The Triumph of Failure: The Spark That Kindled the Flame for Irish Independence, Research Paper Example
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At four minutes past noon on April 24th 1916- Easter Monday- the proclamation of freedom and open rebellion was read aloud by Patrick Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin. The proclamation declared a new provisional government and called on the people of Ireland to strike now for their freedom “In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom” (1). The Irish Volunteer Army and The Irish Citizen’s Army responded to Pearse’s proclamation and attempted to hold the city of Dublin from the British forces, killing 500 British troops. However, The British overcame the rebels and put most of the insurrection’s leaders to death by firing squad. Despite this, The Easter Rebellion of 1916 has been called the “Triumph of Failure” because of how it changed public sentiment against British rule in Ireland. Pearse’s rebellion was the spark that quickly kindled the flame of independence and led to partition in the spring of 1921.
The volunteer forces and its leaders’ were at first condemned and ridiculed by their countrymen for the disgrace and destruction they had cost the city of Dublin. The city was littered with building reduced to rubble by the British gunship, Helga and a number of citizens were shot dead in the streets, mistaken for British or volunteer troops. The executions of the rebellion’s leaders proved to be the critical point in changing the feelings of the public from spite to admiration. This shift was antagonized by the stories about the rebellion’s leaders being shot one by one by the British. The cruelty and lack of mercy disgusted the Irish people and resulted in tensions relations with the Crown’s officials. The press in England mocked the failed rebellion and its leaders for their folly attempt. Fenians continued to advocate for their cause with newfound enthusiasm because of the example of men like Pearse and James Connolly. Connolly was shot in the foot during the early days of fighting and failed to treat the wound appropriately. He contracted gang green when he was captured, and because he could not stand he was shot to death sitting in a chair. Other tales of martyrdom were circulated around Ireland by the Fenians to stir the minds and hearts of their fellow countrymen.
However it took more than stories to eventually convince the population that the cause of the volunteer force on that fateful week was true and worth the sacrifice.. “To understand better this shift in public opinion it is important to recognize the decisive role played by a political welfare organization, the Irish National Aid Association and Volunteer Dependents’ Fund” (Dhaibheid 705). These social organizations and others like them kept the cause of the failed rebellion and the volunteers who perished on the minds of Irish nationalist. They also raised funds for radical nationalist election candidates and for the families of the volunteers. The Irish National Aid Association was established in May 1916 with its mission to provide funds for all families affected by the uprising, including the families of the 134 men sentenced to work camps as well as the families of over two-thousand men who were deported.
The I.N.A.A. was established by well-known doctors, lawyers, elected officials, and businessmen. It was safe to join because it was not officially associated with any Fenians or radical groups known by the British Government. The physician George Sierson drafted a heartfelt and somber appeal for public support of the I.N.A.A. on May 27th 1916.
“We make our appeal to all human hearts, whose noble compassion can reach over every obstacle to redress wrongs and alleviate suffering, that they may co-operate in this merciful and righteous work. For the sake of our country we make it, of our Nation’s honour, and of our own, so that its high repute for justice shall be transmitted by our generation unsullied to future and happier times.9”
The creation of publicly funded aid organizations proved to be immensely successful raising thousands of dollars for volunteers’ families, destroyed businesses, and for nationalist candidates. “The public response, in financial terms at least, was rooted in the immense popularity of philanthropic associations in the early decades of the twentieth century, given renewed impetus in the charitable activities associated with the ongoing war effort (5).” Funds from Irish Americans also poured into Dublin, mostly through The Catholic Church. Publicly funded aid organizations took special care of the families of the fifteen men who were executed as an act of gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice.
The most important groups participating in the Easter Rising was the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Its roots go back to the 19th Century. The idea of rebellion was theirs. Importantly, the revolution had more pessimism and desperate actions involved than revolutionary optimistic features. The First World War suggested to the rebels that the political and economical difficulties of England provided a perfect opportunity for their rebellion. It is important to note that while the organizers believed in the success of the rising, their hopes were overshadowed by the memories of multiple unsuccessful independence movements between 1798 and 1867.
Another group involved in the rising was the Anti-war Irish Volunteers. Their leader was Eoin MacNeill, a history professor. While the group was initially against the unprovoked rebellion, based on the power of the British Army.
Even the Cork Examiner did not support the uprising. On the 4h of May, the paper reported the rising as “men professing to be Irishmen and acting in the name of Ireland”. (Cork Examiner, 4 May 1916.) On the 6th, they reported the end of the uprising simply as:”Galway peaceable: Troops withdrawn”. (6 May, 1916)
The Irish Citizen Army was created to work for the “Irish Republic and the emancipation of labor”. (Foy and Branton, 1999)
Background and Ideology
To fully understand the background and motivations behind the uprising it is important to review the Irish history and the fact that nationalism appeared to be more cultural than political. The growth of the cultural naturalism was the proclamation of the resistance against “Anglicization”. Mc Carthy concludes that while some of the rebels’ motivations were economical and political, the uprising was mainly cultural. They rejected the English culture and wanted to be allowed to follow Gaelic transitions, preserve their language and autonomy.
The Home Rule years preceding the uprising created a new political climate in England and Ireland as well. It was the subject of debates in Westminster, as well as in the homeland. The of the British trying to limit the Irish’s authority over domestic issues was a sensitive issue for nationalists. There were religious and cultural considerations of the Home Rule, as well as political. The optimism that surrounded the Home Rule heated up nationalism. (Jeffery, 2000)
Connolly says about the question of success and failure: “In the event of victory, hold on to your rifles, as those with whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached. We are out for economic as well as political liberty.” (Connolly, 1916)
The feeling of romantic nationalism is clearly visible in writings of the era, as well as literature. Yeats wrote in his poem, “Easter”:
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice? . . .
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;” (Yeats, 1916)
One of the interesting aspects of the Irish uprising was that it was no longer ignored by British newspapers. The Times included a report from a Dublin correspondent about the movements. While it was not an extremely violent uprising, it was still not controlled effectively by the British Government. (Mazzo and Schaefer, online) While 452 people died during the fights and there were over 60 casualties (Mccarthy, 2013) The deaths of civilians, British and Dublin policemen were revenged by the Crown. The rebellion was followed by fifteen executions of people involved in the movement. Soon after the executions, the General Maxwell concluded that “The leaders have been removed…” (McCarthy, 2013) and he also stated that in the eye of the Irish patriots, while the revolution was suppressed, the rebels executed were considered as martyrs.
Failure or the Rising of Nationalism
From the ashes of the suppressed rebellion, a “Holy War” has risen following the executions. According to FitzGerald’s personal perspectives, the uprising was doomed to failure. He says:
We can see them as they were seen at the time by those who decided to proceed, despite the virtual certainty of failure. It was their hope that if it failed, it would nevertheless revive a dying national feeling. And they proved right in this judgment.
The death of civilians also made the public turn against the rebels, and the destruction of property did not help their motivation, either. According to McCarthy (2013), however, the uprising should not be considered as a complete failure. While the immediate mission of creating the Irish Republic and achieving independence failed, it made the War of Independence in 1919-1921 possible. Without the rebirth of cultural and political nationalism, the fact that leaders of the country took organization, politics and the union of the 32 counties in their hands, the war would never have happened.
According to McCarthy (2013) and Townshend (2005), the main reason for the failure of the uprising was its centralization. While rebels were well organized and vigilant, the rest of the country failed to string into action. Very little movement was recorded by Irish volunteers outside of Dublin. While the plans were well developed in Dublin, according to McCarthy, (2013), there were several misunderstandings regarding military plans, disparities and leadership issues. Jeffery (2000) also concludes that from the introduction of the Home Rule, there was no centralized view of the colonial issues, and there were different political groups working alongside each other, instead of uniting. While The three main groups organizing the uprising were successful at coordinating their forces together, they failed to convince leaders of other counties and the public about their motives. The mobilization of Cork failed during the Easter uprising, ans while around 1500 volunteers appeared there to organize forces, they returned to their headquarters soon after.
The executions of rebels created a pessimistic atmosphere in the Irish public and among the remaining rebels. Memorial masses were held and those who were imprisoned or executed were considered heroes in the first few months after the rising. Nationalism was on the rise, and according to Hopkinson (2002), nostalgic feelings arose in the public not only towards the martyrs, but the war heroes giving their lives for England in the World War, too.
Hostility was on the rise against Britain, following the deportations and executions. This hostility was responsible for the increased sympathy towards using force to achieve independence. Even those who were against unprovoked uprising and conflict reconsidered their views, and the case of the Irish Republic became more significant in the politics. The popularity of the Irish Parliamentary Party declined, as they took a moderate nationalist stand. (Foy and Barton, 1999)
The rise of Sinn Fain started a new chapter in the Irish history after the suppression of the Easter rising. He was closely related to the rising, while not directly involved, according to Martin (1967) and the 1918 General Elections resulted in a great triumph of Fain’s party, promising voters a modern Irish Republic. This is the point in history when Irish separatism in today’s form is born. The movement led to the British-Irish war between 1919 and 1921.
The effects of the Easter Rising are still clearly visible in today’s Irish society. The diversity of the views on separatism, British rule, culture and independence are still present in the Irish society. The IRA is still an active force in the Irish politics, while it is considered as an underground organization, it is a real threat to British administration.
Hachey (1989) writes that the centuries of oppression have left a mark on the Irish society. The songs about the rebels, the British and independence are still live in the public, and the case is still not settled. Today, there are different forces in the political palette of Ireland working on settling the question of independence with Britain. However, it is important to note that the public is just as divided about the question today as it was in 1916 and during the 1919-1921 Independence War.
Irish Nationalism Today
According to Kearney (2000), different movements have been present Ireland to preserve the cultural and ethnic independence of the country. Pessimistic views about the language and religion, traditions were surfaced. In the 1950-s, the threat of losing the language became more imminent. Language is looked upon as a fundamental to preserve people’s national identity. Since that movement, the forces of globalization have also impacted the nationalist ideologies of Ireland. The main force of nationalism remains IRA, which is considered a terrorist group. The question of Catholicism is no longer the main source of conflict as there are no real restrictions by the state regarding religion. Just like in 1916, the main reason for the failure of separatism is that the public is divided and there is no common understanding of national identity, values and what it takes to be Irish. This is mainly because of the impact of the hundreds of years of oppression, the failed wars and the suppression of the 1916 Easter Rising, People have bad experiences, and the fact that nationalism today is associated with military action, violence and terrorist attack does not help the case of independence. British identity is becoming stronger among Irish people, and while they do not call themselves English, – just like Welsh – they consider their national identity to be dual; Irish ethnically and British based on civic nationalism values. Urbanization and globalization, after all does not help the case of strengthening national identities.
White (2007) concludes that the Catholic nature of the Irish society is still visible. The resistance in 1916 during the uprising was not only political but cultural, economical too with religious aspects. However, the author also reports that the declining authority of the Church in Ireland within the society does not support the survival of nationalism, either. Still, it is important to conclude based on the research above that the 1916 Easter Rising was not a complete failure of the Irish nationalism. It was followed by the Independence war and the strengthening of national identity. Like the Phoenix being reborn from the ashes, the Fain Party’s rise was the beginning of modern activism for autonomy and independence. All was not in vain, and the heroes of the Easter Rising are still celebrated by many groups within Ireland. The struggle goes on, just like Pearse predicted: “”They think they have forseen everything, but the fools! the fools! the fools! they have left us our Fenian dead; and while Ireland holds these graves “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” (Oration of Pearse, 1915)
Proclamation of the Irish Republic. “First WorldWar.com” April 24.1916
DHÁIBHÉID, CAOIMHE NIC. “The Irish National Aid Association And The Radicalization Of Public Opinion In Ireland, 1916 1918.” Historical Journal 55.3 (2012): 705-729. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.
Irish Independent, May 27 1916
Townshend, C. (2005) Easter 1916: the Irish rebellion. Allen Lane, 2005
Jeffery, K. (2000) Ireland and the Great War bCambridge University Press
The Easter Rising by Michael Foy & Brian Barton (Sutton, 1999)
Hopkinson, G. (2002) The Irish War of Independence. Gill and Macmillan
Mazzo, D., Schaefer, K. The 1916 “Easter Rising” and Irish Independence. Web.
McCarthy, M. (2013) Ireland’s 1916 Rising Explorations of History-Making Commemoration and Heritage in Modern Times. Google eBook.
Fitzgerald, A. BBC History. Online.
Martin, F. (1967) Leaders and Men of the Easter Rising: Dublin 1916
Hachey, T., McCaffrey, L. (1989) Perspectives of Irish Nationalism
White, T. (2007)Catholicism and Nationalism in Ireland: From Fusion in the 19th Century to Separation in the 21st Century Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture
Pearse’s Graveside Panegyric for O’Donovan Rossa on 1 August 1915 at Glasnevin Cemetery. Web.
Connolly, J. (1916) Speech. Quoted in: Greaves, C. (1972) Life and Time of James Connolly, p 403
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