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Rising In the Union Exhibition Online Part 1

Rising In the UnionAs requested by many visitors, the “Rising in the Union” exhibition will now go online.  In this installment, the historic context of the Rising is discussed.

The Road to the Rising Part 1

An Uneasy Relationship with the Neighbouring Island

The story of the Irish struggle for Independence can be told over many epochs and yet a single week in Easter in the early part of the 20th Century commands the imagination of so many, whether they were born and bred on these shores or on shores far far away.  The roots to this seminal event can be traced to several historical processes

. The birth of Irish Republicanism as an ideology advocated by the United Irishmen in the 1790s based on the philosopher’s Thomas Payne’s ideals.

. The 1801 Act of Union, which saw Ireland’s last vestige of independence, a legislative parliament with no executive function, assumed into Westminster.

. The Famine of the 1840s, a natural disaster compounded by British economic policy, which exported large amounts of food during a time of widespread starvation.

. The foundation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858, a militant group who believed in separatism from Britain to be achieved by any means necessary.

. The Land War of the late 1870s, a violent farming based agitation against predominately, British landlords.

. The 1880s Gaelic cultural revival and the rise of trade unionism in the slums of Dublin. These collective processes created a simmering resentment in Ireland to British administration.

The Home Ruler and The Radical

Constitutional nationalism was still the preferred route for many in the country to achieve some modicum of independence though it was failing to produce dividends. Charles Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party had petitioned William Gladstone’s Liberal Government to establish Home Rule.  The First Home Rule Bill of 1886 gave little independence, no control over trade, coinage, foreign policy or the police force and all final executive decisions resided with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.  Even though it was highly limited in nature, the Bill was still unable to pass the House of Commons.   A second Home Rule Bill in 1893 passed the Commons but was rejected by the House of Lords.  Another Home Rule Bill would not be put forward for two decades.  In the interim, a new political force formed in Dublin in 1905. An amalgamation of the Republican Dungannon Clubs and Arthur Griffith’s Cumann na nGaedheal, the Sinn Féin (“Ourselves Alone”) Party was set up as a separatist Nationalist political force.

The Sinn Féin Party started off as a minority movement that advocated complete separatism from Britain.  The Party itself was not inherently republican. Its founder, Arthur Griffith, famously advocated a dual monarchy with Britain similar to Austria and Hungary.  The party’s significance would not be fully realised till the 1918 elections after the Rising. However, it would become the political party most associated with the Volunteers of the Rising as it was the only mainstream nationalist political force that promoted separatism with Britain.

In 1909, a Republican scout movement, Na Fianna Éireann was established by Countess Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson. This organisation began military drills with young people, training them for possible participation in any later insurrection.  At this time, organisations that were set up during the cultural revival such as the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) and the Gaelic League had begun to be infiltrated by a new revitalised Irish Republican Brotherhood led by Thomas Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada and Bulmer Hobson, leading them to become recruitment grounds and increasingly, politicised.

Ulster Says No

By April of 1912, Herbert Asquith had introduced a third Home Rule Bill. On this occasion it was passed by the House of Commons but defeated once again, in the House of Lords, this time the British Government forced the bill through with the Parliament Act.   The reality of devolved government in this country prompted an immediate reaction from the Irish Unionists. On the 28th of September 1912, half a million men and women signed the Ulster Covenant, a document that made clear that any attempt of introducing Home Rule to Ulster would be met with insubordination by the signed populace. This Covenant would be enforced by a new organisation founded by Sir Edward Carson and James Craig, the Ulster Volunteer Force, a treasonable paramilitary organisation, which intended to use arms against both Britain and Ireland should Home Rule be granted.


The Road to the Rising Part 2

The Workers

Dublin’s working class had become increasingly agitated at the depraved social conditions in the capital.  In 1912, the same year as the signing of the Ulster Covenant famous Marxist Republican, James Connolly and Trade Unionist, Jim Larkin founded the Labour Party as a political force to highlight the worsening situation.  Dublin notoriously, had been compared with Calcutta, as people lived in overcrowded substandard tenement housing. At one stage, 835 people lived in just 15 houses on Henrietta Street.   This poverty was perpetuated by a lack of work for the city’s unskilled labour force, resulting in increased competition among them, which drove wages down.

Jim Larkin sought to correct this injustice by unionising the people.  Industrialist, William Martin Murphy and a group comprising of the city’s main employers, with the exception of Guinness (who supported Murphy but had a working relationship with the Union), locked out their employees and hired scab labour causing starvation amongst many in the workforce.  In the midst of the Lockout on 31st of August 1913, Larkin spoke at a banned rally on Sackville Street. The Dublin Metropolitan Police force reacted viciously and rushed the assembled crowd beating two men to death. The event was subsequently referred to as “Bloody Sunday”.

On the 23rd of November 1913, James Connolly, Jack White and Jim Larkin founded the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) to protect striking workers.  Two days later, on the 25th of November, the Irish Volunteers were founded at the instigation of the IRB, who saw the formation of the Ulster Volunteers as a useful excuse to form their own force.  Its primary goal was “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland”. The Irish Volunteer force contained a mix of constitutional nationalists who followed John Redmond (the then Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party), Republicans and Socialists.  It was nominally led by Eoin MacNeill, however, the real power lay with the IRB command.


The Road to the Rising Part 3

Increasing Militarisation and a Mutiny  

By the 20th of March 1914, senior officers in the British Army stationed at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare threatened to resign rather than implement the Home Rule Act in Ulster.  Many of these officers were Protestant themselves and strongly sympathised with the Northern Unionists, in addition, they were privately encouraged by their senior officers in London.  The Mutiny had three immediate affects. Firstly, unionists became more confident of their position in the north. Secondly, many otherwise constitutional nationalists realised that the British army could not be trusted to implement Home Rule leading to more support for the Irish Volunteers. Thirdly, the reality of an army mutiny began to convince the British government that partition was a more viable option.

On April 2nd 1914, Countess Constance Markievicz, Agnes O’Farrelly and a number of other women established Cumann Na mBan as a woman’s volunteer force dedicated to achieving Irish freedom.  The group would see action all over the city during the Rising as both a medical attaché to the Irish Volunteers and as a militant force.  On April 24th 35,000 rifles landed in Larne for the UVF from Germany, three months later, 900 rifles arrived in Howth  from Hamburg,  Germany.  That same day, a crowd gathered on Bachelors Walk and mocked the returning British soldiers for their failure to seize the arms from the Volunteers, the British soldiers turned on the crowd and fired a volley killing 4 people and injuring 38.

The War, The Rising

John Redmond, who feared the rise of the Irish Volunteers, issued an ultimatum to the IRB leadership. He wanted the Irish Parliamentary Party to take a controlling share of the organisation.  Reluctantly, and accepting that the Parliamentary Party had more sway with the people, the IRB leadership conceded.

Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th 1914, a World War had begun, and the Home Rule Bill is shelved for the duration of the conflict.  In September, the Irish Republican Brotherhood agreed on the strategy to attack Britain while it was at war with Germany.   Later that month, John Redmond believing the best way to pursue Home Rule was to show loyalty to the Crown, formed the National Volunteers, 170, 000 Irish Volunteers would be sent to the Front to fight for the British army.  Leaving the Irish Volunteers with a force of 11, 000 under the command of Eoin MacNeill.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood formed a military council by 1915 comprising Patrick Pearse, Éamonn Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett (because of their controlling positions in the Irish Volunteers), Thomas Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada.  Over the coming year, this would grow to include James Connolly and Thomas Mac Donagh.  It would become the first provisional government and the body that drafted and signed the Proclamation of Independence. The inclusion of James Connolly (though previously not a member of the IRB) now meant that any proposed insurrection would also involve the Irish Citizen Army. In January 1916, the Military Council set a date for an uprising in Easter of that year. However, they still required further arms to be supplied by Roger Casement sailing on the Aud yacht from Germany.

Germany saw Britain’s weakness as its opportunity, by arming the nationalist Irish. It hoped to create fertile ground for civil war with Irish Unionists.  This action it felt, would remove Britain entirely from the war. Similar tactics would later be more effectively employed by Germany when it repatriated the influential Marxist, Vladimir Lenin to Russia.

Volunteer manoeuvres were arranged for Easter week across the country.  The Council was distrustful of those outside of its immediate membership and told no one that these manoeuvres were a front to the Rising. The Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers, Eoin MacNeill, discovered the ruse on Holy Thursday and immediately issued countermanding orders to all volunteers to stand down.  MacNeill felt the force was not ready to engage with the British Army.  The Council informed MacNeill about the planned Aud landing with 20, 000 rifles in Kerry. Heartened by the news, he withdrew his orders and the Rising was planned for Easter Sunday.  However, luck was not with the Volunteers as Casement was captured off the coast of Kerry and the Aud and her precious cargo was scuttled.  Eoin MacNeill once again halted all manoeuvres. On April 23rd, the IRB Military Council met in Liberty Hall and agreed to put the word out to all volunteers that could be reached to mobilise the following day regardless of MacNeill’s order.

Easter Monday April 24th, noon, the General Post Office on Sackville Street, along with several positions around the city were commandeered by the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann Na mBan. The Easter Rising had begun….

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