- Written by Dan Valance Dan Valance
Mention Easter Monday and most persons of Irish decent have heard of the day but are not completely sure of its significance. Say "The Easter Rising of 1916" and you may hear it's about the Irish revolution.
An overview of the facts is this.
For centuries the Irish had tried to secure their independence and freedom from Great Britain. Over the course of time they had used both force and negotiation in the attempt to fly their own flag over their own Republic. By the early twentieth century the use of arms and force had been discredited and ridiculed by many. The only organized group not to feel this way was the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a small secretive organization whose roots go back to 1858.
By August 1914, Europe was at war. The Supreme Council of the I.R.B. decided another armed effort to end the British rule in Ireland should be made before the end of the war. A military council was formed to plan such an event. Initial members were Eammon Cennant, Padraig Pearse and Joseph Plunkett. Later additions to this council were Tom Clarke, Sean MacDermott, James Connelly and Thomas MacDonagh. By 1916, these seven men had organized the Rising and written and signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. But not all was to go as planned.
To be successful any uprising needed a well trained and well armed military force. With the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army training to defend and protect Ireland during the war, the Supreme Council of the I.R.B. saw an opportunity for a reasonable hope of success. The need for weapons also slowed the process of the plan. Arrangements were made to acquire 20,000 rifles that were to be secreted pass the British blockade of ships. Delivery was to be made between April 20-23, Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday. Because of its difficulty, no one expected the rifles to arrive before Sunday evening. The arms ship AUD successfully ran the blockade Thursday night and no one was there to meet them. By Friday night, the AUD was captured by British Naval forces and was forced, by escort, to steam to Cork Harbor. Just off Cork Harbor the captain and crew of the AUD sank the vessel and her cargo of 20,000 rifles.
With their plan disrupted and apparently in ruin, the military council met in Liberty Hall on Easter Sunday. With the arms the odds of the volunteers overwhelming the British throughout the country were great. Without them and after great debate, the leaders decided to go forward with their plan. The nation would Rise at noon on Monday.
Most of the action took place in Dublin, though volunteers went into action in Wexford, Galway and near Castleyons. Many outposts were planned throughout Dublin. The main headquarters was the General Post Office. A force of 200 members of the citizen Army and 1600 Volunteers mobilized at noon and occupied the GPO. They opposed a British force of 2,500 officers and men which ultimately grew to 5,500 personnel. At 12:30 pm the tri-color was hoisted on Henry Street at the GPO and shortly afterwards Padraig. Pearse, guarded by his men, emerged from the GPO and read the Proclamation.
The first shots were fired from the General Post Office around 1:15 pm, Monday, as the British forces advanced from the north. Sustaining some injuries they retreated. Significant fighting took place throughout the city for the remainder of the week. By Tuesday afternoon, a broadcasting radio set had been erected and began broadcasting the news of the rising and the progress of the fighting.
The bloodiest battle took place on Thursday around the Mount Street Bridge. Here, 12 members of the Irish force pinned down two battalions of the British for nine hours inflicting casualties of 234 killed or wounded, more than half of the total of the British casualties for the Rising.
By early Friday the gun boats had gotten the range of the GPO and this was the beginning of the end. Throughout the day the British bombarded this section of Dublin with incendiary shells. By evening it had become a mass of fire and smoke. The front of the GPO burned fiercely. No longer able to defend the building, it was evacuated. By dawn Saturday and into the morning the fighting intensified. By 3:45 pm Pearse had signed an order of unconditional surrender; by Sunday the Rising had ended, six days after it began.
A field court marshal was convened. In all 15 men were executed by firing squad over the next 12 days. These were the seven signatories of the Proclamation and eight other leaders. Four others, who received death sentences, including American born Eamon deValera, had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. deValera and the others were granted amnesty the following year. The British consular agent, Roger David Casement, was tried and convicted of treason and hanged.
Total casualties for the Rising were 440 killed or wounded for the British, 76 killed or wounded including those executed for the Irish and 200 buildings damaged or destroyed.
Although a military failure, it was the first of many events that paved the way to the Irish Free State in 1921 (predecessor to the Irish republic) and Irish independence.
Easter Monday is the day we remember the events of that Easter Week in 1916 when the dream of an entire nation took its first steps toward freedom and independence.
Every year, Easter Monday is remembered in Nassau County. It starts at 12 noon behind the court house. A different Irish organization from Nassau County sponsors the event.
Padraig H. Pearse, the commander of the Irish forces, signatory of the Proclamation and Irish educator, in one of his last messages before his execution asked remembrance of the Irish people, for his people and their effort, "They shall be remembered forever".