Courtney Lerch’s Study Abroad Portfolio ~ 2005
English 201-Honors and English and 314
The content of this page is research done for Honors Credit
Ireland’s Struggle for Independence, circa 1900-1918
Irish revolutionary James Connolly once said, “The British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland” (Irish Quotes). Connolly, who was one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, was instrumental in Ireland’s struggle for independence from British rule. Although the Easter Rising and the Anglo-Irish War which began soon afterward were the primary incidences which eventually led to Irish Home Rule, the conflict between Ireland and Britain continually increased throughout the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 1900, Queen Victoria visited Ireland for the last time (1). Even at this point, many Irish were taking a stand against Britain. One of the main events surrounding the Queen’s visit was a picnic for children near Phoenix Park in Dublin. Irish actress Maud Gonne (who would eventually form a nationalist women’s organization called the Daughters of Ireland) organized an opposing picnic to stand for Irish patriotism (2). Even this early in the century, Irish nationalists were taking a stand against British rule.
The push for Irish independence depended a lot on politics. In 1906, the election was a victory for Liberals, but their plans had no mention of Irish Home Rule (52). This is because Home Rule was not an idea that could gain votes for the party since it was not supported by the general opinion of the British (53). The nationalist movement, which had ridden on the backs of liberals (54) was not getting the action it desired, and thus more radical nationalist groups emerged.
An organization called the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) began, and this stressed Catholicism as the reason necessary for Home Rule. This group was directed by Joseph Devlin, who was a forceful leader. Eventually, the AOH began to be pressured by the Sinn Fein, which was the Irish Republic Party that wanted an end to British rule (55). In 1907, Bulmer Hobson, a Belfast Quaker, became Vice-President of Sinn Fein (55). In 1909 Defensive Warfare was published, and it outlined passive ways for nationalists to stand up for independence from the British (55-56). The plan was for the fight for nationalism to be free of aggression. Unfortunately, that plan did not last long.
In 1910, a man named Edward Carson was elected leader of the Irish Unionists, the party which opposed Home Rule. On September 23, 1911, a grand demonstration was held to take a stand against the nationalist movement (58). It tried to promote the idea that “Home Rule would be ‘Rome Rule,’” because a great majority of the Home Rule promoters were Catholic (59). Another Unionist demonstration was held in 1912. At this one, 100,000 men marched past in a counter-demonstration (59). Conflict between those for and against Home Rule continued to escalate.
In 1913 an Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was organized, and in early 1914 they arranged to get a shipment of arms (60). Meanwhile, the nationalists were beginning to set up a militia of their own, and their numbers exceeded that of the UVF within a few weeks of the group’s inception (60). In the midst of this, an industrial strike was taking place in Dublin that would eventually lead to yet another aggressive nationalist group.
James Larkin Constance Markievicz Patrick Pearse
Throughout 1913, workers in Dublin united behind James Connolly and James Larkin in a strike against their poor working conditions and housing (61). Larkin was a fierce fighter, and his actions inspired later followers like Constance Markievicz (62) (click here for more information about Constance Markievicz). In October of 1914, he was sentenced to seven months in prison, but was released only a month later (64). Upon his release, James Connolly called upon their followers to rally into an armed force, and within a few days the Irish Citizen Army was formed (65). Soon, though, World War I began and issues pertaining to Irish Home Rule were once again pushed to the back burner in terms of importance.
Despite the raging war, the nationalist movement developed further. Eventually, James Connolly joined forces with Patrick Pearse, an important member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) (73). William Butler Yeats conveyed their merging forces in his poem ‘The Rose Tree’:
‘But where can we draw water,’
Said Pearse to Connolly,
‘When all the wells are parched away?
O plain as plain can be
There’s nothing but our own red blood
Can make a right rose tree.’ (73)
Together, Connolly and Pearse began to envision what would become the 1916 Easter Rising.
The plans for the rising were drawn up by Joseph Plunkett, but disapproval by Eoin MacNeill (the founder of the Irish Volunteers) led to the plans being kept secret. As a result, confusion ensued that led to a much smaller number of Volunteers joining in the rising on Easter weekend (75).
Joseph Plunkett General Post Office Eamon de Valera
On Monday morning of Easter weekend, some 1300 Irish Volunteers and 219 members of the Irish Citizen Army seized five groups of buildings in Dublin. One group occupied the General Post Office on O’Connell Street. There, Connolly was declared military commander and Pearse “read the proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic” (76). During the course of the rising, the British government’s forces could (and should) have eased up on the rebels since there was no way they were going to succeed with such a small number of men (77). However, the British took the opposite approach and became more violent and aggressive as the rising wore on throughout the week of Easter77).
On the Saturday after the Easter Rising began and after about 450 people had been killed, Pearse surrendered. Only a few weeks later, in May, the leaders of the rising (except for Eamon de Valera) were shot for treason (80). Constance Markievicz’s life was spared by the Prime Minister of Britain, Herbert Asquith, because she was a woman (81). In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, tension between Ireland and Britain continued to escalate, particularly after World War I ended and Britain could no longer ignore the push for Irish independence (85). Soon, the two were at war.
"Irish Quotes." 31 October 2005 <http://www.nagael.com/quotes.html>.
Townshend, Charles. Ireland: The 20th Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Pictures other than General Post Office from: