29 Nov In commemoration of the Easter Rising
A brief historical overview
Ireland’s history is marked by a constant struggle against the British rule. Ireland, a poor agricultural country, was dominated by Britain for centuries and constantly sought to fight for independence through numerous risings.Â
An important progress was notedÂ in 1922 with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, whichÂ followed the Irish War of Independence, fought between 1919-1921.Â The TreatyÂ founded an Irish Free State, which enjoyed self-governance, but remained part of the British Empire, while its Parliament continued to take an oath of faith to the British King.
The Treaty soon caused a major dispute between the supporters of the Free State and the supporters of a totally independent Republic, thus dividing deeply the until then united Irish resistance. Although it was ratified by the Irish Parliament with a narrow majority, it led to a civil war between Free-Staters and Republicans during 1922-1923.
Fighters, who had fought the British side by side atÂ the War of Independence, were now fighting against each other, while theÂ Free-Staters were committingÂ atrocities upon their fellow partners. The civil war was won by the Free-Staters, who wereÂ heavily armed with weapons provided by the British government. Later on Ireland was proclaimed an independent Republic in 1949.
The Easter Rising (1916)
The Easter Rising was one of the major Irish rebellions against British administration. While thousands of Irish were fighting for the British army in the trenches of Gallipoli, Flanders and the Somme during the First World War, a group of Irish volunteers organised the Rising in Dublin. Everything started on Easter Monday 1916, when rebels took over key-buildings in Dublin centre. The headquarters of the Rebellion were at the General Post Office (GPO) in O’ Connell Street.
For some people this rebellion had also a socialist character. On the outbreak of the risingÂ the population was suffering from poverty as well as poor working and living conditions. Faced with these circumsancesÂ many fighters were driven by their passion for change. For others the revolution had a pure nationalist aim, which was to create an independent Irish state and seize initiative in a moment, when the UK was engaged in a global conflict. There were other motivesÂ as well. Women sought the right to vote and Gaelic revivalists attempted to promote Irish culture.
After occupying the Post Office Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the rising, read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The Republic guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.
The response of the British troops to the rising was severe. With their artillery the British started bombing the buildings that had been seized by the rebels and soon the centre turned into ruins. O’Connell street was completely damaged and the rebels could not resist the bombings of the British. After 6 days they unconditionally surrendered and evacuated the Post Office. After the evacuation fighters fled to the Moore Street just beside the GPO and they were later arrested and executed.
The rising did not initially enjoy a public support. Many women were frustrated by the occupation of the Post Office, as this is where they were receiving lettersÂ from their husbands in the Front. Furthermore the population was disappointed by the destruction of the centre. Public opinion would though turn in favor of the rebellion later due to the cruelty exercised to the leaders and fighters.
The Kilmanham Jail was built in the end of 18th century and formed a new concept of prison at the time. In classic prisons prisoners were put at big common rooms altogether, where diseases could easily spread. Furthermore, the conditions did not actually help people to be better by the time they were set free.
The innovation with Kilmanham Jail was based on 3 pilars:
- prisoners were put alone in small single cells
- they were silent, since they were alone
- they were being under surveillance
It was believed that all this made them better persons by the time they were leaving the prison.
However, what makes the prison most important is the fact that political prisoners were confined here. The leaders of the Easter rising were imprisoned and executed in Kilmanham. The prison also witnessed Republican internees who were arrested by the Free-State forces during the 1922-1923 civil war.
In the aftermath of the Easter Rising the cruelty exercised to the arrested fighters turned the public opinion in favor of them. Many believed that they should not be executed, but only imprisoned. The sad stories of the prisoners also reinforced the feelings of the public.
Joseph Plunkett, one of the Easter Rising leaders, married Grace Gifford in the prison chapel some hours before he was executed. The only people who attended the marriage were British soldiers and the priest. The couple was not allowed to embrace. Soon after the marriage Grace was released and Joseph was executed in the prison’s yard.
William (Willie) Pearse was the young brother of Patrick Pearse, another leader of the Rising. Willie took part in the Rising as a simple fighter. While execution was the punishment imposed only to leaders and simple fighters were only meant to be imprisoned, Willie was brought to Kilmanham next to his brother’s cell and was executed with the leaders.
James Connolly was injured in his ankle during the rising and hospitalized. Because of the injury he suffered from gangrene and could barely walk. Whereas he was expected to die due to his poor health condition, he was brought to the prison through the door you see in the picture below for execution. Not being able to walk he could not make it till the other end of the yard, where the rest of the leaders were executed. Therefore he was executed just beside the door, at the point were the cross stands.
All the above sad stories of the prisoners turned them into heroes and martyrs. In the aftermath of the Rising the fighting for a Republic became stronger and at the end of 1918 Sinn Fein, a political party which committed itself to the establishment of an Irish Republic, won the general election with a vast majority.
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