Easter 1916 a Terrible Beauty
By Niall O’Dowd, Publisher
This Easter time, despite Coronavirus and the suffering and isolation it has caused we should pause to remember the 104th anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising which reminds us of the extraordinary sacrifices of previous generations.
It should give us inspiration that fighting against the odds whether they be a deadly virus or taking on an empire are part of every generation and those who came before us have also endured Famine, pandemics, wars and revolutions.
Each of the seven men who signed the 1916 Proclamation knew they were signing their death warrant as they knew their uprising could never succeed against massively superior British forces. Nine others, beneath them in rank would also be executed, sixty-six would die in the fighting. Rebellion was not for the faint at heart.
Yet they went ahead anyway knowing they were marching into the shadow of death when they set out for the General Post Office in Dublin’s O’Connell street that Easter Monday morning.
When Pearse gave the historic order to turn left and enter the post office there was no going back, no hiding place for any of the 1,250 volunteers.
Among them were 300 women, whose roles are only now been given due honor and recognition.
Elizabeth O’Farrell performed nursing and courier duties, delivering dispatches and ammunition to rebels over the days of the Easter Rising.
As The Irish Times reported “During the Rising, one observer, a member of the Red Cross, described the women in a letter published in a newspaper of the time as “from titled ladies to shop assistants”, and the piece commended them on “their cool and reckless courage”.
It was an Irish Thermopylae, 1,250 against 17,000 British troops and 1,000 armed Royal Irish Constabulary policemen, The Irish had single shot rifles the British machine guns. The sinking of the German vessel The Aud with 20,000 guns on board for the Irish rebellion meant the volunteers were poorly equipped. Add in the four massive artillery cannons the British had plus firing from naval vessels and you have some idea of the inequity of the battle.
Unbelievably the Irish held out for a week before surrender. They were immediately assailed on all sides even by their own.
The Irish Independent wrote that it was “Criminal Madness” and opened by saying, “No terms of denunciation would be too strong to apply to those responsible for the insane and criminal rising of last week.”
The Independent added that thankfully “Irish blood” spilt in the First World War “is an expiation (making amends) for the acts of unfilial ingrates who have besmirched the honor of their native land”…”our heads must hang low in shame for the misdeeds of those…”
Irish America saw it differently. The front page headline of the old Fenian John Devoy’s “Gaelic American” screamed “Ireland in Arms Fighting for Freedom.” Devoy’s editorial was called “Ireland Fighting for Freedom.”
He called it “the most formidable insurrection that had taken place since 1798…” and which “exceeds that (1798) in importance because it is a blow aimed at the heart of English power in Ireland.”
Pretty prophetic stuff.
He praised the fighting ability of the Irish insurrectionists saying “…the insurgents fighting with inadequate supplies of arms and ammunition and without highly trained superior officers have given a very good account of themselves and have made a very important change in the whole war situation.”Devoy ended by appealing for support from Irish Americans for the uprising.
“Ireland’s only salvation lies in cutting loose from England,” he wrote.
“Whatever temporary advantage England may be able to retain this action will ensure the final triumph of the Irish Cause and must command the vigorous and energetic support of the Irish Race in America.”
Devoy and Irish America was right. Within two years 72 percent of the country was voting for Sinn Fein. A terrible beauty was born on Easter Monday 1916.