This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. While Irelands history is full of failed rebellions, the Easter Rebellion would help boost Irish nationalism and pave the way to independence.
In 1800, the Act of Union was established which merged Ireland with Great Britain. This led to Ireland losing its parliament in Dublin and in turn being ruled by a Westminster parliament in London. Many Irish nationalists were not happy with this.
In 1886, the First Home Rule Bill was introduced to Westminster, (which would allow Ireland to have its own government while still being a part of Great Britain) however it was defeated by The House of Commons. It was not until 1912, after many failed attempts to achieve Home Rule, that a Home Rule Bill was approved, however it was postponed due opposition in Ulster and England and later World War 1. Some Irish nationalists felt that Home Rule would not be enough for Ireland and that true independence would only be achieved through force.
The Irish Citizens Army (ICA) was formed during the 1913 Dublin Lockout by James Larkin in response to strikers being attacked by the police. In 1914, after Larkin left for America, James Connolly took over leadership and changed the direction of the group towards a socialist Irish republic.
Established in 1858 by James Stephens, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) was a secret organisation dedicated to achieving Irish independence. In 1907, the organisation’s goal of achieving an independent Ireland was revived by a younger generation of IRB members which included Tom Clarke, Sean McDermott and Bulmer Hobson. A Military Committee was formed shortly after Britain announced war on Germany. It was tasked with planning a rebellion before the war was over. They were the main agents in planning the 1916 Rising.
Most women who participated in the Rising were a part of Cumann na mBan if not the ICA (The Irish Volunteers did not allow women membership). Founded in 1914, the primary aims of the organisation were to advance the cause of Irish liberty, organise women in order to achieve said objective, assist in arming and equipping a body of men to defend Ireland and to create a fund named the ‘Defence of Ireland Fund’ which would help fund these objectives.
In 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed with the intention of blocking Home Rule by any means necessary. The Irish Volunteers was established in order to safeguard Home Rule; however, the IRB was behind the formation of the Volunteers. Eoin MacNeill was selected to lead the Volunteers, as he was not a member of the IRB and they knew they needed a highly regarded figure to lead the organisation, in order to conceal their role in the organisation. With the start of World War 1, there was a split in the organisation. John Redmond encouraged Volunteers to aid the British as he believed the end of the war would allow Home Rule to be passed. Many Volunteers agreed with Redmond and over 150,000 left to fight alongside the British. They were known as the National Volunteers. Those left were known as the Irish Volunteers and were numbered to around 13,000.
The Easter Rising was planned in secret by 6 members of the IRB and later James Connolly (after he threatened to start a rebellion with the ICA to goad the Volunteers into action). These men were Tom Clarke, Sean McDermott, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, and Eamon Ceannt. They all later signed the Proclamation.
The IRB recruited many high ranking members of the Irish Volunteers such as Joseph Plunkett and Patrick Pearse. Although MacNeill was in charge of the Volunteers many high ranking officers took their orders from the Military Committee.
Pearse ordered three days of parades and manoeuvres by the Volunteers on Easter Sunday. IRB members in the Volunteers would know that the Rising was going to take place, while informers and MacNeill would take it at face value.
When MacNeill learned of the Rising, he sent out a countermanding order to try to cancel the Rising (as he only agreed with a rebellion through general support of the populace) however he was only able to delay it by one day.
On Easter Monday 1916, members of the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizens Army and Cumann na mBan occupied strategic areas in Dublin’s city centre. Among those were the General Post Office (GPO), The Four Courts, Jacobs biscuit factory, the South Dublin Union, St Stephen’s Green and Boland’s Mill.
From the steps of the GPO, Patrick Pearse read from a proclamation, declaring Ireland to be an independent republic with its own provisional government with Pearse as the president and Connolly as the
On the first day the British were taken by surprise and were uncoordinated in their attempts to get the city back. However, on the second day martial law was introduced and reinforcements were on their way. For six days heavy fighting went on throughout the city centre which resulted in over 500 dead and 2000 wounded, the majority of which were civilians. The British with superior firepower in the form of a patrol boat named the Helga and artillery units were able to surround and bombard the rebel’s positions, most notably the GPO and the Four Courts.
On Saturday 29th, the rebels surrendered. Pearse knew that the rebellion could not continue without even more civilian casualties. He used a nurse named Elizabeth O’Farrell to carry the surrender order to the British and to the other Irish positions around the city.
Pearse along with the other co-signers of the Proclamation were arrested and executed. Over 1,400 men were arrested and sent to internment camps in Wales and England. Camps such as Frongoch (which used to be a distillery) in Wales became “Universities for Revolution” as many future rebel leaders and prominent figures were kept there such as William T Cosgrave, Terence MacSwiney, Seán T O’Kelly and Michael Collins.
Decline of Irish Whiskey
In the years leading up to the Rising, Irish Whiskey distillers banded together to oppose the mass production of cheap blended whiskey. Initially they were successful as there was a number of court cases in which the producers of blended Scotch were successfully prosecuted for fraud, for advertising real malt whiskies with cheap grain alcohol. However these makers of blended whiskey were able to lobby for an Act of parliament to define whiskey.
In 1909, after arguing for two years, the parliamentary commission opted for a compromise that permitted grain alcohol to be sold as Whiskey provided that it had been flavoured with some whiskey matured in a barrel for at least three years.
This was the major tipping point that triggered the decline of Irish Whiskey as the world’s dominant spirit drink.
With the outbreak of World War 1, exporting Irish Whiskey became difficult as a blockade of German U-Boats around Britain and Ireland made it dangerous to export to the U.S. and the British Empire.
During the Rising distilleries such as George Roe’s Whiskey distillery in Thomas Street and the William Jameson Distillery in Marrowbone Lane were occupied by rebel forces. Heavy fighting meant that by the end of the Rising several major Whiskey distilleries and storage warehouses were destroyed or badly damaged.
After Ireland gained Independence, trade tariffs set by Britain, a civil war and the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. crippled the Irish Whiskey industry which has only now seen a revival in recent years.