seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Rebels Surrender Ends the 1916 Easter Rising

pearse-surrenders-to-loweThe Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army rebels headquartered at the General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street, after days of shelling, are forced to abandon their headquarters when fire caused by the shells spreads to the GPO. James Connolly, Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, has been incapacitated by a bullet wound to the ankle and has passed command on to Patrick Pearse. Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, is killed in a sortie from the GPO. The rebels tunnel through the walls of the neighbouring buildings in order to evacuate the Post Office without coming under fire and take up a new position at 16 Moore Street.

On Saturday, 29 April, 1916, from the new headquarters on Moore Street, after realising that they will not break out of this position without further loss of civilian life, Pearse issues an order for all companies to surrender. Pearse surrenders unconditionally to Brigadier-General William Henry Muir  Lowe (photo). The surrender document reads:

“In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the commandants of the various districts in the City and County will order their commands to lay down arms.”

The other posts surrender only after Pearse’s surrender order, carried by nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, reaches them. Sporadic fighting, therefore, continues into Sunday, April 30, when word of the surrender is received by the other rebel garrisons. Command of British forces has passed from Lowe to General John Maxwell, who arrives in Dublin just in time to accept the surrender. Maxwell is made temporary military governor of Ireland.

The surrender signals the end of the 1916 Easter Rising, the most significant campaign in the struggle for Irish independence since the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The Rising leaves large parts of the city decimated and results in thousands of casualties. It is also, unambiguously, a spectacular military failure. And yet it is the spark that lights the fuse on the Irish War of Independence which, within five years, forces the British government to the negotiating table to discuss the terms of Irish independence.

Martial law, which was declared in Dublin by British authorities, remains in effect in Ireland through the fall of 1916.

The 1916 Easter Rising results in at least 485 deaths, according to the Glasnevin Trust. More than 2,600 are wounded, including at least 2,200 civilians and rebels, at least 370 British soldiers, and 29 policemen. The vast majority of the Irish casualties are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in the aftermath of the fighting. British families come to Dublin Castle in May 1916 to reclaim the bodies of British soldiers and funerals are arranged. Soldiers whose bodies are not claimed are given military funerals in Grangegorman Military Cemetery.

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The Founding of Cumann na mBan

cumann-na-mbanCumann na mBan, an Irish republican women’s paramilitary organisation, is formed in Dublin on April 2, 1914.

In 1913, a number of women decide to hold a meeting in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, for the purpose of discussing the possibility of forming an organisation for women who would work in conjunction with the recently formed Irish Volunteers. A meeting led by Kathleen Lane-O’Kelly on April 2, 1914 marks the foundation of Cumann na mBan. Branches, which pledge to the Constitution of the organisation, are formed throughout the country and are directed by the Provisional Committee.

The primary aims of Cumann na mBan, as stated in its constitution, are to “advance the cause of Irish liberty and to organize Irishwomen in the furtherance of this object,” to “assist in arming and equipping a body of Irish men for the defence of Ireland” and to “form a fund for these purposes, to be called ‘The Defence of Ireland Fund.'”

Recruits come from diverse backgrounds, mainly white-collar workers and professional women, but with a significant proportion also from the working class. In September 1914, the Irish Volunteers split over John Redmond‘s appeal for its members to enlist in the British Army. The majority of Cumann na mBan members support the 10,000 to 14,000 volunteers who rejected this call and who retain the original name, the Irish Volunteers.

On April 23, 1916, when the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood finalises arrangements for the Easter Rising, it integrates Cumann na mBan, along with the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army, into the “Army of the Irish Republic.”

On the day of the Rising, Cumann na mBan members arrive armed with both a Webley revolver and a typewriter, entering the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin with their male counterparts. By nightfall, women insurgents are established in all the major rebel strongholds throughout the city. The majority of the women work as Red Cross workers, are couriers, or procure rations for the men. Members also gather intelligence on scouting expeditions, carry despatches, and transfer arms from dumps across the city to insurgent strongholds. A number of Cumann na mBan members die during the Rising.

At the Four Courts, they help to organise the evacuation of buildings at the time of surrender and destroy incriminating papers. On April 29, the leaders at the GPO decide to negotiate surrender. Patrick Pearse, the overall Commandant-General, asks Cumann na mBan member Elizabeth O’Farrell to act as a go-between. Under British military supervision she brings Pearse’s surrender order to the rebel units still fighting in Dublin. Over 70 women, including many of the leading figures in Cumann na mBan, are arrested after the insurrection, and many of the women who are captured fighting are imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol. All but twelve are released by May 8, 1916.

Revitalized after the Rising and led by Countess Markievicz, Cumann na mBan takes a leading role in popularising the memory of the 1916 leaders, organising prisoner relief agencies, opposing conscription, and canvassing for Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election, in which Markievicz is elected Teachta Dála.

Cumann na mBan supports the Provisional wing in the 1969-1970 split in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Féin. In Northern Ireland, Cumann na mBan is integrated into the mainstream IRA during the conflict, although they continue to exist as a separate organisation in the Republic of Ireland. In 1986, Cumann na mBan opposes the decision by the IRA and Sinn Féin to drop the policy of abstentionism and aligns itself with Republican Sinn Féin and the Continuity IRA.

In 2014, Cumann na mBan celebrates the Centenary of its foundation in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, the site of their founding in 1914. The U.K. Home Office in March 2015 lists Cumann na mBan as a group linked to Northern Ireland related terrorism. However, it is not so listed in 2008 by the U.S. State Department.