As Easter week draws to a close I thought I’d write a little bit about my most recent painting “Easter Rising.”
The Easter Lily is a calla lily, adopted by Irish republicans symbolically to commemorate the revolutionary combatants who died as a part of the 1916 Easter Rising. It is traditionally worn at Easter time. It is also used by various factions of Irish republicanism to commemorate the deaths of their soldiers and activists.
On Easter Monday, April1 24, 1916 Irish revolutionaries took up arms against British rule in Ireland, seeking to establish an independent Irish republic. The majority of the conflict took place in Dublin, planned and led by seven members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council.
Patrick Pearse, a schoolmaster and Irish language activist led the Irish Volunteers. He was supported by the Irish Citizen Army led by James Connolly, and 200 women from Cumann na mBan – the Irish Women’s Council. They seized key points in Dublin, making the General Post Office the headquarters of the uprising where they delivered the Proclamation of the Irish Republic claiming independence from Britain and the establishment of an Irish Republic.
The following day the British authorities declared martial law, and deployed thousands of reinforcements to suppress the uprising. The streets of Dublin were in open warfare that lasted for six days. The Irish revolutionaries put up a tough resistance and the fighting was fierce. Frustrated British troops began engaging in war crimes against Irish civilians.
The Portobello Killings
On Tuesday, April 25 British soldiers took the pacifist activist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington hostage and used him as a human shield. They blew up a tobacco store and captured Labour Party councilor Richard O’Carroll, two journalists Thomas Dickison and Patrick MacIntyre , and the young boy James Coade. They executed all the captives and secretly buried them in Portobello Barracks.
The North King Street Massacre
North King Street was the scene of some of the heaviest combat between Irish and British soldiers. On Saturday, April 29th after British soldiers succeeded in overrunning a well barricaded rebel post, they broke into the homes of noncombatant civilians and shot and bayoneted them, killing 15 men. The soldiers then pilfered the bodies and secretly buried them in backyards and cellars.
There were numerous other civilian casualties suffered as a result of the British assault amounting to more than half the loss of life during the uprising. British forces eventually surrounded the Irish factions and bombarded them into submission, laying waste to vast areas of the city. Between the superior military strength of the British Army and the fear that more innocent civilians would be killed, Patrick Pearse ordered an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29.
In the aftermath the British arrested 3,500 Irish, sending almost 2,000 of them to prison camps. The leadership of the rebellion was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol between May 3 and 12.
Even though it was technically a failure the Easter Rising succeeded in inspiring hope in an independent Ireland. The British response to it caused a strong negative reaction in the Irish population and a wave of support for Irish independence swept across the island. By 1919 the Irish War of Independence broke out and lead to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State. The technical defeat resulted in the Independent Ireland it had sought to achieve.
In 1926 during the tenth year anniversary of the Easter Rising the Irish Women’s Council introduced the calla lily as a badge sold outside of Catholic churches to be worn on Easter Sunday in commemoration of the uprising and to raise relief money for the families of Irish political prisoners. To this day it is still a symbol of Irish identity and remembrance.
Many songs have been written in commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. One of the most well known and perhaps the unarguable official song of remembrance of the rising is “Foggy Dew,” written by Father Canon O’Neill.