The idea that 1916 was a simple blood sacrifice or a romantic and spontaneous uprising by a group of fanatics will be parroted out to no end in the coming months. It doesn’t help that this is a revisionist myth. The reality is the Easter Rising was a product of certain conditions, conditions which the establishment certainly don’t want to achknowledge continue to exist. The question must be asked, what makes 1916 different from other uprisings, 1798, 1803, 1867 etc.? All showed grand feats of heroism and sacrifice. All failed from a military point of view. However, 1916 stands out for the reason it ignited a series of events afterwards – the rise of Sinn Féin, the 1918 election and the first Dáíl, the Tan War and Civil War.
Collectively, these events can justly be called the Irish Revolution. However, it would be ridiculous to say a revolution can be caused by executions of 16 individuals. 1798, 1867 etc. all had executions, and in their own way inspired other uprisings, but yet they did not lead to any revolution. The question has to be asked, why? It wasn’t that 1916 stood apart in terms of its egalitarian demands, “cherish all the children of the nation equally” and so on. It could be argued the Fenian Proclamation of 1867 was superior to the 1916 proclamation in terms of its social radicalism, demands for the end of the exploitation of labour, appeals to English workers and so on.
The firm reality is that 1916 did not set off a revolution, rather it was itself an event in a wider revolutionary period, in Ireland and Europe. 1916 could not have happened were it not for the Gaelic Revival which began as far back as the late 1800s. This led to a new-found pride in the Irish language and a Cultural revolution in Irish society. This coinceded with the centenary of the United Irishmen rebellion in 1898, the opposition to the Boer War and the wider instability across the continent. This can be seen as one of the main conditions that led to the Rising of Easter week.
Next, the 1913 Dublin Lockout. The Lockout was one of the most intense class battles Europe had seen in decades. William Martin Murphy locked out 20,000 of his workers in an attempt to break the ITGWU, led by James Connolly and Jim Larkin. The tactics of the police and scabs led to the formation of the Irish Citizen Army, an armed workers militia later to play a key role in the Easter Rising. The nationalist movement was split on 1913, with conservatives like Griffith opposing it and progressives like Clarke supporting the workers. The Lockout also coincided with the promotion of feminism, with Maud Gonne and Constance Markievicz establishing Cumann na mBán. The youth too were establishing themselves in this period, with Na Fianna Eireann being established by Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson in 1909 as a seperatist alternative to the British scouts in Ireland. Both organizations played a significant role in the Easter Rising, carrying dispatches and so on between the signatories.
In Europe, World War had broken out in 1914, with the continents’ workers and poor slaughtering each other for the pursuit of labour and territory for their country’s elite. In Ireland, the Irish Volunteers split over involvement in the imperialist war. Those who remained felt it better to spill blood in Ireland rather than on the fields of Belgium and France. The War was also a significant influence on the role of militarism in society, however, this shouldn’t be taken as to mean it was the main reason for a military uprising in Ireland. Events had been leading to a near civil war between the UVF and Irish Volunteers over Home Rule, with even British officers in the Curragh saying they would rebel if it was passed by parliament. The Orange volunteers too expressed, with 100,000 signatures to the effect, that they would not lie down peacefully.
Thus, 1916 was the product of very specific conditions, in a very specific time. It was these factors that caused 1916 and the War of Independence, not a poetic oration, moving speech or handful of executions. It was not just a random uprising done for the craic, as we say, or for totally moral reasons. With everything considered, it was a very rational thing to do. Despite the logic of 1916, it also faced challenges: Eoin MacNeill’s attempted sabotage, the Aud being scuttled and so on. The planned uprising around the country was not feasible, yet there was little chance of survival had the plans been abandoned. Despite the obstacles, 1916 still had to take place, under less than favourable circumstances, but to say it was doomed from the beginning and was only a blood sacrifice intent on influencing future uprisings is a revisionist myth. 1916 of course, has to be considered unfinished business. Ireland is still under imperialist domination, 6 counties still occupied, the EU, IMF and MNCs pillaging the 26 counties through the banks, not tanks method. The state and various poltical parties will seek to conquor the legacy of 1916 for their own ends. Really, no party is entitled to the legacy of Easter Week. No one should be jostling for the ownership of a historic event. What we do need to fight for in the centenary is the legacy of 1916, what it means. Just as the ICA and workers of Dublin went out on Easter Sunday, we need to put our own class analysis on the Rising. By doing so, and putting it into its context, can we dream of avoiding the Counter-Revolution that occurred in 1922 and destroyed the goals of the Rising. Ireland remains unfree and definitely shall not be at peace while we allow the same counter-revolutionary state to remain in place, with the same financiers and speculators controlling our sovereignty.