As we discussed in our last post, the very secrecy needed to plan the rebellion nearly destroyed it. Despite Casement’s arrested and MacNeill’s counter-orders, Pearse and his comrades were determined to rebel. They sent out another order, telling the Volunteers to gather on Monday, 24 April 1916.
A Republic is Pronounced
When the Rising began that Monday, about half of the Irish Volunteers trickled into Dublin and even fewer gathered in the countryside. Many men chose to follow MacNeill’s counter-order, convinced that Pearse’s new order was fake. Pearse and the others lead about 150 men down Sackville Street where they picked up stranglers and marched on the General Post Office (GPO). It was here they would establish their headquarters.
The GPO was a formidable building and an important location in Dublin. There is some question as to whether it offered Pearse and Connolly the ability to effectively communicate with the other garrisons, especially when it was cut off from the southern half by the Castle and Trinity College (both structures would not be taken during the battle).
Whatever its military significance, it became a politically powerful building. After they took the GPO, two Irish flags were hung-one was white, green, and orange/yellow and the other was green with a golden harp. Then Pearse read outloud the Irish Proclamation of the Republic to the newly ‘liberated’ people. This proclamation was signed by all seven leaders of the Rising-Pearse, Clarke, Ceannt, McDermott, MacDonagh, Connolly, and Plunkett-and it would later serve as their death warrant.
Whether because he read the proclamation or simply during the stress of the times, Pearse became the unofficial president and general of the Volunteers-although there were claims following the Rising that Clarke was the actual president. They also wanted an official name for the army that had gathered in Dublin. It originally started as the Army of the Republic, which was changed to the Irish Republic Army (IRA) and became official and everlasting in the 1920s.
There was a sense of futility combined with military spirit in the GPO. While men like Pearse had always spoke of the need to wash Ireland in martyr’s blood, even practical men like Connolly seemed to believe that they were going to be slaughtered. Yet, Pearse and the other leaders still struggled to develop a military command structure and government while also taking the city. As Pearse became the center of the Rising, Connolly took command of the military forces, sending out orders that his secretary, Winifred Carney, typed on her typewriter.
While this was happening, the battalions that showed up, quickly dispersed to vital positions throughout the city.
Taking the City
To the east of the GPO, was the Four Courts-the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the Dublin District Court. This was taken by the 1st battalion commanded by Edward Daly. Daly was the youngest man to be a commandant and was Tom Clarke’s brother-in-law. Daly sent a small company under the command of Sean Heuston to take the Mendicity Institution (one of Ireland’s oldest charities). Heuston’s original orders (when GPO expected an immediate response from the British Army) were to hold the position for a few hours to give GPO time to get organized. Heuston would hold on for three days.
Southeast of the Four Courts was the South Dublin Union. This was taken by the Fourth battalion led by Eamon Ceannt, one of the seven signers of the proclamation and planner of the rising.
West of the South Dublin Union was Jacob’s biscuit factory. This was taken by the second battalion commanded by Thomas MacDonaugh, another signer of the proclamation.
West of the biscuit factory was St. Stephen’s Green, a large park. This was taken by
Connolly’s Citizen Army commanded by Michael Mallin. Mallin was Connolly’s second in command and co-founder of the Socialist Party of Ireland. Constance Markievicz, a fascinating and colorful member of the Volunteers, Citizen Army, and, later, IRA, was his third in command. They tried to take Shelbourne Hotel on the north-east side of the park, but didn’t have the sufficient manpower. The British would position troops in the hotel by Monday night.
Northeast of St. Stephen’s Green was Boland’s Mill. This was taken by the Third battalion, commanded by Eamon de Valera. De Valera was a mathematics professor and had joined the Irish Volunteers out of a sense of nationalism, but only reluctantly became an IRB member. He would later distance himself from the IRB, professing a disdain for secret societies.
While they certainly took a large part of the city, it must be remembered that Dublin was surrounded by five barracks. To the northeast there were the Royal and Marlborough barracks, to the south east there was the Richard Barracks, to the very south was the Portobello barracks, and to the southwest was the Beggars Bush Barracks. Additionally, the Castle, the center of British colonialism in Ireland was in the very center of Dublin, and the Volunteers didn’t take it.
There was a futile attempt early Monday afternoon, but for reasons that are still unclear, it was unsuccessful. The Volunteers also failed to take Trinity College and the telephone exchange in Crown alley, allowing the government to control communication and repair the lines that had been cut. Additionally, they failed to take Dublin’s two railways or Dublin Port and Kingstown. This would, later, enable the British to bring in army reinforcements.
There has been a lot of puzzlement over these failures, but it may have simply been due to the lack of manpower and the confusion caused by the counter-orders. There were mild gunfights throughout the day and the Volunteers waited nervously for Britain’s response. They expected it to be hard and fast, but this was furthest from the truth.
Most of the army had gone to the races and the British representatives in Ireland had not expected anything to happen, despite knowing about the preparation for the Rising and the arms the Germans had sent. Maybe MacNeill’s counter-orders convinced them that internal dissension had killed the rebellion. Maybe they assumed cooler heads would prevail and no one would dare challenge British power. Either way, Monday was a resounding victory for Pearse and his men.
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1916 Easter Rising Map-By Scolaire [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Edward Daly-Public Domain
Michael Mallin-By National Library of Ireland on The Commons [No restrictions, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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