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St Stephens GreenThe Centenary of Dublin's 1916 Easter Rising
by Elizabeth Willoughby

"We're an ancient people who had a civilization of a thousand years and our own laws which were overturned. British policy has made my country small. We have been retained as their servants and their suppliers of soldiers or labourers." —Marie Comerford, eye witness and supporter of Cumann na mBan

On Easter Monday one hundred years ago, 1,200 Irish men and women gathered in strategic locations throughout Dublin city to fight British forces in order to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent republic. The rebels had come from several nationalist groups including the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) who'd been seeking independence since the 1850s; the Irish Volunteers (including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Gaelic League, the IRB and Sinn Féin), which became the Irish Republican Army in 1919 when it participated in the Irish War of Independence; the Irish Citizen Army made up of trade union volunteers that defended workers from the police during demonstrations; and the all-women revolutionary group, Cumann na mBan.

Organizers had planned for the 1916 rebellion to take place during the Easter Sunday parade, which would provide the camouflage of many people celebrating on the streets, and provide decent enough odds because British forces were already distracted with WWI. Unfortunately for the rebels, their secret shipment of weapons was discovered and confiscated by the British, causing some leaders to call off the event, while others insisted on going through with it on the Monday instead. The rebels were divided. Those who were determined to participate headed to the General Post Office, where their Republican flag was raised and the Proclamation of the Republic was read before rebels took their positions throughout the city centre.

Their first objective was to overtake Dublin Castle, which represented British power in Ireland. This is where the first casualty occurred, but the rebels failed to take the castle and moved on to occupy City Hall next door. The following are two eye witness accounts of this event:

"It was at the Castle the first shot was fired... I, with my girls, followed Seán Connolly and his party. We went right up to the Castle Gate, up the narrow street. Just then, a police Sergeant came out and, seeing our determination, he thought it was a parade, and that it probably would be going up Ship Street. When Connolly went to go past him, the Sergeant put out his arm and Connolly shot him dead. When the military guard saw that it was serious, he pulled the gates to." Helena Molony

"The second shot of the Rising was fired at me. At the very beginning of the Rising when the Citizen Army marched up to the Upper Castle Gate, I happened to be standing at a ground floor window at the left-hand side of the gate as you go in, preparing to go home, as Sir Matthew Nathan had informed me there was no more to be done for the day. I saw the first shot being fired and Constable O'Brien, who was standing at the left-hand aide of the gate as you go in, fall. When the Citizen Army approached the constable made a sign to them with his left hand, to pass on up Castle Street. The Gate was open all the time, as usual. I think it was a man in the first or second line of marchers that raised his gun and shot the policeman. Another took aim and fired at me, but I threw myself on the ground." —Peter Folan

At first there were only 1,000 British troops available to respond, and they did so using artillery bombardment, which gave nothing for the rebels to fire back at. Since no ports or train stations were captured, British reinforcements were able to arrive. Facing over 16,000 British troops (many of whom were Irish), the uprising lasted six days, from Monday, April 24 to Saturday, April 29. Against such overwhelming odds, the Irish rebels lost. Nevertheless, this uprising is seen as a turning point in Ireland's struggle for independence, which was finally achieved over 30 years later, in 1949.

Today, visitors to Dublin can take advantage of the 1916 Easter Rising Audio Trail, a free smart phone app that can be used as a guide to 16 walkable locations that were key in the rebellion, some which exist today as intended 100 years ago, some rebuilt and modernized, and some now used as museums. Additionally, a virtual tour of Dublin Rising has been created by Ireland 2016 and Google. Narrated by Irish actor Colin Farrell, the interactive website identifies 22 locations of the uprising in Dublin city and provides archival photos, brief texts and eye witness accounts from which the quotations above came.

Image and article ©Elizabeth Willoughby 2016

This article was originally published at Examiner.com 2016

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