EASTER RISING JUSTIFIED
In this centennial year of commemoration of the Easter Rising of 1916, a number of issues have once more arisen concerning its justification.
We have seen a variety of elements slithering forth yet again in order to denigrate that event: certain ex-politicians, academics, journalists, and letter writers to editors.
It is worth repeating here and expanding on some points which I made in my article in the May 1914 edition of INC News.
Central to a lot of their accusations is the assertion that the Rising had no mandate and that its aims could have been achieved otherwise by electoral means. It is conveniently forgotten that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was not a proper democracy prior to 1918 in terms of its franchise. 70% of adults (i.e. persons aged 21 and more) did not have a vote for Parliament. The suffrage was not extended to all adult males until 1918 and some adult females (those aged 21-30) until 1928.
Apart from that and as for a mandate, national insurrection legitimately derives from foreign occupation. If my fundamental rights are violated by an imperial power, I have the right to resist and this right is not dependent on establishing majority support beforehand. Besides, it is ludicrous to imply that, under the circumstances of foreign occupation, one could hold a referendum on insurrection, even if that were desirable.
A number of assertions have been made about the Rising that are dubious, to say the least. To begin with, much is made of the derision to which captured rebels were subjected by some of the citizenry as they were led off to prison. However, it does not take a genius to suspect that supporters of the Rising were afraid to come out on the streets in the face of the British Army, while relatives of husbands and sons who had been lured into the service of British imperialism felt free to do so, especially when their allowances for serving soldiers were taken into account.
In fact, there is evidence to support this conclusion. A member of the Canadian press, sent to Dublin after the Rising broke out, wrote a book about his experiences. In this, he said: "I have read many accounts of public feeling in Dublin in these days. They are all agreed that the open and strong sympathy of the mass of the population was with the British troops. That this was so in the better parts of the city, I have no doubt, but certainly what I myself saw in the poorer districts did not confirm this. It rather indicated that there was a vast amount of sympathy with the rebels, particularly after the rebels were defeated. The sentences of the Courts Martial deepened this sympathy." And further on he stated: "People were leaning from their windows waving triangular flags and handkerchiefs. 'They are cheering the soldiers,' I said to my companion. ... As the main body approached I could see that the soldiers were escorting a large number of prisoners, men and women, several hundreds in all. The people were cheering not the soldiers but the rebels." (F A McKenzie, The Irish Rebellion - What Happened and Why, C Arthur Pearson Ltd, 1916).
Paul Me Guill has also supplied me with the reference below.
Frank Thornton was imprisoned with Seán MacDiarmada in Richmond Barracks. He recalls that on the way to Kilmanham on 9th May 1916: "We marched along the road and with every yard there were indications of the changed attitude of the people. The open trams passing by always brought a cheer from somebody, even though rifles were pointed at the offender on every occasion, and old men stood at the street corner and saluted despite being pushed around." (Brian Barton, From Behind a Closed Door, Black Staff Press, Belfast 2002, p 309). More generally speaking, it is not capable of being known what the views of the population throughout Ireland were. The news media were in the hands of a hostile bourgeoisie and, of course, there were no such things as opinion polls in 1916.
All these points are ignored and the support which became undeniably manifest for the Rising subsequent to 1916 is reduced to the stupidity of a British general in carrying out the executions of the leaders.
As for the deaths of civilians in 1916, of course some of these were unfortunately caught in crossfire. However, there is the question of how many needlessly died as a result of British military policy. First of all, heavy machine guns were brought into the city as well as artillery and there were shells fired from a gunboat on the Liffey. It is hard to believe that the authorities would have behaved like this in a British city if there had been something similar to an uprising of latter-day Chartists. In addition to that, there were the murders of civilians carried out by British troops, especially the massacre in North King Street where non-combatant men were slaughtered along with youths by way of shooting and bayoneting. The revisionists are impelled do denounce the Rising in all sorts of ways, but they give little or no time to criticizing the atrocities of British imperialism in Dublin.
On a broader front, we should not forget that home rule (already postponed from 1886 and '93), with all its limitations, had not been introduced in 1914, given the suspensory act which accompanied the main statute. There is also the support or tolerance shown by a large part of the British establishment for unionism. It is very much open to question if even the milk and water home rule provisions would ever have been introduced in reality. And it is wishful thinking that the Act could have led on to independence, not least because of Britain's urge to hold on to the island at its backdoor. As for the Treaty of 1921, despite revisionist claims to the contrary, it was well in advance of home rule and would not have been attained without force.
When all things are considered, the Easter Rising of 1916 was amply justified in its confrontation of the British Empire and the assertion of the right of Ireland to national freedom. It also became a beacon for anticolonialist struggle throughout the world. The bravery and heroism of those who carried out that Rising are beyond doubt.
Daltún Ó Ceallaigh, Eagarthóir, INC NEWS