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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits