Schoolteacher Patrick Pearse and Socialist leader James Connolly called for supporters of the Republic to gather at Dublin's General Post Office on Easter Monday, bringing whatever weapons they could find.
Members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, about 1,200 in number, turned out, but most citizens of Dublin were unprepared for, some even unaware of, the uprising.
The uprising itself was, by many conventional measures, a failure: Poorly planned and lacking solid support, it was quashed after a week.
Many leaders, like Pearse and Connolly, were hastily executed for treason. But as George Bernard Shaw wrote in The New York Times the following month:
It is absolutely impossible to slaughter a man in this position without making him a martyr and a hero, even though the day before the rising he may have been only a minor poet. ... The military authorities and the British Government must have known they were canonizing their prisoners.Shaw was, of course, right. (He also remains the only person to have won both a Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1925, and an Oscar, in 1938, for Pygmalion, re-made as a musical and a movie, My Fair Lady.)
Outrage over the executions resulted in a wave of nationalism among the Irish, many of whom had previously been ambivalent about an Irish Republic, and galvanized the movement. The Republic of Ireland achieved independence from Great Britain five years later. (Thanks to Garrison Keillor for his post on this event in The Writer's Almanac.)
Comments on the Easter Rising in Ireland:
A 6-minute movie on the Easter Rising may be watched by clicking here. You will like it if you love Ireland.
The rebel song "Who Fears to Speak of Easter Week" was a rewrite of an earlier song about 1798.
As my friend Tim Sullivan sums up:
Connolly and other wounded were shot tied to chairs and the rebels were jeered by the Dublin crowd as they were marched away. Ireland was fortunate that Michael Collins was not killed but was sent to jail. Here is a song in his memory.Comments on the Glamor of Unsuccessful Rebellions:
Unsuccessful uprisings are more memorable than successful ones. Their lack of success and the harsh reaction of the ruling party proves that the uprising was justified.
The Brazilians got their independence from Portugal because a resident Portuguese royal said: “You want independence? You GOT it!” Very unexciting. So in order to have some heroes to make a little fuss about in the history books, Brazilians go back to an earlier, unsuccessful upraising.
Brazil glamorizes an unsuccessful plot of a century earlier, the “Inconfidencia” led by a dentist named Tiradentes (“tooth puller”). He was turned in by a co-conspirator who was deeply in debt and was looking for compensation for being an informer. Tiradentes was hanged. The other members of the plot - except, I take it, the informer - were exiled to Angola and Mozambique. The actual independence day is less celebrated than the unsuccessful plot.