Recalling Ireland’s Easter Rising 100 Years Ago

March 27th, 2016 - by admin

Associated Press & Jack Radey / Facebook & Sadhbh Walshe / The New York Times Op-Ed – 2016-03-27 17:41:36

Ireland Recalls 1916 Easter Rising against British Rule
Associated Press

DUBLIN (March 27, 2016) — Thousands of soldiers marched solemnly through the crowded streets of Dublin on Sunday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising against Britain, a fateful rebellion that reduced parts of the capital to ruins and fired the country’s flame of independence.

The Easter parade through Dublin featured military ceremonies at key buildings seized in 1916, when about 1,200 rebels sought to ignite a popular revolt against Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.

The five-hour procession paused at noon outside the colonnaded General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the rebel headquarters a century ago, where commander Padraig Pearse formally launched the revolt by proclaiming to bemused Dubliners the creation of a “provisional” Republic of Ireland.

A soldier in today’s Irish Defence Forces, Capt. Peter Kelleher, stood in front of the restored post office Sunday to read the full, florid text of Pearse’s 1916 proclamation.

“In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom,” Kelleher said to an audience that included Ireland’s leaders and scores of grandchildren of the rebels.
Many donned their ancestors’ Easter Rising bronze service medals, which Ireland issued in 1941 on the rebellion’s 25th anniversary.

British forces, among them many Irishmen focused on fighting Germany in World War I, were caught off guard by the seizure of largely unguarded buildings in 1916. Most officers were attending horse races in the Irish countryside.

But Britain quickly deployed army reinforcements who were cheered by some locals as they marched into Dublin. Artillery based at Trinity College and a gunboat on the River Liffey which bisects the city shelled the post office and other rebel strongholds, forcing their surrender within six days.

The fighting left nearly 500 dead, most of them civilians caught in the crossfire or shot — by both sides — as suspected looters. Some 126 British soldiers, 82 rebels and 17 police were slain.

Many Dubliners opposed the insurrection as an act of treason in a time of war, but public sentiment swiftly swung in the rebels’ favor once a newly arrived British Army commander decided to execute Pearse and 14 other rebel leaders by firing squad in Dublin’s Kilmainham Jail.

A 16th figure, Roger Casement, who days before the Easter Rising was caught trying to smuggle German weapons by sea to Ireland, was hanged inside a London prison.

In the rebellion’s immediate wake, the poet W.B. Yeats reflected Ireland’s conflicted feelings about how violent nationalism appeared to be hastening Ireland’s journey to political freedom but at a debatable cost.

His “Easter, 1916” poem, among the most quoted works in all of Irish literature, listed the names of executed Rising commanders and concluded that Ireland had “changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.”

Easter Rising veterans led Ireland’s 1919-21 war of independence, their ranks swelled by combat veterans returning to Ireland from World War I trenches. As the newly founded Irish Republican Army fought police and soldiers in the predominantly Catholic south, Protestants in northeast Ireland carved out a new U.K.-linked state of Northern Ireland.

A treaty accepted by most southern rebels established an Irish Free State in 1922 that grudgingly accepted the reality of the island’s partition. The new Irish state survived a fratricidal 1922-23 civil war between IRA factions.

Michael Collins’ pro-treaty forces crushed IRA die-hards who, backed by Eamon de Valera, rejected the treaty because the new state was not fully independent of Britain. Both men had fought in the 1916 Rising.

Ireland remained neutral in World War II and declared itself a republic on Easter Monday 1949.

Ireland long has struggled to embrace Easter as its effective independence day, in part because the enemy camps from the Irish civil war forged the country’s two dominant political parties: Fine Gael by allies of the slain IRA leader Collins; and de Valera’s Fianna Fail party. Both parties claim to be the true defenders of the 1916 rebels’ ideals.

Official unease with 1916’s disputed legacy grew from the early 1970s as a new Belfast-based IRA launched a ruthless campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the U.K. and into the republic. This outlawed faction called itself the Provisional IRA and killed nearly 1,800 people before calling a 1997 cease-fire to support leaders of its revived Sinn Fein party, who today help govern Northern Ireland alongside British Protestant politicians.

In a sign of changing times, leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein stood side by side at Sunday’s events, including a ceremony inside Kilmainham Jail, where Pearse and other commanders were executed.

Sunday’s commemorations are the centerpiece of an estimated 2,500 events nationwide this spring and summer reflecting on the uprising’s legacy.

The anniversary date is imprecise, given that Easter falls on different dates each year and the 1916 rebellion actually started on Easter Monday — an official holiday in Ireland — not on the Sunday. The rebellion began April 24 and ended on April 29, 1916. The executions began four days later.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Remembering the Easter Rising
Jack Radey / Facebook

So, it’s almost Easter. Some of you perhaps are thinking of the agonies of crucifixion, more probably of chocolate….

Some of us are thinking of how, 100 years ago, men and women rose in arms against the strongest empire on the face of the earth. They had only each other, isolated on their little island.

They were armed with such weapons as they had been able to acquire, most German Mauser rifles sent over by the Kaiser, the rest shotguns, sporting rifles and shotguns, and some revolvers and Peter the Painter semi-automatic pistols.

The bulk of the Irish Volunteers were demobilized by the right wing leadership of the movement, so when James Connolly addressed the few hundred men and women of the Irish Citizen Army in front of Liberty Hall before they marched off to seize the General Post Office, “You know we’re going out to be butchered today, lads, the others aren’t coming . . . ”

They, and maybe a thousand of the Irish Volunteer Force seized public buildings (nearly got the British governing offices) and dug in.

For a week they held off the might of the British Empire, against cannon, naval gunfire, machineguns, veteran soldiers who had fought in France, and they gave better than they got, dropping 150 of the “khaki soldiers” and losing 60 of their own.

Then, out of ammo, surrounded and with the buildings they had held in flames and many of their ranks wounded, they surrendered.

The British, in their sense of justice, began executing the leaders. Pat Pierce could have told them what would follow, he’d already told them once.

I think I met one of the women who contributed to reviving the history before on a train once. She was astonished to be sitting next to someone who knew who Countess Markevicz and Maude Gonne and Mary Sheehy-Skeffington were….

The Sisterhood of the Easter Rising
Sadhbh Walshe / The New York Times Op-Ed

(March 27, 2016) — Around 12:45 p.m. on April 29, 1916, Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell left 15 Moore Street in Dublin to deliver the surrender message that would end the Easter Rising. Inside the house, where the division of Irish rebels under the command of Padraig Pearse had retreated, her comrades in arms watched her walk away through the bullet-riddled streets, fearing she would be shot down. But as she neared the British military outpost, the firing eased and Ms. O’Farrell accomplished her mission without injury.

Ms. O’Farrell’s act of bravery has become one of the iconic moments of the Rising, not so much for the act itself, but for how it was documented. In a photo of the surrender taken later with Pearse and two British officers, only Ms. O’Farrell’s boots were visible. When the photo was first published in a British newspaper, even the boots had disappeared.

Ms. O’Farrell claimed later that she deliberately stepped out of sight. But rightly or wrongly, “that photo” has come to symbolize the airbrushing — or “Eire-brushing,” as some have said — of women out of Ireland’s history. Now, as the centenary celebrations of the Easter Rising get underway, a determined effort is being made to reinsert the lost stories of female heroism into the male-dominated narrative of the struggle for Irish independence.

As these stories come into focus, the doctored image could be said to represent something more that has consequences to this day: the removal of women from a public role in the republic they helped bring into being.

Aside from a few stars like Constance Markievicz, who was second in command at the rebels’ St. Stephen’s Green outpost in Dublin, or the schoolteacher turned sniper Margaret Skinnider, most of the estimated 260 women who took part in the 1916 insurrection never found their way into the history books.

In recent decades, several historians, mostly women, have worked to change that. Among them, as part of a government-funded commemorative effort, Mary McAuliffe and Liz Gillis have unearthed a wealth of information on the 77 women who were imprisoned for their role in the uprising.

The picture emerging from this research is one of women who were not just committed nationalists willing to die for Ireland, but also longtime campaigners for social justice who had been fighting inequality on many fronts: land reform, labor battles and women’s suffrage. These women wanted a fairer society in which they would have an equal say. In 1916, they had reason to believe that the republic they chose to fight for was the surest means to that end.

According to the historian Margaret Ward, Ireland “did something quite unique in 1916” to advance equality “that wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of the women before the Rising.”

On a speaking tour in 1917, Ireland’s foremost suffragist, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, told audiences that “it is the only instance I know of in history when men fighting for freedom voluntarily included women.”

The progressive leanings of the Rising’s leaders were evident in the language of the Proclamation of an Irish Republic read aloud by Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office. Addressed to “Irishmen and Irishwomen,” it guaranteed “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.” At a time when women in most of the world had yet to secure the right to vote, this guarantee was no trivial thing.

It took six days for British troops to quell the rebellion. Sixteen rebel leaders were executed soon after, among them Pearse and the movement’s greatest champion of equality, the socialist leader James Connolly. It would take six more years and much more bloodshed before Ireland won limited independence in the form of the Free State, in 26 of the country’s 32 counties.

Although activism by women expanded rapidly during this tumultuous period, with membership of Cumann na mBan, the Irish nationalist women’s paramilitary organization, growing from between 650 and 1,700 in 1916 to as many as 21,000 in 1921, they were not rewarded for their efforts.

The equal rights language of the Proclamation did make its way into the 1922 Constitution, and Irish women over 21 achieved full voting rights that year. But with the progressives dead, the Free State government, heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, began rolling back these rights almost as swiftly as Elizabeth O’Farrell’s boots were erased from that photo.

Laws in 1924 and 1927 largely excluded women from sitting on juries. In 1932, a marriage ban was introduced that forced women who worked as teachers or civil servants to retire upon marriage. The 1935 Conditions of Employment Act limited women’s ability to work in industry.

But it was the 1937 Constitution, drafted under Prime Minister Eamon De Valera’s leadership, that sealed women’s fate for decades. As commander of the Boland’s Mill outpost in 1916, De Valera had been the only leader to refuse women’s participation in the Rising. Now with Article 41 of the Constitution, which reads “by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved,” he closed the door on women’s progress in a more definitive way.

So, it is not surprising that just as Ireland is reckoning with the erasure of its first wave of feminism, a new one is surging, propelled in part by the commemorations. In November, when the Abbey, the national theater of Ireland, released its centenary lineup of plays, all but one of which were written by men, an “Estrogen Rising” erupted. The ensuing furor highlighted women’s underrepresentation in Irish theater, film, media and politics.

Even before that, reproductive rights activists struck a new note of militancy when they chained themselves last April to the pillars of the General Post Office to protest a 1983 constitutional amendment that equates the right to life of the unborn with the right to life of the mother. Dressed as suffragists, these women read out a revised version of the proclamation declaring the “right of all people in Ireland to ownership of their own bodies.”

In the same streets where Elizabeth O’Farrell walked through gunfire almost a century ago, these modern-day activists forged a link between their struggles and the unfulfilled hopes of sisters from another era. What women did for Ireland, and what Ireland has since done for women, deserve a fuller accounting.
Eight Women of the Easter Rising

Most of the women who took part in the 1916 insurrection never found their way into the history books. In recent decades, several historians, mostly women, have worked to change that.

Here are some of the women who chose to fight for an Irish republic and a fairer society.

Kathleen Lynn (1874 – 1955)
Kathleen Lynn, a doctor, gave medical training to recruits to the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary organization, and allowed her home to be used as a munitions store. She served as the Chief Medical Officer during the Rising, famously describing herself as “a Red Cross doctor and a belligerent” when arrested.

Ms. Lynn went on to co-found St. Ultan’s Hospital for Infants.

Winifred Carney (1887- 1943)
Armed with a typewriter and a Webley revolver, Ms. Carney was aide-de-camp to James Connolly, a socialist leader, in the rebellion’s headquarters in the General Post Office.

When Connolly was wounded in action (he would later be carried to his execution on a stretcher), Ms. Carney ignored orders to evacuate and stayed with him until after the surrender.

The Countess Markievicz (1868 -1927)
Born into the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, Countess Markievicz was the only woman sentenced to death for her role in the Rising. Her sentence was later commuted to life in prison because of her gender and she was ultimately released in an amnesty in 1917.

In 1918 she was the first woman elected to the British Parliament, but refused to take her seat; instead she became the only woman to hold a cabinet position, as Minister of Labor, in the first Irish Assembly. The countess died, virtually penniless, in 1927.

Margaret Skinnider (1892 – 1971)
Scottish schoolteacher Margaret Skinnider quit her job in the spring of 1916 to take part in the rebellion. (On an earlier trip to Ireland, in 1915, she reportedly smuggled detonators under her hat.)

During the Rising Ms. Skinnider, a member of a shooting club in Scotland, served as a sniper — in the same garrison as the Countess Markievicz — and was shot three times. When she recovered she returned to work as a teacher and campaigner for women’s rights. She is buried in Dublin next to Countess Markievicz.

Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell (1884 – 1957)
Elizabeth O’Farrell was a member of the Daughters of Ireland (Inghinidhe na h Eireann), a radical republican women’s group that pledged to fight for the complete separation of Ireland and Britain. She acted as a dispatcher during the Rising and tended to the wounded in the rebellion’s headquarters in the G.P.O.

Ms. O’Farrell was chosen by Padraig Pearse, the spokesman for the rebels, to deliver the surrender notice to the British. As well as being airbrushed from the photo of the surrender taken later with Pearse, Ms. O’Farrell was omitted from Neil Jordan’s 1996 biopic “Michael Collins.” In that film, the surrender note was delivered by a man.

Kathleen Clarke (1878 – 1972)
As the wife of Thomas Clarke — a signatory to the Proclamation of an Irish Republic, which promulgated Ireland’s independence from Britain — Kathleen Clarke was one of the few women privy to the secret plans for the Rising. Her husband forbade her to take part, however, saying that she would be needed to administer financial aid to the dependents of dead rebels once the rebellion was over.

Ms. Clarke endured the triple loss of her husband, brother (Ned Daly) and close friend (Sean MacDiarmada) — all of whom faced the firing squad after the Rising was quashed. She went on to become the first female lord mayor of Dublin, in 1939.

Rosie Hackett (1892 – 1976)
Born into a working class Dublin family, Rosie Hackett co-founded the Irish Women Workers Union to combat the deplorable conditions endured by the female employees of Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. She was part of the group that produced the first print of the Proclamation of an Irish Republic.

Mary Josephine (Min) Mulcahy (1884 – 1977)
Mary Mulcahy, a courier during the Rising, was the girlfriend of one of its architects, Sean MacDiarmada. She was with him in his cell in Kilmainham Jail before his execution. She later married another republican soldier, Richard Mulcahy, and the couple named one of their sons Sean.

From top left: Kilmainham Gaol Collection; Kilmainham Gaol Collection; Keogh Bros./Bureau of Military History; Department of Special Collections of the Hesburgh Libraries, University of Notre Dame; no credit; National Library of Ireland; Library of Congress

Sadhbh Walshe, a journalist and former TV writer, is currently working on a play about the women of 1916.

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