LivingTravelEaster Rising 1916 - The Plan for the Insurrection

Easter Rising 1916 – The Plan for the Insurrection

The plan for the 1916 Easter Rising was simple: organize nationalist militias on the move on Easter Sunday, surprise the British, occupy key sites in Dublin and the provinces, declare an Irish Republic, be greeted and welcomed by the public. Irish, then live happily as an independent nation forever.

Sadly, even the best of intentions are sometimes doomed to fail, and so it was on that fateful Easter weekend.

The first sign of trouble was a confusing issuance of orders and counter orders, leading to a delay. The rebels then suffered a total failure to identify and occupy truly strategic sites. They then failed to rally public support and were met with almost universal ridicule and disdain suffered by the general population. However, they at least managed to pull off an element of surprise and took British officials by surprise.

As always, knowing the history of the Dublin Easter Rising in 1916 depends on which direction you examine it from. The 1916 Easter Rising was one of the defining moments in the fight for Irish independence; in fact, it can be seen as the turning point for the fortunes of Irish republicanism. But all this modern admiration for the events of that fateful weekend comes despite the fact that the rebellion was a total failure.

In fact, it was only the bloody consequences that brought the Irish together. To help you understand more about the events, we will break down the myths surrounding 1916 and establish the facts.

Who were the Irish rebels of 1916?

For hundreds of years, Ireland was part of the British Empire. Home Rule, or limited independence for Ireland within the British Empire, had long been discussed and was within reach in the early 20th century. It really should have happened in 1914, but the start of the First World War intervened.

In preparation for the implementation of Home Rule, several paramilitary organizations had been established. The Ulster Volunteer Force, opposed to the Inner Rule, was primarily Protestant and dedicated to preserving the status quo or removing Ulster from the Empire, and flourished in the north. In the south, the mainly Catholic Irish Volunteers were established supporting local government and ultimately Irish independence. But when war broke out in Europe, most of the volunteers from both sides of the division actually declared their allegiance to London, the fittest who joined the British Army.

The Irish Volunteers quickly reinvented themselves as ‘National Volunteers’, and only a (very dedicated) minority focused on the original cause.

These volunteers were secretly guided by an “Army Council” created by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Although infiltrated by British intelligence, the group managed to plan an armed rebellion against the crown. They were supported by groups as diverse as James Connolly’s Irish Citizens Army (ICA; a trade union militia), the Hibernian Rifles (a tiny nationalist faction), the Cumann na mBan (a women’s nationalist group) and the Fianna Éireann (a nationalist version of the Boy Scouts). Leading the Irish Volunteers were Chief of Staff Eoin MacNeill and “Commander” Patrick Pearse, poet, historian and teacher.

Will they or won’t they?

In 1916, British intelligence had definitive information that the IRB was planning an armed rebellion. They knew the main players and the main problem holding them back: too few weapons. Erskine Childers had smuggled 1,500 rifles into Howth Harbor a few years earlier, too few to topple an empire. Intelligence also knew that the Republicans were waiting for Roger Casement, who was currently touring Germany to assemble an “Irish Brigade” among the PoWs, to return to Ireland with a shipment of arms, courtesy of the Kaiser.

In other words, the British were well informed that something was stirring.

The alarm was fully activated when Roger Casement, somewhat disoriented and apparently disappointed, was arrested near Banna Strand on Good Friday 1916. He had just been dropped off by the German U-Boat U19. Unfortunately, the ship “Aud”, which was carrying German weapons, was intercepted and had to be sunk. At the same time, Irish Volunteers and other paramilitary groups were ordered to attend “exercises” on Easter Sunday. Obviously a rebellion was imminent, but Undersecretary Sir Matthew Nathan decided it was all a lot of noise and nothing and simply did not carry out orders to arrest nearly 100 known IRB leaders and Volunteers.

Instead, the entire British military establishment decided that missing the traditional Easter race meeting at Fairyhouse (County Meath) would be a sin. Thus, Dublin was stripped of officers and other (competent) decision makers, leaving the capital understaffed and looking perfectly fit for rebellion.

The divided Irishman

Across the divide, a seemingly united front was crumbling: After the Volunteers were ordered to meet on Easter Sunday, Chief of Staff MacNeill correctly assumed the increase was imminent and decided to revoke the orders. He relented when Pearse pointed out that Casement had just arrived with the much needed weapons. Then it was learned that Casement had been arrested and that the weapons were at the bottom of the sea. MacNeill assumed (sensibly enough) that the rebellion was doomed from the start and shut down any “maneuvering.”

The 1916 Easter Rising was effectively called off.

But not for Pearse (who had an obsession with “blood sacrifices” anyway) and Connolly (who had already called off an even more doomed rebellion to the ICA minute alone), did they have orders for Thomas MacDonagh to issue orders to the units of Volunteers from Dublin to meet on Easter Monday at 10am with whatever weapons they have, along with rations for a day.

The Easter Rising was finally beginning …

This article is part of a series on the 1916 Easter Rising:

  • Part 1 – Planning
  • Part 2 – Insurrection
  • Part 3 – Consequences

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