Historical Notes: Challenging evidence on the Easter Rising

TO COINCIDE with its 50th anniversary, in 1966, there was a spate of books and articles about the Easter Rising. Until now, no work of synthesis has been attempted since. Yet, in the meantime, an immense volume and variety of relevant primary material has accumulated or come to light.

An analysis of the full range of sources challenges some strongly held "myths" about the rising. One casualty is the "blood sacrifice" interpretation of its origins; the view that its leaders from its inception regarded it as a doomed military enterprise and accepted or even sought martyrdom in order to regenerate Irish nationalism, in conscious emulation of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, "proving" through their own sacrifice Ireland's moral right to independence.

It is now clear that this view was misleading because it focused too much on the attitudes of secondary figures - romantic nationalists, particularly Patrick Pearse. The driving force, above all others, behind the insurrection, was the veteran Tom Clarke, aided by the younger Sean MacDermott. Both were archetypal republicans, earthy realists committed to the use of force to eradicate British rule in Ireland and establish a fully independent republic.

Furthermore, the detailed plans submitted to the German High Command on behalf of the rebel leadership in the spring of 1915 were clearly devised with absolute victory in mind. This was to be achieved through an insurrection by the rebels in Dublin, massively supported by German troops. British forces would be crushed and the rebel-led government established in Dublin would ally Ireland with Germany in the Great War. Though these plans were later modified, the essential ingredients remained the same - a rising in Dublin, German troops and arms to rouse, lead and arm the west, a submarine to block the arrival of British reinforcements and the hope of victory.

During Easter week, of course, German aid failed to reach the rebels, the west did not rise, and British reinforcements poured freely into Dublin. The evidence now available strongly suggests that it was when the rebel leaders at the GPO were facing inevitable defeat and surrender that they agreed collectively to attempt to strike a practical deal with the British authorities - namely, that they (the leaders) should be executed and that their sacrifice should enable the rank and file to go free and hopefully fight another day.

The rising was also a less "clean" fight than it has often been depicted, a fact partially reflected in the 250 civilian deaths during the insurrection. The civilian population of Dublin was not as unanimously hostile to the rebels as is usually asserted, and public sympathy for the insurgents increased through the course of the fighting. Nor was General John Maxwell a heartlessly repressive, pro-Unionist "butcher". Indeed, he regarded the Liberal government's softness towards the Ulster Unionists between 1912 and 1914 as a root cause of the insurrection. Though he was convinced that the leaders of the rising should be executed, from his private papers it seems highly unlikely that he would have executed more of them, even without Asquith's attempts at intervention. He confided to his wife that he had never at any stage intended to "overdo" the death sentences.

Finally, the court-martial records give an indispensable insight into the mind of the rebel leaders at the time of their trial. Though several in their evidence distorted the truth in a bid to escape the firing squad, all but one of the seven men who signed the Proclamation approached death without remorse, convinced of the legitimacy of their actions. Eamonn Ceannt is the exception. He bitterly regretted the rebels' act of surrender and was convinced that they should have fought to the end.

Brian Barton and Michael Foy are the authors of `The Easter Rising' (Sutton Publishing, pounds 19.99)

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk