One of the most sensational events during the First World War strangely enough took place off the battlefield but still caused ripples of concern in Britain that continued to spread across the remainder of the 20th Century.
From 24th to 29th April 1916 an armed insurrection took place in Ireland, led and organised by Irish republicans and timed to produce a maximum impact in England that was thought to be vulnerable because of the heavy load of the War.
Known as the Easter Rising, the action was coordinated by three main groups of Irish nationalists – namely the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan (the Irish Republic’s women’s organisation), all operating under the umbrella of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
An interesting background activity was the rebel attempt to secure German support for the uprising, mostly done though Roger Casement, a British diplomat from an Irish background who was also a strong Irish Nationalist.
On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, the Rising was launched. The main actions were in Dublin where several central locations, including the General Post Office and the South Dublin Union Hospital were occupied and the Irish Republic proclaimed. This was formalised by the issue of the “Proclamation of the Republic”, signed by seven of the organisers, including Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Tom Clarke.
Barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary were also attacked in other parts of the country, including Ashbourne, County Meath and Enniscorthy.
The rebel headquarters was established at the Post Office where the flag of the Irish Republic was flown and the Military Council established their command centre.
Several acts of violence were committed on the first day – including a clash between a group of Volunteer Training Corps men and a rebel force that saw four of the Training Corps shot dead.
April 24 ended with the British military in disarray, and the initiative much in favour of the rebels.
However a key issue emerged over the following three days, with the rebels failing to secure Dublin’s two main railway stations and ports, allowing the British to transport weaponry and large numbers of troops into Dublin. The British troop strength eventually built to some 16,000 men, greatly outnumbering the 1250 men of the rebel forces in Dublin. The German assistance for the rebels also failed to materialise.
After this is was only a matter of time, and following several frontal attacks from British troops and heavy shelling from their artillery the rebels were forced to surrender on 29 April.
Mass arrests followed and those believed to be involved in the uprising were put before British Military Courts. Fifteen of the principals – including all those who signed the Proclamation, were found guilty and executed by firing squad during May. Roger Casement was found guilty of high treason in London and hanged on 3 August.
Image: The flag of the Irish Republic, flown over the Post Office on 24 April. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.