The Easter Rising in 1916 – against British rule in Ireland and Irish involvement in the First World War – and its aftermath left Ireland stunned and resentful. Although the general population was not involved in the Rising and few actually supported it, the aftermath of mass searches, arrests, internment, closed courts martial and executions of both main and minor leaders shocked public opinion.
I’ll trace political development after the Rising, a failed opportunity at compromise and how support for the Irish Parliamentary Party dissipated but was not able yet to find a new leadership to support.
The Rising may appear to have led directly to the involvement of the population in the struggle for independence. However in reality this was several steps away. Independence would later be taken forward by a new combination of forces and leadership.
A change in policy
Martial Law had been declared in Ireland on Monday 24 April 1916 by the Governor General, Lord Wimbourne – without consultation with Prime Minister Asquith or the Cabinet. This, and General Maxwell’s arrival as Commander-in-Chief on Friday 28 April with orders to suppress the Rising, left little room for manoeuvre – even though Asquith had instructed Maxwell not to take a heavy-handed approach, and later ordered him not to confirm any more executions.
This severity was a sudden change of policy from previous tolerance of the arming and drilling of the Irish Volunteers.
The executions provoked resentment towards the British, and so undid much of the work of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) towards Home Rule, that is, Irish self-governance within the United Kingdom (albeit a truncated version acceded to in principle in 1914, allowing for six counties in NE Ireland to be excluded).
As John Dillon, one of the IPP’s leaders, said to the Government in the House of Commons while the executions continued: ‘You are washing out our whole life work in a sea of blood.’