Musings From MommyLand

Because sometimes there is more to Mommy…

Sunday, Bloody Sunday…or Monday As It Were.

on April 25, 2012

I bet I can name 7  people you have never heard of, but who changed history…

  1. Padraic Pearse
  2. James Connolly
  3. Eamonn Ceannt
  4. Thomas MacDonagh
  5. Joseph Plunket
  6. Thomas Clark
  7. Sean MacDiarmada

…unless you are Irish.

97 years ago yesterday (yes, I know, I am a day late getting this post out), the above seven men led a small force of men in rebellion against the British.  This rebellion was small and quite ineffective, but it did lay a foundation for the revolution and civil war just a few years later which would finally lead to Ireland’s independence from Great Britain.

I first should say that this post comes from months of research I did as a graduate student to write a paper on the legacy of the leaders of the Easter Uprising.  Being the anniversary of the rising, well, it gives me a chance to dust off the old paper and share some of my favorite research with you all.  Among the laughter and good times of Easter, this is why I send up a little thought to a small group of men who gave their lives for a cause they believed in that much.

The flag that flew above the GPO during the fighting in 1916

When I think about Easter, family, food, and laughter are the first things that come to mind.  But, on this Easter in 1916, which was apparently a couple of weeks later in the month nearly a century ago,  a very different scenario was setting itself up.  Rebellion was nothing new in Ireland.  The Irish had been trying to throw off British rule for almost as long as they had been under it…always unsuccessfully I should add.  In 1916, the conditions again seemed ripe for rebellion.  England was wrapped up in WWI, the British had recently been taking away Irish rights rather than extending them, and Ireland was experiencing a resurgence in Irish culture and language which in turn led to an increase in patriotism.

Though there were other Irish organizations who played a role in developing the leaders of the Uprising, the Irish Republican Brotherhood or IRB was the driving force behind the rebellion.  This was a secret organization that had been set up by men who thought that groups such as the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army were not militant enough.  They saw WWI as the perfect opportunity to rise up against England.  Padraic Pearse, a leader in the IRB  and future president of the Provisional Government said,

“I am ready, for years I have waited and prayed for this day.  We have the most glorious opportunity that has ever presented itself of really asserting ourselves.  Such an opportunity will never come again.  We have Ireland’s liberty in our hands.”

With this in mind, Easter Sunday (April 23) of 1916 was set as the date for the rebellion.

I think that I should give a brief background on the leaders of the rebellion at this point so you know a little more about each of the seven men who were brave enough to sign their name to the Easter Proclamation…a treasonous document and essentially their death warrant.

The leaders of the Rising. From left to right: Pearse, Connolly, Clarke, MacDonagh, MacDiarmada, Plunkett, Ceannt.

Padraic Pearse was an educated man from the lower middle class who failed at almost every endeavor he undertook.  From being a newspaper editor to starting a bilingual school that stressed the importance of the Irish language and culture, he never succeeded in being more than a mediocre poet until the Uprising, and even that too failed ultimately.

Thomas MacDonagh met Pearse when he was hired to teach Irish literature at the school and to act as a tutor to Joseph Plunkett.  MacDonagh helped write the Easter Proclamation, arguably the greatest legacy of the failed rebellion.  Joseph Plunkett was no more than an ailing boy suffering from tuberculosis but, who nonetheless took up the cause of Irish Freedom with great enthusiasm.  He contributed in the only way he knew how, through his poetry and other writings.  Plunkett also provided the love story for this tragic rebellion when he married his fiancée in his prison cell the night before he was executed.

James Connolly was born in the slums of Edinburgh, Scotland to Irish parents and  with no options before him, joined the British Army for several years before joining the socialist party and settling in Dublin to help organize workers there.

Eamonn Ceannt was an ordinary man who worked for the city government and came to his nationalist spirit through organizations like the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein.  Through contacts he made in these places he rose to a position of leadership within the IRB.

There is not a great deal known about Thomas Clark except that he was the oldest of the leaders and had spent a great deal of his life in prisons or in exile because of his rebellious tendencies.  He returned to Ireland only shortly before the rebellion happened and found in Sean MacDiarmada a loyal protegé.   Though he started as a barkeeper, MacDiarmada’s public speaking skills and his zealousness for the cause helped him quickly rise through the ranks to a position of leadership within the IRB.

What you may have noticed from these brief descriptions that only one of these men had any sort of military training and James Connolly served only a couple of years in the lowest ranks of the British Army.  These men had heart and passion for a cause, but their background as poets and intellectuals with no military training doomed the movement from the start.

On Monday, April 24, 1916, units of the Volunteers began conducting military drills around the city as they had done on many occasions and no one including British officials thought anything of this.  It wasn’t until the largest unit marched on the

The General Post Office in 1916.

General Post Office or GPO  in the center of Dublin and took control of it that anyone had any idea what was happening.  The GPO was established as the headquarters of the provisional government and it was from here that the Easter Proclamation was read.  This document, written by several of the leaders including Pearse and MacDonagh and signed by all seven of the leaders, was the equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence.  As I said before this is arguably the most important legacy of the Uprising as it was ratified by the newly established government several years later after Ireland had fought its war for independence and won.

Easter Proclamation of 1916

Fighting lasted for six days and though the rebels fought courageously,  they were no match for England.  Every day the British government sent more troops until the rebels were outnumbered 10 to 1.  The final blow came when the British sailed the gunship Helga up the Liffey river and began shelling the GPO until the building had to be abandoned.  On April 29th, Padraic Pearse unconditionally surrendered to Great Britain to avoid anymore civilian casualties.

The leaders of the rebellion were willing to fight for what they believed in, but their cause was doomed from the beginning and would never become the movement they were hoping it would be.  The reasons for their failure can essentially be boiled down to this:

  • The leaders had no military training or background…they were intellectuals.
  • Leaders of the Irish Volunteers had issued orders on the Friday before Easter that the Rebellion was not to happen.  Though the leaders of the IRB tried valiantly to get new orders out and pushed back the rebellion date to Easter Monday, the number of men who showed up to take points around the city was very small.
  • They did not have the support of the Irish people behind them.
  • They had only a small number of men trying to take control of the city of Dublin.
  • The rebellion was limited to Dublin making it very easy for Great Britain to send reinforcements to take back authority.
  • A German Arms shipment that could have helped the rebels was captured by English authorities before it could reach Irish soil.
  • As callous as this sounds, the leaders did not have the stomach for war to be successful in their rebellion.  Pearse surrendered very easily to British military authorities after seeing a civilian killed during the fighting.

Punishment from the British was swift and harsh.  Dublin was placed under Martial Law and within three days of surrender, military tribunals had already begun for the leaders of the uprising.  Over the next two weeks, 16 men including all seven signers of the Easter Proclamation had been executed by firing squad.

The aftermath of the Rebellion in Dublin.

The English thought they would squash any other ideas towards rebellion with swift action, but they in fact created the opposite reaction.  The Martial Law placed on the whole city of Dublin, the arrests and imprisonment of hundreds of men not involved in the rebellion, the execution of James Connolly who was so wounded from the battle that he had to be propped up on a chair in order to be executed by the firing squad left the people of Dublin living in a state of fear and realizing that only full independence from Great Britain would solve their problems.

The leaders of the rebellion may have been unsuccessful in their attempt at freedom, but in their death, they became martyrs who inspired a nation and 5 years later, after a war for independence and a civil war, Ireland (or most of it) was now an independent nation.

I am going to get a book list up later today for anyone looking for more in-depth information.  I also wanted to add links to some websites with great information and from where I got the pictures for the post.

Happy Reading!

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4 responses to “Sunday, Bloody Sunday…or Monday As It Were.

  1. Thanks for this. I’m going to have to read more about Plunkett and his wife.

    • Katie says:

      Tracy, I just posted a book list for this topic and there is a book called “Grace Gifford Plunkett and Irish Freedom: Tragic Bride of 1916” by Marie O’Neill that I would definitely recommend if you want to know more about Plunkett and his bride. It’s always those tragic love stories that get us don’t they?

  2. […] sometimes there is more to Mommy… « Sunday, Bloody Sunday…or Monday As It Were. Apr […]

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