The Rising: Ireland, Easter 1916

The Rising: Ireland, Easter 1916

The Rising: Ireland, Easter 1916

The Rising: Ireland, Easter 1916


The story of Easter 1916 from the perspective of those who made it, focusing on the experiences of rank and file revolutionaries. Fearghal McGarry makes use of a unique source that has only recently seen the light of day - a collection of over 1,700 eye-witness statements detailing the political activities of members of Sinn Féin and militant groups such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This collection represents one of the richest and mostcomprehensive oral history archives devoted to any modern revolution, providing new insights on almost every aspect of this seminal period.


All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.

W. B. Yeats, Easter 1916 (1920)

What do we remember when we remember 1916? Yeats identified the sacrifice at Easter with resurrection, just as Patrick Pearse intended: ‘Life springs from death’. Many veterans recalled it as a transformative moment. ‘Then came like a thunderclap the 1916 Rising’, recorded Ernie O’Malley, a Dublin medical student at the time: ‘Before Easter Week was finished I had changed.’ He described ‘the strange rebirth’ that followed Pearse’s execution: ‘Now was the lyrical stage, blood sang and pulsed, a strange love was born that was for some never to die till they lay stiff on the hillside or in quicklime near a barrack wall.’ In another memoir, published posthumously, O’Malley reflected on his life’s cause: ‘I had given allegiance to a certain ideal of freedom as personified by the Irish Republic. It had not been realised except in the mind.’ He had dedicated years of his ‘broken’ life to a project paralleling that of the Bureau of Military History (whose records form the core of this book), traversing Ireland to record the testimony of revolutionary veterans, compiling ‘notebook after notebook of material’ in the National Library in an attempt to reconstruct the era. Preparing for his death, O’Malley ‘first left instructions to be buried upright, facing eastwards towards his enemies the British, but added a coda: “in fact they are no longer my enemies. Each man finds his enemy within himself.” ’ O’Malley’s experiences convey the protean nature of 1916, even for those who lived through it. His generation, more often than not, recalled the rebellion from the perspective of the futures they had anticipated prior to 1916, and the disappointments they subsequently endured. For each generation that followed, the Rising meant something different again, leading one ethnologist to ask ‘When was 1916?’

My first memory of 1916 is being physically punished for not being able to name the signatories of the Proclamation. This proved less effective in . . .

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