Centenary of the Irish Easter Rising

This week, from April 24-29, is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland. The Easter Rising was launched by Irish Republican forces to end British Rule and establish an Irish Republic while the United Kingdom’s military forces were heavily engaged in continental Europe during the First World War. Beginning on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, the Irish Republican forces that included the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteer Force, Irish Citizen Army, and Cumann na mBan, seized key locations across Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic. Over the next several days, the United Kingdom sent thousands of troops and artillery to Dublin to end the rising. With greater military numbers and artillery, the United Kingdom’s forces gradually suppressed the rising. The Irish Republican forces declared an unconditional surrender on April 29, 1916.

Though the Easter Rising lasted less than a week, it had a considerable impact on Irish history and Irish-British relations over the twentieth century. Many of the Irish people did not initially support the rising, but the executions of the Irish Republican leadership by the British secret military tribunal in the weeks and months that followed evoked widespread sympathy amongst the Irish populace; the Easter Rising began to assume a symbolic significance in Ireland and reinvigorated the Irish Republican movement. As such, the Easter Rising is widely perceived to be the pivotal moment on the road to Irish independence, culminating in the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921 and the subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty that established the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

While the Fisher Library does not hold considerable collections from the Easter Rising, the Alfred De Lury Collection, that includes mostly literary and poetical material of writers from the Anglo-Irish renaissance, contains several unique items from and after the rising.

Printed on Easter Monday during the Easter Rising and released on Tuesday April 25, 1916, the Irish War News was a 4-page newspaper created by Easter Rising leader, Patrick Pearse, as a way to get the message of the rising out to the greater public. This first issue, was the only issue released before the end of the Easter Rising. Priced at one penny, most of the issue focused on Irish and world affairs. However, the most important article came on the last of its four pages, headlined: “STOP PRESS! THE IRISH REPUBLIC”. The article begins, “(Irish) ‘War News’ is published to-day because a momentous thing has happened. The Irish Republic has been declared in Dublin, and a Provisional Government has been appointed to administer its affairs.” While only one issue of the Irish War News was released, it showed how the Irish Republican leadership believed the rising would lead to a longer struggle for Irish independence that needed to be reported to the Irish populace.

In the months that followed the Easter Rising, W. B. Yeats began to write his poem Easter, 1916 where he worked through his feelings about the Easter Rising and the executions that followed. The phrase, “a terrible beauty is born,” was one that became synonymous with the poem; the idea that in the wake of the executions, an independent Ireland was beginning to take shape in the consciousness of the Irish people. The Fisher Library has a first printing of this poem, published on September 25, 1916, and has a limited print-run of 25 copies.

Almost a year after the Easter Rising, The Irish Times published the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook that included a narrative of the rising, as well as facsimiles of correspondence, bulletins, declarations by the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, and photographs of the Irish Republican leadership and events taken during the rising. The Handbook also included a coloured map of Dublin and the locations of where most of the fighting took place. The Handbook contains a wealth of information on the Easter Rising making it a primary source for anyone looking to know more about how the media documented and interpreted the Easter Rising in the months that followed.

  --  Written by Chris J. Young