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

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen