The initial impact of some historical events often runs counter to their long-term effects and such was the case with the Easter Rising of 1916. Truth be told, this inherently idealistic rebellion was a bungled affair from start to finish, and it was only the repressive response of the British Army, whose political overlords were unsurprisingly sidetracked by the seemingly more pressing affairs taking place in the fields of Flanders, that gave the event its pivotal role in attaining Ireland’s independence.
The Rising was organized by the Irish Republican Brethren (IRB), a Republican grouping that had been founded in 1858, and was now led by educationalist and Gaelic cultural revivalist Patrick Pearse and Scots-born socialist and trades union activist James Connolly. Impelled by the continuing failure of democratic means to achieve the goal of independence, they concocted a plan to take over by force, aided by the much larger Irish Volunteers, a Nationalist corps founded in 1913, and using arms acquired from Germany. The armaments were however intercepted by the British, and though the Volunteers’ leader withdrew his support, the rising still went ahead.
On the morning of Easter Monday, the rebels took control of a number of key buildings in the city centre and further afield (see The War for Independence). They made the General Post Office on O’Connell Street their base, and it was from here that Pearse emerged to make his Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The British response was initially guarded, but a full-scale battle soon ensued, destroying much of the surrounding area and heavily damaging rebel-held buildings elsewhere in the city.
It took five days for the rebellion to be suppressed and its leaders captured. Dubliners decried the uprising at its outset, dismayed by the devastation ravaged upon their city by the fighting. Had the British simply imprisoned the IRB’s leaders, it’s extremely unlikely later political developments would have occurred as quickly as they did, but the draconian decision was made to execute all of them (with the exception of Éamon de Valera, who had US citizenship). In the process, the British created national martyrs, transforming the situation irrevocably and ultimately leading to a bitter war of independence.