The 1916 Easter Rising

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin.

Hundreds of thousands of people crammed the streets of the Irish capital on Sunday to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British colonial rule.

The legacy of the rebellion, which was crushed by British armed forces in six days of street fighting in central Dublin, are complex and still fiercely debated, but there is no doubting the popular enthusiasm for the event in nation that has had little to cheer about in recent years.

The Proclamation of the Republic (Irish: Forógra na Poblachta), also known as the 1916 Proclamation or Easter Proclamation, was a document issued by the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising in Ireland proclaimed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom. The reading of the proclamation by Patrick Pearse outside the General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street (now called O’Connell Street), Dublin’s main thoroughfare, marked the beginning of the Rising.

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Its main points were

  • that the Rising’s leaders spoke for Ireland (a claim historically made by Irish insurrectionary movements);
  • that the Rising marked another wave of attempts to achieve independence through force of arms;
  • that the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army were central to the Rising;
  • “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland”
  • that the form of government was to be a republic;
  • a guarantee of “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”, the first mention of gender equality, given that Irish women under British law were not allowed to vote;
  • a commitment to universal suffrage, a phenomenon limited at the time to only a handful of countries, not including Britain;
  • a promise of “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”. Although these words have been quoted since the 1990s by children’s rights advocates, “children of the nation” refers to all Irish people;[1]
  • disputes between nationalists and unionists are attributed to “differences carefully fostered by an alien government”, a rejection of what was later dubbed two-nations theory.

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In all 16 were executed and became known as “The Martyrs”

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The events inspired what is probably one of W. B. Yeats’s most famous poems and  One that certainly ranks in the Parthenon of English verse.

Easter 1916

W. B. Yeats1865 – 1939
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud, 
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute to minute they live;
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

 

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