In Irish history, a republican insurrection against the British government that began on Easter Monday, April 1916, in Dublin. The rising was organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), led by Patrick Pearse, along with sections of the Irish Volunteers and James Connolly's socialist Irish Citizen Army. Although a military failure, it played a central role in shifting nationalist opinion from allegiance to the constitutional Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) to separatist republicanism.
Arms from Germany intended for the IRB were intercepted, but the rising proceeded regardless with the seizure of the Post Office and other buildings in Dublin by 1,500 volunteers. The rebellion was crushed by the British Army within five days, both sides suffering major losses: 250 civilians, 64 rebels, and 132 members of the crown forces were killed and around 2,600 injured. Pearse, Connolly, and about a dozen rebel leaders were subsequently executed in Kilmainham Jail. Others, including the future Taoiseach (prime minister) Éamon de Valera, were spared due to US public opinion, and were given amnesty in June 1917.
Traditionally depicted by nationalist historiography as the inevitable culmination of centuries of separatist struggle against Britain, the Easter Rising was organized by a radical minority of advanced nationalists with little support from the general public who seemed prepared to wait for the enactment of home rule secured by John Redmond, leader of the IPP, in 1914. It was organized by a number of conspirators within the military council of the IRB including Patrick Pearse and Seán MacDermott, with poets such as Thomas MacDonagh and Joseph Plunkett also playing a prominent role. The socialist leader of the Irish Citizen Army, James Connolly, was co-opted on to the military council shortly before the rising.
The ideology of the rebels remains contested but was closely associated with the ideas of Patrick Pearse, who idealized the concepts of blood sacrifice and spiritual resurrection shared by many European romantic nationalists during World War I. However, his co-conspirator, Connolly, was a Marxist who hoped that revolution in Ireland might spread throughout Europe and one of the uprising's most influential legacies, the 1916 Proclamation, combined physical-force nationalism with socially progressive ideology.
The military plans for the rising remain vague but it was beset by misfortune from the start. A gunboat carrying the German-supplied weapons necessary for success was scuttled after its interception by the British navy. John (Eoin) MacNeill, the leader of the Irish Volunteers whom the military council relied on to provide the soldiers for the rising, countermanded Pearse's orders for mobilization on Easter Sunday, 23 April. The military council pressed ahead, nonetheless, and around 1,600 rebels turned out to fight for the ‘provisional government’ of the ‘Irish Republic’ on Easter Monday. The rebels occupied a number of prominent buildings forming a ring around central Dublin and awaited the British army's assault. Little attempt had been made to mobilize separatists outside Dublin or take the offensive, suggesting that the rebellion was a bloody protest aimed at reviving sympathy for separatist objectives rather than a genuine attempt to overthrow British rule.
The British forces, under Gen Sir John Maxwell, shelled the rebel positions, destroying much of central Dublin and killing numerous civilians in the process. After six days of fighting the rebels surrendered unconditionally.
The real importance of the Easter Rising lay in its legacy. The British authorities' draconian response, including widespread arrests, deportations, and the execution of 15 republican leaders created widespread sympathy for the rebels, radicalized many young nationalists, and proved a pivotal point in the subsequent eclipse of constitutional nationalists by Irish separatists.
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