1916 – Joining the dots

I’m not a history buff; I have no head for dates and facts. No matter how hard I try it is simply not how my brain functions. However, I carry empathy in abundance and while it may seem fruitless, I often drown myself in reading about our past. It revives my soul. Considering and contemplating days of old gives opportunity to live, feel and explore emotions and events intrinsically linked to us forevermore. We may not have lived our history, but our forefathers did for us, to guide us down what they saw as a brighter path towards a better future. For this alone I believe they are entitled to our respect and recognition for their altruistic acts in the most trying of times.

From a young age, pride has been instilled within me. Pride for being Irish, for our dance, ár dteanga, our food, our literature and most definitely our history.

This year, as we celebrate the centenary of the 1916 rising I seek to anchor my understanding in the who’s, the what’s and the why’s and many other questions. We have all (surely) seen The Wind that Shakes the Barley, or at least studied Irish History (however begrudgingly at the time) somewhere along the line. Whatever we each recall from studies, tales or memoirs one thing is for sure; our past binds us together. We are all unique and individual but so much of who we are is a shared identity, a shared journey, a single history. Whether your family traces back as far as known in Ireland or abroad, you are here now or you have a link to Ireland now. You are reading this because you have a curiosity, an interest, and a passion for where we have come from or where we are bound. All of this ties us together. We are all cut from the one cloth.

So much talk dallies about ‘The Rising’, much money has been spent on the commemorative celebrations, many saying it could be channeled better into our crumbling society. To break it down, I asked Sharon Slater, a historian to come on board, and Dr. Matthew Potter, who is currently working on a publication focusing on Limerick’s role and landscape in 1916. Between them they guided me through a simplified happening of events, bringing those impassioned, courageous and fearless fighters who fought so eagerly for our Republic to the fore.

Plans for the Rising started in September 1915 but were changed a couple of times. The model from the beginning was for there to be a rising in Dublin and another out of Dublin. There was an arms shipment expected to arrive in Limerick from Germany, but that plan changed with the ship due to port in Kerry. The ship, the Aud, was captured and sank by those on board and the arms never reached the Volunteers, rendering their participation virtually impossible.

How the British won the Rising:
The British had a simple plan – to surround and take down the main stronghold, the GPO, and then proceed to do the same with the other strongholds, knowing the Irish would have to surrender with the main stronghold already defeated.

What happened outside Dublin:
Nothing much happened out of Dublin; because of the ship losing the guns, and the message that was sent out by Volunteers chief Eoin MacNeill declaring the cancellation of the orders to rise. There was some minor rebellion attempts in Meath, Galway, Louth and Wexford but nothing on the scale as the Dublin Rising.

Women in the Rising:
The role of women in the Rising was greatly downplayed after the event. They were in the minority of course, with it being unheard of for women to fight back then. Cumann na mBan was the main group of women fighters with about 70-80 members. There was a divide in the camp, as these women were feminists and suffragettes: some believed that independence would mean better rights for women, while others believed it would detract attention from their ambitions for better rights for women and that in seeking political independence womens’ rights would be further forgotten. As it transpired, the latter occurred.
Two Limerick sisters were amongst the fighters in the GPO, having come from a staunch republican family Laura and Nora Daly played an important role but Countess Markievicz, an Anglo-Irish gentry lady from Sligo is most recognised. She also undertook in the firing of arms while the majority of women tended the ailing as nurses. Another notable female is Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, who was key in arranging the surrender and communicating and delivering Pearse to the British commander, in addition to delivering on the brave task of delivering message of the surrender to the Volunteers.

A timeline of how we became a Free State:
1916- The Rising was in disagreement with the idea of Home Rule, which was self-rule but not full independence. Many people thought the Rising was foolish and pointless but when the British shot the leaders who fought for freedom public opinion turned against British rule.
1918- In December a General Election held across Ireland and the UK which was won by the Sinn Féin party who were in favour of independence.
1919-1921- Not long after the General Election started the War of Independence. The IRA (formally the Volunteers) fought against the British. This brought independence about by a treaty signed in 1921 granting independence to the 26 counties.
1922-1923 Civil war broke out over the Treaty as it was signed between Britain and Ireland. Then the IRA split and the Dáíl split over whether to accept or reject the treaty. The Pro Treaty campaigners won the Civil War. It was possible then to put the Treaty into force then.

The who’s who:
IRB made up of the Fenians, a secret society dedicated to overthrowing British rule and establishing a republic. In existence since 1858, they had held a rebellion in 1867 and were chief organisers of the 1916 Rising.
Irish Volunteers- set up in 1913 and later infiltrated by IRB who didn’t have enough manpower to lead a rebellion themselves. It was the Volunteers who came out to fight in the Easter Rising of 1916 but under the control of the IRB. Volunteers changed name in 1919 to IRA, meaning the IRA did not exist at the time of the Easter Rising of 1916.
Citizens Army were a separate group headed by James Connelly, they fought alongside the volunteers in the Rising.

Monday 24 April
At 12.30 on Easter Monday 1916, the Tri-colour and a banner marked ‘Irish Republic’ was flown over the GPO. A short time later, Pádraig Pearse, President of the Irish Republic, emerged into O’Connell Street and read the Proclamation. The rebels occupied five other major strongholds: Four Courts, Jacobs Biscuit Factory, Bolands Mills, St Stephen’s Green and the South Dublin Union. All six strongholds had outposts. The rebels failed to capture Dublin Castle, but took the nearby City Hall. The British plan was to surround all the rebels’ strongholds, concentrate on capturing the GPO first and then move ón to the other insurgent positions. Around 1.15pm, British cavalry charged down O’Connell Street but retreated after coming under fire from the GPO garrison. There was also some fighting at Ballybough Bridge, the South Dublin Union and elsewhere.

Tuesday 25 April
Large numbers of British troops arrived in Dublin by train from the Curragh and Belfast. Seán Heuston’s outpost in the Mendicity Institute was captured in the morning. After heavy fighting, the rebels were forced to withdraw from St Stephen’s Green to the nearby College of Surgeons and from their Fairview and Annesley Bridge posts.

Wednesday 26 April
The GPO and its outposts came under heavy fire all day. The British shelled Liberty Hall, not realising that it been empty since Monday. The gunboat Helga in the Liffey joined in the shelling. There was major fighting in and around the Four Courts, but Edward Daly’s rebel garrison remained in control. The bloodiest fighting of the whole Rising occurred in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge. Here, 17 rebels killed or wounded 234 British soldiers who had arrived in Dún Laoghaire by boat. After nine hours, the rebels withdrew.

Thursday 27 April
The main fighting was at the GPO where James Connolly was wounded twice, in the shoulder and the ankle. There was more heavy fighting in and around the Four Courts, but Edward Daly’s rebel garrison remained in control. There was also heavy fighting at South Dublin Union, but the rebels held out. There was little fighting at Jacob’s and Boland’s.

Friday 28 April
After very heavy fighting, the GPO was on fire and its garrison retreated to Moore Street. The Battle of Ashbourne, County Meath was the only rebel victory of the whole Rising. 48 Volunteers defeated 70 Royal Irish Constabulary.

Saturday 29 April
In Moore Street Pádraig Pearse decided to surrender, after being horrified at seeing a family carrying a white flag shot down. Some other leaders wanted to continue the fight, including Clarke, who cried bitterly when it was finally decided to surrender. Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell met General Lowe, commander of the British forces in Dublin, who asked her to bring Pearse to him. At 2.30pm Pearse and Elizabeth O’Farrell returned to General Lowe. Pearse surrendered his sword, pistol and ammunition to Lowe and then signed the document of surrender. Elizabeth O’Farrell then delivered the message of surrender to the entire rebel garrisons, none of which had been captured by the British.

Words – Rebecca Egan, Sharon Slater

Fusion Magazine
Written by Fusion Magazine