One Hundred Years On: The Irish Easter Rising
Institute of Historical Research, Malet St, London, WC1E 7HU
A number of speakers will address the significance of the Rising on its 100th anniversary.
On 24 April 1916, Easter Monday, a force of some 900 Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army members seized control of the centre of Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic. They held out against the British army until the deployment of artillery forced their unconditional surrender on the 29th. By this time 64 rebel fighters had been killed, together with 132 soldiers and police and some 250 civilians, many shot out of hand by the troops. In the context of the horrors of the First World War, this was a minor episode, the death of some 450 people at a time when hundreds of thousands were being slaughtered on the
Western Front. Indeed, there were at the time considerably more Irishmen fighting for the British in France than took part in the Rising. Nevertheless, the Rising had an impact out of all proportion to the numbers involved, the damage suffered and the casualties inflicted. It prepared the way for the triumph of Sinn Fein in 1918 and for the War of Independence and the Civil War that followed. A hundred years later, the rebels are generally celebrated as heroes but important questions remain. Did the they believe they had a realistic chance of success in the face of apparently overwhelming odds or was their rebellion a self-conscious blood sacrifice intended to keep the spirit of republicanism alive? How much popular support did the Rising have at the time? How significant was their alliance with Imperial Germany? What was the attitude of the British left, both revolutionary and reformist, to the Rising? Did Labour MPs really cheer the news of the execution of the rebel leadership in the Commons? What part did women play in the Rising? And what of James Connolly? Was his participation, indeed his leadership role, in the Rising, the fulfilment of his socialist politics or an abandonment of them? What was the significance of his membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood? Did Connolly really argue that the British would not use artillery because of the damage it would cause to capitalist property? Did he tell the Citizen Army men and women to hold onto their rifles because they were out for social freedom and not just political freedom or is this just a myth invented years later? What became of Connolly’s socialism after his death? Why was the socialist presence in the War of Independence so easily contained, indeed marginalised? For Sean O’Casey, Connolly had forsaken his socialist commitment in favour of republicanism and the only genuine socialist martyr of Easter Week was Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. What was the impact of Sheehy-Skeffington’s murder at the hands of British troops on opinion in Britain? How important was Catholicism to the rebel fighters? Even Connolly was reconciled with the Church before his execution and privately urged his Protestant wife to convert as a dying wish. And the only Protestant in the rebel leadership, Constance Markiewicz herself subsequently converted. There are a host of questions still to be explored and debated while at the same time honouring the memory of those who died fighting the British Empire.
For more information please contact Keith Flett