Summary: A century ago the Irish Rising shook the British Empire, already weakened in the midst of WWI. Here Stratfor looks at this pivotal event, with echoes still heard today. (2nd of 2 posts today.)
Remembering the Irish Easter Rising a Century On
Stratfor, 24 April 2016
A century ago in Dublin, the spark of a revolution that would end with Irish independence from London was lit. Curious bystanders listened to an impassioned speech by erstwhile schoolteacher, lawyer, poet and political activist Patrick Henry Pearse from the steps of the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) declaring Ireland’s emancipation from English rule. Most people nodded in agreement, then went about their business, unaware that what was about to transpire that Easter Monday would shape the future of the nation.
Pearse was a logical choice to make the proclamation of independence, having previously given a rousing graveside speech at the funeral of Fenian supremo and Irish Republican Brotherhood leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. Pearse’s words expressed the discontent felt by many in Ireland at the time, effectively galvanizing public support for a militant struggle.
“They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”
The “purchased half” referred to the Irish unionists in the north, who harbored equally strong feelings about freedom and coexistence. Yet in the south, the republican movement had the fervor, the opportunity and the means to take drastic action, at a time when the British Parliament was distracted by World War I.
The Proclamation of the Republic on April 24, 1916, was the starting pistol for a six-day uprising, which began later that day when around 1,200 irregulars from the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers took up arms in protest of centuries of unyielding British governance. In practical military terms, the action was a tactical disaster.
Planning deficiencies and poor organization combined with a shortage of manpower and weaponry hamstrung the revolutionaries. Even a British military distracted and depleted by global conflict soon overmatched the Irish fighters. Dublin paid the price: Good portions of the capital were blasted into rubble. Of the 485 or so who died in the uprising, around half were civilians, and a quarter were British soldiers. It was a tolerable loss from London’s perspective, given the requirement to rapidly crush any domestic unrest in its colonies. But the heavy-handed approach that secured victory for the British ultimately became a rallying cry that contributed to the partition of Ireland.