One hundred years is not so long, particularly when it commemorates a time of great civil unrest, as we well know in the U.S.
We are honored to be in Dublin on the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and spend time at the General Post Office, center of the fighting during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was launched by Irish Republicans to end British rule and establish an independent Irish state. It was the first armed action of the revolution, but not the last.
It began on Easter Monday, April 24, and lasted for six days. Members of the Irish Volunteers — led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse, joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army — seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic from the steps of the new General Post Office, which their small group had taken over.
This did not go over well. The British Army brought in thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. There was fierce street fighting on the routes into the city center, where the rebels put up stiff resistance, slowing the British advance and inflicting heavy casualties. Elsewhere in Dublin, the fighting mainly consisted of sniping and long-range gun battles. The main rebel positions were gradually surrounded and bombarded with artillery. The new GPO was heavily damaged, and bullet holes can still be seen on its columns today.
With much greater numbers and heavier weapons, the British Army suppressed the Rising. Pearse agreed to an unconditional surrender on Saturday April 29, although sporadic fighting continued until Sunday, when word reached the other rebel positions. Most of the leaders of the Rising were executed following trials and long imprisonments, which led to increased popular support for Irish independence. Many children were involved – either accidentally or as messengers and bomb dispatchers. It was a bloody time. Almost 500 people were killed. About 54% were civilians, 30% were British military and police, and 16% were Irish rebels. More than 2,600 were wounded. Many of the civilians were killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. Others were caught in the crossfire in a crowded city. The shelling and the fires it caused left parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.
After much more violence and dissension, the Irish Free State was founded as a self-governing state on December 6, 1922. No, that didn’t solve all the problems, as the creation of Northern Ireland caused yet another civil war.
What is important about the Easter Rising is that it was the match that lit the fire for Irish independence. The leaders became martyrs, and their goals were ultimately realized when 800 years of British rule ended.
Is the past forgiven or forgotten? Hardly. But there are some lighter moments in the remembering. My personal favorites were the recreations of the GPO battleground by the Irish Association for the Adult Fans of Lego. You have to smile.