IRB. He was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising and the first signer of the Proclamation of the Republic. He was executed at Kilmainham Jail on May 3, 1916.

'This is the beginning, our fight has saved Ireland. The soldiers of tomorrow will finish the task.'
-- Thomas Clarke, May 1916

Thomas MacDonagh (1878--1916)
Sent in by: Steeler

Poet, critic, and nationalist, born in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, Ireland. He helped P H Pearse to found St Enda's College, Dublin 1908), and published poems, original works, and translations from the Irish. In 1914 he founded the Irish Theatre with Joseph Plunkett and Edward Martyn (1859--1923). An outstanding critic of English literature, his works include Literature in Ireland and Thomas Campion.

MacDonagh took part in the Irish Volunteers, and aided preparations for the Easter Rising of 1916. He commanded at Jacob's Factory in the fighting. When it ended the British immediately brought the leaders of the uprising to trial before a court-martial. MacDonagh, was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin.

He left a wife, a son, Donagh, and a daughter, Barbara.

The last letter written.

Kilmainhan Gaol
Midnight, Tuesday 2nd May, 1916

I Thomas MacDonagh, having now heard the sentence of the Court Martial held on me today, declare that in all my acts - all the acts for which I have been arraigned - I have been actuated by one motive only, The love of my country, the desire to make her a sovereign independent state, I still hope and pray that my acts may have for consummation her lasting freedom and happiness.

I am to die at dawn, 3:30 a.m., 3rd. May. I am ready to die, and thank God that I die in so holy a cause. My country will reward my dust richly.

On April 30th. I was astonished to receive by a messenger from P.H. Pearse, Commandant General of the Army of the Irish Republic, an order to surrender unconditionality to the Brittish General. I did not obey the order as it came from a prisoner. I as then in supreme command of the Irish Army, consulted with my second in command and decided to confirm the order. I knew that it would involve my death and the deaths of other leaders. I hoped that it would save many true men among our followers, good lives for Ireland. God grant it has done so and God approve our deed. For my self I have no regret. The one bitterness that death has for me is the separation it brings from my beloved wife Muriel, and my beloved children, Donagh and Barbara. My country will then treat them as wards, I hope. I have devoted myself too much to National work and too little to the making of money to leave them a competence. God help them and supprot them, and give them a happy and prosperous life. Never was there a better, truer, purer woman then my wife Muriel, or more adoreable children than Don and Barbara. It breaks my heart that I shall never se my children again, but I have not wept or murmured. I counted the cost of this and am ready to pay it. Muriel has been sent for here. I do not know if she can come. She may have no one to take the children while she is coming. If she does -

My money affairs are in a bad way. I am insured for £200 in the New York Life Co. but have borrowed £ 101, I think. I am insured for £100 in the Alliance Co., but have a bank debt for £80. That brings less than £120 from these sources, if they produce anything. In addition I have insured my two children for £100 each in Mutual Co. of Australasia, payment of premiums to cease at my death the money to be paid to the children at the age of twenty one. I ask my brother Joesph MacDonagh and my good and constant friend David Houston to help my poor wife in these matters. My brother Joe, who came with me and stood by me all last week has been sent away from here, I do not know where to. He, if he can, will help my family too. God bless him and my other sisters and brotheres.

Assistance has been guaranteed from funds in the hands of Cumann na mBan and other funds to be collected in America by our fellow countrymen there in provision for the dependents of those who fall in the fight. I appeal without shame to the persons who control these funds to assist my family. My wife and I have given all for Ireland.

I ask my fruend David Houston to see Mr. W.G. Lyon, publisher of my latest book, Literature in Ireland, and see that its pulication may be useful for my wife and family. If Joseph Plunkett survives me and is a free man I make him, with my wife, my literary executor. Otherwise my wife and David Houston will take charge of my writings. For the first time I pray that they may bring in some profit at last. My wife will want money from every source.

Yesterday at my Court Martial in rebutting some trifling evidence, I made a statement as to the negotiations for surrender with General Lowe. On hearing it read after, it struck me that it might sound like an appeal. It was not such. I make no appeal, no recantation, no apology, for my acts. In what I said I merely claimed that I act honourably and throughly in all that I set myself to do. My enemies have, in return, treated my in an unworthy manner. But that can pass. It is a great and glorious thing to die for Ireland and I can well forget all petty annoyances in the splendour of this. When my son, Don, was born I thought that to him and not to me would this be given. God has been kinder than I hoped. My son will have a great name.

To my son Don.

My darling little boy remember me kindly. Take my hope and purpose with my deed. For your sake and for the sake of your beloved mother and sister I would wish to live long, but you will recognise the thing I have done and see this as a consequence. I still think I have done a great thing for Ireland, and, with the defeat of her enemy, won the first step of her freedom. God Bless you, my son.

My darling daughter, Barbara, God bless you. I loved you more than ever a child has been loved.

My dearest love,

Muriel, thank you a million times for all that you have been to me. I have only one trouble in leaving life - leaving you so. Be sure , Darling, God will assist and bless you. Goodbye. Kiss my darlings for me. I send you the few things I have saved out of this war. Goodbye my love, till we meet in heaven. I have a sure faith in our union there. I kiss this paper that goes to you.

I have just heard that they have not been able to reach you. Perhaps it is better so. Yet Father Aloysious is going to make another effort to do something. God help and sustain you, my love. But for your suffering this would be all joy and glory

Your loving husband
Thomas MacDonagh

I return the darlings' photographs
Good bye my love.

Johanna O'Sullivan
Sent in by: Steeler

Johanna O'Sullivan was born in Ballyeanig on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry on April 24th 1899 to John and Ellen Sullivan, Johnna was one of five sisters and seven brothers. Three of her brothers, students at University of Dublin and Trinity College lost there lives and her mother died of a bullet in the troubles and Ireland's Independence.

When Johanna was 21, her father decided she should go to America for safety's sake. She arrived on Ellis Island on June 20 in 1920 Johanna went to Boston and where she became a model at the Marshal Fields Departmant store. She met her husband and married on June 16, 1924. They had three boys and three girls. Johanna lived a happy life until the great Depression spelled ruin when the banks closed and their money was gone. Her husband died in 1936 at the age of 37. Times became tougher for Johanna when she lost her home in an accidental fire. She had to send her children away to be cared for. The girls went to a convent in Chicago and the boys to the celebrated Boys Town in Omaha. In order to get her children back and make a new life Johanna had to work many odd jobs including one that involved shoveling coal for 10 cents a ton. Whenever she thinks of the past she remembers the good times and the friends she met along the way. Especially Reverend Flanagan the founder of Boys Town, and Rose Kennedy who she met during her modeling career and the great Irish tenor Count John McCormick. But it's the faces of her 87 descendents including 37 great-grandchidren and six great-great grandchildren that brings her the most joy. On Johanna's 100th birthday, an Uachtaráin granted her a special citation, presented by Nevada's Honary Consul Dr Barney Brady.

Johanna never made a speech, Was not active in Irish Politics, Never wrote a book, but her love and tenacious efforts to save and care for her family in my opinion places her in the Women of Ireland series. Johanna celebrated her 102nd birthday last week I am sure you will join me in wishing her many, many more. And Happy Mother's Day also Johanna and to all mothers, be they Irish, German, Italian etc.. God bless!!

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