With the passing of the Act of Union in 1801, Ireland lost its parliament which had existed in one form or another, since the 13th century. As one can imagine, many felt aggrieved by this and as the century progressed the concept of Home Rule-having a parliament in Dublin to deal with internal affairs was broached by Isaac Butt and later further developed by Charles Stewart Parnell and John Redmond.
The first and second Home Rule Bills introduced in 1886 & 1893 respectfully, were unsuccessful due to the House of Lords power of veto but in 1911 with the passing of the Parliament Act things started to look more hopeful for the Home Rule Party and Irish Nationalists. This Act was significant as it reduced the House of Lords power of veto to a delaying in power which in simple terms meant that the third HR Bill introduced in 1912 could only be delayed for two years, so it looked likely that Home Rule would become a reality by 1914.
For Nationalists this was a dream come through but for Unionists it was a nightmare! They feared that a Catholic dominated parliament in Dublin would discriminate against them as a Protestant minority but they also worried that their economic prosperity would suffer if they were no longer part of the union. Hence, they were prepared to do everything in their power to stay in the Union and set about organising resistance to the introduction of Home Rule. Their first port of call saw them drawing up the Solemn League and Covenant –a petition signed by thousands of Unionists stating that they would resist the introduction of Home Rule with physical force if necessary. To substantiate this threat they then set up the UVF-ULSTER VOLUNTEER FORCE and imported arms in the Larne Gun Running.
However, equally as determined to see the introduction of Home Rule Nationalists set up the IVF-IRISH VOLUNTEER FORCE and brought in arms in the Howth Gun Running. As the months passed, Edward Carson and John Redmond tried hard to reach a compromise over the implementation of Home Rule in
Ulster but they couldn’t agree on the fate of Fermanagh and Tyrone. As talks broke down, it looked as though Ireland was on the brink of Civil War with both sides importing arms. However, with the outbreak of World War I, civil war was averted. Home Rule was then passed into law on 18 Sept 1914 but postponed until after the duration of WWI.
To show their loyalty to England, John Redmond now encouraged the Irish Volunteer Force to fight with Britain in the hope that Britain would look favourably on the fate of Home Rule once the war had ended. Most agreed and went to fight with Britain but for the 11,000 that remained at home they grew increasingly frustrated with the hollow victory of Home Rule. Heavily infiltrated by the IRB, they now began to make plans to stage a rebellion.
The IRB military council comprised of; Padraig Pearse ,Thomas Clarke Joseph Plunkett, Eamonn Ceannt Sean MacDiarmada and later joined by James Connolly felt that now was the time to strike. They saw England’s difficulty as Ireland’s opportunity and so started to take matters into their own hands. However, it soon became clear that their planned rising had little chance of success as they had insufficient weapons and with MacNeill’s realisation that the Castle Document had been a forgery all activities for Easter Sunday were cancelled.
Nonetheless, these men were not deterred and relied on the element of surprise and advocated Pearse’s idea of blood sacrifice. They knew they wouldn’t win but were prepared to sacrifice their lives for what they believed in. Their courage saw them standing up against the British Empire but alas their actions culminated in the imposition of martial law and the subsequent executions of 16 men.
Between the 3rd and 12th May the following men were shot for their part in the Rising;
- Pádraic Pearse
- Thomas Clarke
- Thomas MacDonagh
- Joseph Plunkett
- Edward Daly
- Michael O’Hanrahan
- Willie Pearse
- John MacBride
- Eamonn Ceantt
- Michael Mallin
- Sean Heuston
- Con Colbert
- Thomas Kent
- Seán MacDiarmada
- and James Connolly while Roger Casement was hung that August.
The executions were the main reason for the turn-around in public opinion. Initially the majority of people felt that the Rebels had stabbed England in the back during her time of need. However, soon after the swift execution of the aforementioned 15, people began to change their minds.
Shocked by the actions of General Maxwell, public opinion began to change while the hundreds imprisoned after the Rising became even more determined while in prison, to finish the work of the men of Easter Week upon their release. In essence, these prisons became Schools of Republicanism. The martyrs who gave their lives for what they believed in planted the seed in the minds of the ordinary Irish man to fight for his country and his independence; to stand up and make a difference.
As we move forward in the 21st century, let us mirror the heroism of these men; standing up for what we believe in and never losing sight of the fact that we are Irish and proud of our history and our culture.