Ireland in World War I
felt that England would be too busy with Ireland to enter
World War I (.George W. Russell. The Irish
Home Rule Convention. New York, 1917, p. 32.)
“One of the immediate causes” of the war was Northern
Ireland’s threat to oppose Home Rule by rebellion. The
German Kaiser, as a result of the warlike attitude of the
Ulsterites was convinced that England was unable to become
involved in a European war. Germany was convinced that
England would be too buys to enter a war or at best would be
of slight hindrance to Germany. (Tom
Ireland. Ireland Past & Present. New York, 1942)
Ulster’s open flaunting of the laws that prohibited no arms
to be sent to Ireland, and the open drilling of the Ulster
Volunteers threatening a civil war in Ireland, led Germany
to believe that England was weak and would not interfere if
she attacked France or Russia.
also believed that the large numbers of Irish in the British
army would revolt over the disturbances at home.
John Redmon appealed to the people of Ireland as a whole to
remain loyal to England. He hoped that a untied front on
the part of the Irish might result in a peaceful union
following the war. This probably would have worked had the
leaders of Ulster cooperated withy Redmon, for during the
fighting in Europe, many northern and southern Irish became
friendly. Unfortunately, the leaders of Ulster would not
put aside their private interests for the common good or
Ireland, and the generous acts of the Irish Nationalists
were to no avail.
Discrimination by the English War Office were extremely
noticeable in that the Protestants were permitted to form
their own Irish companies but the Catholics were not. John
Redmon volunteered the services of the Irish Volunteers to
England. Most of the members did fight for England, but a
small minority followed strict Sinn Fein policy and refused
to fight. This group was in favor of neutrality. They
joined with the Labour Citizen Army and together formed an
effective anti-British fighting force. Eamon DeValera was
part of this group. (Tom
Ireland. Ireland Past & Present. New York, 1942, pp
The Gaelic League was founded in 1893 for the
purpose of re-establishing the Irish language and
culture. The political outgrowth of the League was
culminated in 1905 with the founding of the Sinn
Fein movement, (We Ourselves), by Arthur Griffith.
This was an organization that supported withdrawing
Irish members from the British Parliament and
setting up and Irish Parliament along with
abandoning constitutional methods of bringing about
the repeal of the 1800 Act of Union. Arthur
Griffith’s plan was to follow the Hungarian example
of 1861. The plan called for a boycott of the
British army and navy. No Irish members were to be
sent to London and an extra legal Irish Parliament
to be established in Dublin. A court system would
be set up, English goods boycotted and a general
program of non-cooperation with the English was to
During 1910-1913, the Sinn Fein movement seemed
dormant and was without a dynamic leader.
(Elie Halevy. The Rule of
Democracy (1905-1914). New York, 1961. p. 538.)
Other Irish organizations were growing. The Irish
socialist leader, Larkin had obtained many new ideas
from the Industrial Workers of the World in the
United States. The Irish Republican Brotherhood was
revived by James Connolly.
According to the author of the Irish Home Rule
Convention, the Sinn Feiners placed Home Rule
and other various Irish problems above a victory for
the allied powers. (
George W. Russell. The Irish Home Rule Convention.
New York, 1917, p. 19.)
A German ship disguised as SMS Libau bringing arms
and ammunition with Sir Roger Casement as leader was
intercepted by the British off the Irish coast on Good
Friday evening 1916 (H.B.C.
Pollard, Secret Societies of Ireland. p. 147). There was a plan
for a general rebellion during the Easter season.(
Larson. A History of England & the British
Commonwealth, New York, 1932, p. 834)
Casement was captured by the British and taken to
London for trial. He was later hanged. Martial law
was declared in Dublin City and county. The
suspension of the right of a British subject to be
tried by a civil court was seen as a sign of the
seriousness of the situation. Some of the Irish
Nationalists in America were said to have known of
the intentions of the Easter rising a few weeks
before it took place.
Easter 1916 Rising
The Gaelic American stated President Wilson knew of
Casement’s intentions to land arms in Ireland and
warned the British government. (New
York Times, April 27,
1916, pp. 1 & 4.)
The Irish Republican Brotherhood had decided at the
early stages of the was that a rebellion must occur
at some time during the war. Professor MacNeill,
the nominal leader of the group had arranged for a
p;arade to be held on Easter Sunday. He later found
out the parade was to be the base of the rebellion
and cancelled the event. By this time, the promised
aid from Germany had fallen through. In spite of
MacNeill’s order, a few Irish decided to go ahead
with the rising. James Connolly and Patrick Pearse
were the leaders of the 1,000 man force. On April
24, 1916, the Monday after Easter, the small group
took over several buildings in Dublin. Despite the
great odds against them, the Irish patriots held out
for about a week.
this same time, Eamon DeValera had his big
opportunity to come forth as one of the new leader
of the Irish Nationalist movement. He was able to
conduct his part of the uprising with great skill.
Seven leaders of the rising proclaimed an Irish
Republic. All seven of the signers were executed
along with eight others. DeValera, the only
battalion commander not killed, was saved because
Redmon proclaimed him an American citizen.
DeValera’s mother was an American, and he was born
in New York City. His death sentence was communed
to life imprisonment along with that of William T.
Cosgrave. The British did not want to execute and
American citizen and risk alienating the United
John Redmon condemned the uprising and stated that
too mujch encouragement had come from the
(New York Times,
April 29, 1916, pp. 1-3.)
The Easter 1916 rising provided a “blood sacrifice”
for an Ireland that had becomeap;athetic.
Curtis. A History of Ireland. New York, 1961.
p. 406) The rising was not supported
by public opinion in Ireland. Afterward, general
incompetence on the part of the British government,
and the arrests of thousands of men, some of who
were taken to England, only served to arouse hatred
for the English among the population. The men who
were executed were regarded as martyrs. If the
situation had been handled wisely by the British,
the Irish radical cause and the Sinn Fein movement
could have received a severe setback. A quote from
page 28 of the Irish Home Rule Convention by
George Russell, “A muddling nation trying to govern
one of the cleverest nations in the World.”
an aftermath of the rising about 50,000 British
soldiers were stationed in Ireland which deprived
England much needed men and equipment. Recruitment
in Ireland practically stopped making a net loss to
the firing line of 100,000 men.
Professor MacNeill, the nominal leader of the Irish Republican
Brotherhood, had arranged for a parade to be held on Easter Sunday. He
later found out the parade was to be the base of the rising and cancelled the
The Easter Rising planned by the Irish Republican
Brotherhood was virtually confined to Dublin. This was the opening act of the
Irish War for Independence. Moreover,
confusion was caused by a rash of conflicting orders sent out to the Irish
Volunteers – the main strike force - from their headquarters and the decision
taken by the rebel leaders to postpone their action arranged for Easter Sunday
23rd April, until the next day.
At about 11.00 am on Easter
Monday, Patrick Pearse and the Volunteers, along with James Connolly and the
Irish Citizen Army, assembled at various prearranged meeting points in Dublin,
and before noon set out to occupy a number of imposing buildings in the inner
city area. These had been selected to command the main routes into the capital,
and also because of their strategic position in relation to the major military
barracks. They included the General Post Office, the Four Courts, Jacob’s
Factory, Boland’s Bakery, the South Dublin Union, St. Stephen’s Green and later
the College of Surgeons.
Photos There was little fighting on the first day since
British intelligence had failed hopelessly, the properties targeted were taken
virtually without resistance and immediately the rebels set about making them
defensible. The GPO was the nerve center of the rebellion. It served as the
rebels’ headquarters and the seat of the provisional government which they
declared. Five of its members served there – Pearse, Clarke, Connolly,
MacDermott and Plunkett.
The British military onslaught,
which the rebels had anticipated, did not at first materialize. When the Rising
began the authorities had just 400 troops to confront roughly 1,000 insurgents.
Their immediate priorities were therefore to amass reinforcements, gather
information on volunteer strength and locations and protect strategic positions,
including the seat of government, Dublin Castle, which had initially been
virtually undefended. On Tuesday, a British force of 4,500 men with artillery
attacked and secured the Castle.
"As the week progressed, the
fighting in some areas did become intense, characterized by prolonged, fiercely
contested hand to hand street battles. Military casualties were highest at Mount
Street Bridge. There, newly arrived troops made successive, tactically inept,
frontal attacks on determined and disciplined volunteers occupying several
strongly fortified outposts. They lost 234 men, dead or wounded while just 5
rebels died. In some instances, lapses in military discipline occurred. Soldiers
were alleged to have killed 15 unarmed men in North King Street near the Four
Courts during intense gun battles there on 28th and 29th April. The pacifist
Francis Sheehy-Skeffington was the best- known civilian victim of the
insurrection. He was arrested in Dublin on 25th April, taken to Portobello
Barracks and shot by firing squad next morning without trial.
Overall the British authorities
responded competently to the Rising. Reinforcements were speedily drafted into
the capital and by Friday 28th April, the 1,600 rebels (more had joined during
the week) were facing 18-20,000 soldiers. From Thursday the GPO was entirely cut
off from other rebel garrisons. Next day it came under a ferocious artillery
attack which also devastated much of central Dublin. Having learnt the lessons
of Mount Street Bridge, the troops did not attempt a mass infantry attack. Their
strategy was effective. It compelled the insurgent leaders, based at the Post
Office, first to evacuate the building and later to accept the only terms on
offer – unconditional surrender. Their decision was then made known to and
accepted sometimes reluctantly, by all the rebel garrisons still fighting both
in the capital and in the provinces."
In total, the Rising cost 450
persons killed, 2,614 injured, and 9 missing, almost all in Dublin. The only
significant action elsewhere was at Ashbourne, 10 miles north of Dublin.
Military casualties were 116 dead, 368 wounded and 9 missing, and the Irish and
Dublin police forces had 16 killed and 29 wounded. A total of 254 civilians
died; the high figures were largely because much of the fighting had occurred in
or near densely populated areas. It is widely accepted that 64 rebels lost their
lives. Their casualties were low because in the capital they were the defending
force. Moreover, they fought with discipline and skill until, acting under
instruction from their leaders, they surrendered their strongholds rather than
fight to the last volunteer. The few other insurgents in Co. Meath, Galway and
Wexford joined in the surrender.
Sir John Maxwell,
the British Commander-in-Chief caused sixteen of the Irish to be court-martialed
and shot. The execution of these men was
an attempt to
murder of the Provisional Government of Ireland.
Patrick Pearse was the first to be singled out for execution, he was
not allowed to see his mother or brother before he was executed on May 3, 1916.
One of Pearse's most famous speeches was his eulogy at the funeral of
O'Donnovan Rossa who died in 1915.
"They think they have forseen everything, but the fools! the fools! the fools!
they have left us our Fenian dead; and while Ireland holds these graves "Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."
Below are the six organizations involved
in the Easter Rising of 1916:
The National Volunteers, The
Citizens’ Army, The Hibernian Rifles, Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan and
Following the formation of the Provisional
Government, as outlined in the Proclamation, these organizations formally became
known as Óglaigh na Éireann, otherwise known as the Irish Republican Army, under
the command of James Connolly.
Benian, E. A., Cambridge History of the
British Empire, London, 1959
Carrington, C. E., The British Overseas,
Curtis, Edmund, A History of Ireland, New
York: Barnes & Noble, 1961
Ireland, Tom. Ireland Past and Present.
New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1942.
Larson, Lawrence, A History of England & the
British Commonwealth, New York, 1932
MacDonagh, Oliver, Ireland, New Jersey,
Prentice Hall, 1968
MacManus, Seumas, Story of the Irish Race,
New York, Devin-Adair, 1973
Russell, George, The Irish Home Rule
Convention, New York, 1917
addtiional sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk