Posted by: mdmusingsie | March 28, 2016

Easter Rising – 100 years on

It’s the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland – the largest catalyst to establishing Irish independence from Britain.  The Easter Rising could be equivalent to the Boston Tea Party in the United States.  There are hundreds of events planned around the country to mark the occasion.

Being a “blow-in” to Ireland, I wasn’t taught Irish history in school, but I have heard bits and pieces from assorted bus tours and have visited some of the important locations like the GPO (General Post Office) and St. Stephen’s Green where major stand-offs took place, as well as Kilmainham Gaol where 16 leaders of the rising were executed.

Although Easter in 1916 was in April (it began Easter Monday, April 24th), the major commemorations are scheduled for this weekend.  One event that has been running for a while and piqued my interest was a partnership between Dublin Bus and acting company ANU.  The two hour journey took us around Dublin with stops at St. Stephen’s Green and Ship Street behind Dublin Castle.  During the tour a pair of actors played the parts of a several participants in the rising – mostly from the Irish point of view but also an Irish soldier serving on the British side.  If you’re looking for a sightseeing tour of Dublin, this isn’t it – part of the time the curtains on the bus were closed as the actors played out their scenes, but it was very engaging and at times quite moving.

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One of the actors was female and showcased women’s roles. With events like that along with a display at Arnotts and some programs on RTE, the women who played significant roles in the rising are finally getting their due.  Most people know about Countess Markievitz but there were many women who took part including a group called Cumann na mBan.  The women played some traditional roles such as making food for the volunteer soldiers, tending the wounded, and delivering messages, but they were also out fighting alongside their male counterparts.  When Padraig Pearse read the Irish Proclamation, it actually begins ‘IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN…’

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Elizabeth O’Farrell brokered the surrender between the Irish and British. As the men marched to surrender, a group of women marched with them.  The women were told to go home but many insisted on being arrested as they had fought alongside their brethren.

Margaret Skinnider was refused a soldier’s pension, even though she had been shot three times.  The law was “applicable to soldiers as generally understood in the masculine sense…” per the Irish Times.

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Women were present at all the major strongholds during the rising except Boland Mills because Eamon de Valera refused to allow women at his site.  His attitude and his high ranking role in the early Irish Republic governments may explain why women have been slow to gain their basic human rights in Ireland.  As an aside, Irish women did win the right to vote 2 years before women in the U.S.

Not all participants were Irish born.  Several came from Scotland and Britain, including some of the women.  Three of the seven signatories of the Irish Proclamation were writers and poets, not businessmen and politicians.  It was a grass roots campaign.

Many buildings in Dublin were destroyed during the conflict that lasted six days and nights.  Because of the destruction and disruption, many of the participants in the rising were derided by Dublin citizens, even spat on as they were marched to the Four Courts.  It was only when the executions began, and probably most poignantly that of James Connolly who had to be tied to a chair to be shot as he had been severely wounded, that the tide started to turn in support of independence.

Miscommunication and misdirection hurt the rising which has been planned for some time.  The members sent to signal the ship carrying arms from Germany took the wrong road (no GPS in those days and probably fewer street signs than there are now, which are scarce enough).  When the arms were lost the rising was called off at one point and many had headed home, so the numbers weren’t what they could have been.  Would that have changed things?  No one can say with any certainty.

Acknowledgements:  Easter1916.ieIrish Times, Dublin Bus and Anu, Taoiseach.gov.ie

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