1916 – Proclaiming a Republic

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Easter Monday 1916. The First World War was raging on mainland Europe. But, believing “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”, in Dublin a small group of rebels occupied strategic buildings around the city. These included the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now known as O’Connell street, the main thoroughfare north of the Liffey in the city centre), where they established their headquarters. The Republican flag was hoisted and at 12:45 p.m., Pádraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Republic.

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Pádraig Pearse (source: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1528408)

The rebels included Catholic Nationalists and Revolutionary Socialists. The majority were Irish Volunteers, the military wing of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse. They were joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly, which had originally been formed to protect strikes from attacks from police and blacklegs. There were also 200 women from Cumann na mBan a women’s paramilitary organisation affiliated to the Irish Volunteers.

James Connolly

James Connolly

There followed several days of fighting between the rebels and British troops. There were casualties on both sides and amongst Dubliners who weren’t involved (“collateral damage”) and buildings were destroyed by British bombardment including shells fired from a gunboat, the Aurora, moored on the Liffey. The rebels didn’t really stand a chance and they eventually surrendered on the following Saturday.

Most historians reckon that there was little support for the rising amongst ordinary Dubliners. In fact, the leadership of the IRB were opposed to it – Pearse went ahead despite being ordered to cancel his plans. The British authorities however ordered the execution of the leaders which turned the tide of opinion. So although the Rising failed to achieve power, it set in motion a series of events that eventually led to Irish independence.

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So this year is the centenary of the Uprising and it’s being celebrated in Ireland with a series of events, activities and exhibitions. These included a parade in Dublin city centre on Easter Monday. This was not the true centenary as Easter was early this year (at the end of March) while in 1916 it was late and the uprising actually took place on 24 April.

As part of the celebrations, a new exhibition, Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising opened on 3rd March at the Museum of Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, in Dublin. I’m working in Ireland this week and, as I often do, I’d travelled over on an early boat on Sunday so I could spend the afternoon doing something. So I decided to take a look.

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The museum’s website tells us

The exhibition explores the background to the 1916 Rising. It introduces the visitor to the nuances of contemporary political events; the rise of the Catholic élite; the push for Home Rule along with the counter-moves of unionism; the increasing ‘Irish-Ireland’ aspects of the arts and cultural movements of the period and the growth of republican nationalism. The visitor will be presented with accounts of the individuals and the organisations which featured in the political arena of 1916, as it became increasingly militaristic in nature. However, Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising also offers visitors the unique experience of physical proximity to the people and events of Easter Week through the everyday, intimate and personal belongings of the participants.

One of the first exhibits I saw was a copy of the Proclamation. 2,500 copies were printed on an old and poorly maintained Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and also of the Irish Citizen Army.

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Exhibits included the Republican flag that was flown from the GPO

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and a flag featuring the Starry Plough, the symbol of James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.

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These exhibits were objects from the GPO

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Examples of weapons used by the rebels.

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They were very much “make do and mend” obtained from a wide variety of sources. The best available guns they had were probably the antiquated  German Mauser rifles brought in to Ireland just before the War broke out in 1914.

This is an example of the uniform worn by members of the Irish Citizen’s Army

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There were documents too, including hand written notes by Padraig Pearse and James Connelly.

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There was certainly plenty to see and although I already knew quite a lot about the history of the uprising, it was interesting to see the items that had belonged to or had been used by the people involved. It brought history to life. However, I do agree with this view expressed in the Irish Times

space is a little cramped, some elements are too text heavy and the dull lighting does none of the displays any great favour.

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One thought on “1916 – Proclaiming a Republic

  1. Pingback: Dublin GPO – Witness Revolution | Down by the Dougie

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