The Easter Rising

April 23: This weekend marks the 95th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. The historic and legendary event began in chaos, and continued more or less so throughout the seven days of impassioned battle. The initial plan of starting the rebellion on April 23, Easter Sunday, was scuttled at the last minute by the botched transfer of rifles and machine-guns from the German boat delivering them to the Republican volunteers. Apart from not receiving the vital arms, the rebels were forced to delay mobilizing until Easter Monday. The subsequent miscommunication and confusion meant that the first attacks at Dublin Castle and several other key locations lost the element of surprise, and the insurrection seemed doomed long before the April 29th unconditional surrender—the tone of the first day Proclamation, posted about Dublin and read out at Republican headquarters, notwithstanding:

…Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment….

The memoirs of those who manned the Republican barricades tell stories of hopeless confusion and abounding courage. In Enchanted by Dreams: The Journal of a Revolutionary, Joe Good describes his encounters with the colorful Irish Volunteers leader Michael O'Rahilly—"The O'Rahilly," as he wished to be known, and as he has gone down in history. Though a stalwart Republican, O'Rahilly regarded the Easter Rising as premature and doomed, and he had spent the night of April 23-24 travelling to units of the Volunteers with the order not to mobilize. Once battle had begun, he fought fearlessly himself, famously explaining, "I've helped to wind up the clock, I might as well hear it strike!" Good tells of O'Rahilly singing amidst the shelling of their General Post Office headquarters—a song of his own, "Thou Art Not Conquered Yet, Dear Land." The O'Rahilly is last seen leading a suicide charge against the British machine-guns that had the Republicans cornered; he is last heard from in this dying-breath letter to his wife:

Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O' Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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