As part of our trip across the pond to London in the summer of 2017, we also spent a long weekend en route to home in Dublin, Ireland. We loved Dublin and its people, the pubs and its walkability and we spent a couple of days touring around the city. For a recap of our Friday and Saturday in Dublin you can read the respective posts linked earlier in this sentence.
We spent our weekend, in addition to the sights mentioned in our previous posts, trying to learn a bit about the Easter Rising and Ireland’s quest for independence from British rule. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s I had an image of that struggle (at least the contemporary version of it) in my mind. During our two days there, we traced the path of several of the Easter Rising memorials and learned quite a bit about the history of the struggle.
For a brief summary of the context of the Rising: during the 1800s, following the Acts of Union 1800 in British Parliament, the Irish tried to seek home rule from the British Parliament on three separate instances. Unification was not popular in Ireland because many saw it as Britain taking advantage of an impoverished nation. All of these political attempts failed, leading to more drastic and militaristic attempts to seek independence. In protest of the Irish Republican led attempts, the Irish Protestants formed an Ulster Volunteers group in 1913, leading the republicans to form their own paramilitary Irish Volunteers group in response. The weaponization of the Irish Volunteers brought the British Army on to the scene and brought Ireland to the brink of civil war in 1914. The planning for the Rising actually began in 1914 right after Great Britain declared war on Germany (World War I). The goal set during this planning was to declare independence before the end of the Great War in order to secure support from Germany. This all served as a backdrop to the mood and the events of the Easter Rising.
We started our tour of the Rising sites at the General Post Office (sound like a local and call it the GPO). The GPO was taken over by the Irish Republicans and this building was their headquarters for the Easter Rising in 1916. It was also here that Patrick Pearse, school teacher and leader of the rebellion, read aloud the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. There are still bullet holes in some of the columns in the front of this building resulting from this takeover.
From there we, walked up O’Connell Street, on which you can find a statue of Daniel O’Connell, for which the street was renamed. O’Connell was a key figure arguing for Irish independence in the 1800s. At the time, he argued for an independent Irish Kingdom with alignment to the crown with Queen Victoria as queen of Ireland. These bids were unsuccessful but he is revered as a father of Irish independence for his efforts.
Proceeding up O’Connell Street we arrived, ultimately, at St. Stephen’s Green. Today, a lovely park in the heart of Dublin, the green was a key location during the Easter Rising. It was here that the revolutionaries dug trenches and barricaded roads. The goal of the Republicans was to take over the city center. In addition to taking over St. Stephen’s Green and the GPO they also took over a biscuit factory, the Four Courts building (the home of the Supreme Court today) and several other locations.
The Rising was ultimately unsuccessful. After a week, Patrick Pearse surrendered unconditionally and approximately 3,500 people who took part in the rising, (approximately 70 of which were women from Cumann na mBan or Women’s Council, a female paramilitary group aligned with the Irish Volunteers), including the seven leaders of the Rising were interred in prisons and prison camps in Ireland and across the U.K. The Brits knew about the Rising beforehand. They had intercepted messages between the Germans (who had shipped arms which were intercepted by the British army) and the revolutionaries. Despite knowledge of the Rising beforehand, however, the British were unprepared on the first day of the insurgency. Ultimately, the strength of the British Army and their outnumbering of the revolutionaries doomed the rebellion.
At the corner of St Stephens Green, you can find the Little Museum of Dublin. Join the guided tour of this eclectic collection of donated memorabilia
for a great overview of the Rising and the Irish quest for independence up through modern day. This museum was a highlight for us and you can read a bit more about it in our Top 5 Things We Liked About Dublin post.
Following our quick, concise and often funny 45 minute history lesson, we walked (its a long walk) to Kilmainham Gaol.
Built in 1796, it had been used as a dungeon and jail for many years but was no longer in use when the Rising took place. It was converted back to that use and was one of the locations which served as a prison for the aforementioned interred revolutionaries. The seven leaders of the Rising were all held here and fifteen of the 90 revolutionaries sentenced to death by courts-martial were executed here.
One of the leaders, James Connolly was so weak at his execution that he had to be tied to a chair before he could be shot. It was these executions and the “overreaction” (civilian killings) to the Rising which turned public opinion in Ireland against the British.
At the time, the revolutionaries were seen as disrupters and popular opinion was not with them until these executions and killing of civilians (a little more than half of the 485 killed during the Rising were civilians) took place. Notable revolutionaries not executed were Constance Markievicz, who went on to be elected to Parliament and became a senior cabinet official in the subsequent independent Irish government, and Eamon de Valera. Popular belief is that de Valera was not executed because of his birth in America although our tour guide at the Gaol refuted that as a myth since another revolutionary was of American birth. His assertion: that de Valera was next up on the list when the executions were ordered to be ceased. de Valera went on to be leader of the Irish government and served as President from 1959 until 1973.
Sinn Fein, which was a separatist organization already in existence (but not responsible for) the Rising, rose out of the ashes of the Rising in 1917. Sinn Fein won 73 of 105 seats to Parliament (British Parliament) in the election of 1918 and refused to take their seats declaring independence in 1919.
Having arrived in Dublin just over 100 years after the Rising, memorials in honor of the leaders of the Rising can be found about Dublin in public places, pubs and restaurants.
“Stand-up History Tour”, The Little Museum of Dublin; Dublin Ireland. 2017
“Tour of Kilmainham Gaol”, Dublin Ireland 2017.
Easter Rising, Wikipedia.