April 24, 1916: The Easter Rising Begins

 

 

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.  A militarily hopeless venture, it was easily crushed by the British.  Yet, astonishingly, this doomed quixotic episode began the events that within five years would bring to an end in most of Ireland of almost a thousand years of English rule.

On Easter Monday April 24, 1916, a coalition of fractious Irish republican groups, organized under the Irish Republican Brotherhood, took over key locations in Dublin and proclaimed the provisional government of the Irish Republic.  The Irish Republican Brotherhood received substantial financial support from the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, Irish Americans playing a key role throughout the 19th and early 20th century in the struggle for Irish independence.  The Irish Republicans had around 1,250 troops in Dublin.  There was minor fighting elsewhere in Ireland, but the Easter Rising was basically a struggle for Dublin.

In retrospect it is difficult to see how the Republicans believed that the Rising had any chance of success.  Great Britain was fully mobilized to fight World War I, and Ireland, like Great Britain, was swarming with trained British troops, many commanded by veterans of the fighting on the Western Front.  By Saturday the provisional government had surrended.  About 500 people were killed in the Rising, half of them civilians.

Initially the majority of Irish civilians had little sympathy for the rising, viewing it as at best a mad adventure, and at worst treason when many Irish Catholics were serving in France.  However, British mass arrests, albeit swiftly releasing most arrested, began to alter public attitudes toward the rising.  This was enhanced as news of British atrocities, real and false,  against civilians during the Rising began to spread.  Finally, British executions of the leaders of the Rising appalled most Irish Catholics.   The men uniformly met their deaths with great courage, and the British added to this folly by including in the executions the badly wounded James Connolly who had to seated in a chair to be executed.  Asked by the priest who gave him the last rites to pray for the men who were executing him, he replied:   “I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights.”

Connolly was the last man executed, except for Sir Roger Casement, knighted by the British government in 1911, who was executed in London on August 3, 1916 and who converted to Catholicism on the date of his execution.  Public opinion was outraged, not only in Catholic areas in Ireland, but also in the United States, and the British Prime Minister ordered that no more executions be undertaken.

From this disaster sprouted the movement that would lead to Irish independence.  Michael Collins, who had taken part in the Rising, realized from his experiences during the fighting that attempting to stand up to the British in a conventional War was merely a form of suicide.  He began to devise a form of urban guerrilla war that would allow tiny Ireland to confront the mightiest empire in the world.

 

 

 

 

I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

W.B. Yeats

Advertisements
Published in: on April 24, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 24, 1916: The Easter Rising Begins  
Tags:
%d bloggers like this: