By Charly SHELTON
One hundred years ago, a group of proud men stood up for themselves and their country, laid down their lives for what they thought was right and to gain freedom for their countrymen. This Sunday marks the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising.
There hasn’t been a lot of media coverage or mention of the day, especially in L.A. as the anniversary happens to fall on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide last year. There are more residents of the city at large who identify with that event than with the Easter Rising. There are, however, big commemoration events happening in various cities around the world for those who feel a connection to their Irish heritage.
Comóradh Éirí Amach na Cásca, or the anniversary of the Easter Rising, is a national holiday in Ireland and a patriotic day for Irishmen and their descendants around the world. On April 24, 1916, a group of seven men, the military council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, staged a revolt in Dublin in an attempt to end British rule. During the height of World War I, England was distracted and most of her troops were on the continent fighting larger battles. The IRB thought this was the perfect time to strike and planned an uprising for Easter Sunday at several locations around the island to take strategic hold until England agreed to make Ireland a free Republic.
Their plans were discovered and nearly canceled by Eoin MacNeill, leader of the Irish nationalist army, The Irish Volunteers. The revolt was moved to Easter Monday but word could only get to Dublin and the surrounding area so instead of an island-wide strike, the fighting was localized in the capital city. Led by the IRB and with troops from The Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, as well as 200 women of Cumann na mBan, the paramilitary Irishwomen Council, the 1,250 rebels took control of key locations around Dublin, with their headquarters in Dublin’s General Post Office. This was fairly easy as the post office wasn’t under armed guard and many of the Dublin citizens who were not involved in the rebel groups had no idea what was going on. Rebel leader Patrick Pearse came out onto the stairs of the GPO and read The Proclamation of the Irish Republic, declaring their freedom from England. Many of the citizens still didn’t know that this was an uprising, and it didn’t really sink in that a battle was about to begin until the rebels fired on some passing British troops.
The fighting raged for six days, overtaking and decimating Dublin with destruction to buildings, roadblocks and deaths. All in all, 485 people died, more than half of whom were civilians, and more than 2,600 people were injured. Arrests followed with 3,430 men and 79 women arrested for taking part in the Rising, but most of them were released. Ninety rebels were sentenced to death and 15 of the more important figures, including the seven who planned the event and signed the Proclamation, were executed by firing squad between May 3 and May 12.
As each subsequent death was reported in the papers, the dead became martyrs for the cause. This began to shift public opinion in favor of independence. Ireland wouldn’t become its own republic until 1949, but the Easter Rising was the moment when the struggle for freedom began. The tricolor flag, a nod to the revolutionary French flag, was first flown in Dublin at the start of the Easter Rising and is now the national flag of the country, illustrating the melding of the Catholics, the green, and the Protestants, the orange, into the peaceful country, the white, that it is today.
The day is commemorated in Ireland and around the world for those who remember the courage of the few who stood up to the force of an empire. And even though they lost in the end, for six days they did the impossible and that made them mighty.
For information on the local commemoration event this Sunday in Long Beach, see the Religion section in this paper.