The Rising Takes Shape
Plans for a rebellion began in 1915 under the auspices of a secret military council within the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Involved were Tom Clarke and Seán MacDiarmada of the IRB’s Supreme Council, as well as Pearse, Plunkett, and Éamonn Ceannt, who were all well-positioned within the Irish Volunteers. In 1916, the group grew to include James Connolly and Thomas MacDonagh. Connolly had been contemplating a rebellion of his own with the Irish Citizen Army (ICA).
Though, together with the ICA, the Irish Volunteers were to serve as the military force in the action, plans for the revolt were initially kept from Eoin MacNeill, the leader of the Volunteers. As things progressed, Pearse, the Volunteers’ military director, arranged for “Easter Manoeuvers” in Dublin, a drilling exercise that could suddenly transform into something quite different. This April 15, 1916 issue of the Irish Volunteer outlines plans for the upcoming manoeuvers. Portentously it advises that “all rifles, revolvers, and automatics in possession of the Volunteers should be tested, and any defects observed in them remedied.”
However, as in many risings in the past, things did not go as planned. On Good Friday, Volunteer Sir Roger Casement was arrested upon returning from Germany as he attempted to postpone the action. The next day a ship carrying arms intended for provincial Volunteers was intercepted and scuttled by its captain. Eoin MacNeill, by then aware of the plot, publicly cancelled the planned “manoeuvers,” throwing the Volunteers into confusion. Pearse and other members of the military council decided to proceed, nonetheless, a day late on Easter Monday, April 24. It meant launching the rebellion with reduced numbers. Some have speculated that it was undertaken as a symbolic gesture, without real hope of military success, to reignite republican sentiment among the Irish people.
Irish Volunteer. April 15, 1916. O'Hegarty G34, Vol. 3 of 3
On Easter Monday, near the rebellion’s headquarters at the General Post Office, Padraic Pearse read out the proclamation of the Irish Republic on behalf of the “Irish Provisional Government.” Signed by Clarke, MacDiarmada, MacDonagh, Pearse, Ceannt, Connolly, and Plunkett, the document declared as sovereign and indefeasible “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies.” Among the proclamation’s notable elements are its guarantee of civil and religious liberty and its envisioning of an Irish government "elected by the suffrages of all her men and women." In 1916 in the United Kingdom, women did not yet have the vote, and property qualifications still limited male franchise.
The copy of the proclamation in the Spencer Reserach Library's collections is somewhat of a bibliographical mystery. The original proclamation was printed on a press kept by James Connolly in the basement of Liberty Hall. It measured approximately 30 by 20 inches. As few as twelve copies survive in public institutions, with eight of these residing in Dublin, according to typography scholar James Mosley. Spencer’s copy is a half-sized and retouched reproduction of uncertain date. It comes from the library of Irish nationalist, historian, and civil servant P. S. O’Hegarty. It appears to be a photographic reproduction, but interestingly Mosely notes that its retouching varies from that done by the Irish Times for its inclusion in the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook (1916). Moreover, visible in the fourth paragraph of Spencer’s copy are several spaces which have risen and become inked (near the word “allegiance,” for example). This detail is present in some copies of the original, but not in other known reproductions. Only in the past few years has a research query brought forward another copy that may be its mate.
Poblacht na h Eireann. The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the People of Ireland [reproduction]. [Ireland: no publisher, 1916 or after?] O’Hegarty Q8
This page from an illustrated handbook produced in the wake of Easter Week provides photographs and brief biographies of the men who signed the 1916 Proclamation. Poets, playwrights, teachers, and organizers, the leaders of the rebellion would soon become figures of lore.
Public sentiment in Ireland had not been in favor of the rebels during the Easter Rising itself. However, the severity of the British response following their surrender began to shift the tide. Within two weeks, fifteen of the separatist leaders were sentenced in closed courts-martial and shot. Over time, the effects of the mass arrests, continued martial law, and disclosures about acts against civilians by Crown forces, including the murder of pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, during Easter Week further swayed the public.
The "Sinn Fein" Revolt Illustrated. Dublin: Hely’s Ltd., [1916?]. CK104
Though there were some supporting activities elsewhere, the primary action of the Easter Rising was in Dublin. Early on the separatists had some success as they occupied positions about the city. There was even an opportunity to seize Dublin Castle had the republicans realized how unprotected it was. However, several of the rebel positions were difficult to defend, especially with limited communications and supplies. The Crown soon declared martial law, first in Dublin and then across Ireland, and by Wednesday reinforcements of artillery and infantry from Britain had arrived. The Royal Navy vessel the Helga shelled Boland’s Mill and Liberty Hall from a position it had taken up in the Liffey, the river that runs through Dublin.
Throughout Friday, the Provisional Government headquarters at the GPO suffered heavy artillery barrages, igniting a fire. Outgunned and overpowered, on Saturday evening, April 29, Pearse ordered a surrender “[i]n order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered.” Some positions did not surrender until the following day.
This commemorative booklet, produced in the aftermath of the rising, shows the largescale damage to the GPO, Sackville Street, and other neighboring thoroughfares. Fully extended, it contains twelve views.
Sinn Fein Revolt, 1916. Twelve Interesting Views; Showing the Ruins of Sackville Street and Adjoining Streets after the Rising. [Dublin: T.J. Coleman, circa 1916?]. C2969
This map and chronology come from volumes published in the year following the Easter Rising. The map appeared in The Irish Rebellion of 1916 and Its Martyrs, a primer published in the United States. There, editor Maurice Joy identifies the “principal insurgent forts” as “the General Post Office, Jacob’s Factory, the South Dublin Union, Liberty Hall, St. Stephen’s Green, the Four Courts, and Boland’s Mill.” Liberty Hall, which was the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army and which had served as a munitions factory in the period leading up to rebellion, was largely unoccupied once the rising began.
“Diary of Principal Events.” In The "Sinn Fein" Revolt Illustrated. Dublin: Hely’s Ltd., 1916. CK104
“Insurrection Map of the City of Dublin; Showing the Chief Points of Prominence in the ‘Sinn Fein Rising.’” In The Irish Rebellion of 1916 and Its Martyrs: Erin’s Tragic Easter, edited by Maurice Joy. New York: Devin-Adair Co., 1916. C12080
Tallies vary, but approximately 62 rebels, 132 Crown forces (including the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police), and 256 civilians were killed in the Easter Rising. Over 2000 more were wounded.
The Weekly Irish Times, like most mainstream publications, was critical of the rebellion. The handbook it published, displayed here, compiled primary source documents, chronologies, and reports on the numbers and names of individuals killed, injured, and arrested. The volume is opened to a section on the “Punishment of the Rebels.” Pictured is Countess Markievicz, who fought as second in command to Michael Mallin in the Irish Citizen Army forces at St. Stephen’s Green. She was initially sentenced to death, but British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had insisted that no women be executed, and her sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. Though close to seventy women were initially detained following Easter Week, just seven of these were transported to prisons in England, including Markievicz, Helena Molony, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, and Winifred Carney. Markievicz’s imprisonment lasted until 1917, when she was released with other 1916 prisoners in a general amnesty. She was elected as a Sinn Féin candidate in the 1918 UK general election, but served instead as the Minister of Labour in the first Dáil (Irish Parliament).
Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook: Easter, 1916 [1917 Issue]. Dublin: Irish Times, 1917. C3092
Featured here are two accounts of the rebellion authored by witnesses to it. The first is by Mrs. Hamilton Norway (as she names herself on the volume’s title page), wife of Arthur Hamilton Norway, the British head of the postal service in Ireland. Her account, published in 1916, consists of letters to family offering information on the events as they transpired. In the passage on display, she writes of setting out with her son on the first day of the rising to the area around the GPO, where her husband’s office was located. She also shares her son’s report that at St. Stephen’s Green, “just inside the railings among shrubberies, the rebels had dug deep pits or holes, and in every hole were three men.” Her son “N” is Nevil Shute [Norway], who would later gain renown as the author of On the Beach and other novels.
The second account was published at a remove of nearly ten years, though its foreword notes that it was first recorded in 1917. Its author, Brian O’Higgins, was at the GPO during Easter Week. His account is presented through the eyes of an unnamed “soldier.” His valorization of the rebellion is visible in his hagiographic description of Pearse:
He looked that night like one preparing for Extreme Unction, and the calm of a man who stands close to God and knows that he has done right in every word he spoke and in every movement of his body. […] The years will praise him and show to men the nobility of his life and the magnificence of his deed.
Norway, Mary Louisa. The Sinn Fein Rebellion as I Saw It. London: Smith, Elder, 1916. B11954
O’Higgins, Brian. The Soldier’s Story of Easter Week. [Dublin]: Brian Ó hUiginn "Stormanstown," Glasnevin, Dublin, 1925. O’Hegarty B4794