The demand for Home Rule had dominated Irish politics since the 1870s.

But as the prospect gained momentum in the early 1900s — against Ulster Unionist resistance — war broke out.

The demand for manpower on the battlefields of Europe was insatiable, and Ireland became a recruiting ground for the British.

The leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, had pledged his support for the British war effort.

And by January 1916 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wimborne, was able to report that 75,293 volunteers had joined the 51,046 regulars and reservists serving.

British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith vowed to deliver Home Rule but was intent on maintaining Ireland within the United Kingdom. At the time he relied on Redmond’s Irish MPs to hold the balance of power.

His Parliament Act (1911) abolished the right of the House of Lords to permanently obstruct legislation. But Home Rule was suspended for the duration of the world war which the United Kingdom entered in August 1914.

The British

Deputy Irish Party leader John Dillon and John Redmond, above right, blasted the British-ordered executions while, below right, Asquith on a visit to inspect prisoners' conditions in Dublin
(Images courtesy National Library of Ireland/National Museum of Ireland

The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland since 1915, Lord Wimborne, had become alarmed at the prospect of an Irish rebellion as the British faced into war.

Under-Secretary Matthew said there was no immediate danger with the Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell also caught off guard.

Until Sir John Grenfell Maxwell’s arrival in Dublin on Friday, April 28, William Henry Muir Lowe was in command of the British forces in Dublin. Maxwell was sent in with “plenary powers” under Martial law to finish the job.

He had 3,400 people arrested and 183 civilians tried. Fifteen were shot between May 3 and May 12.

Deputy Irish Party leader John Dillon pleaded with Asquith in British parliament to stop the executions.

“This series of executions is doing more harm than any Englishman in this House can possibly fathom,” he said.

General Maxwell had been given a brief to execute only the “ringleaders” of the Rising and those guilty of cold-blooded murder.

These were placed under three headings: A) Those who signed proclamation on behalf of provisional Government and were also leaders in actual rebellion in Dublin; B) Those who were in command of rebels actually shooting down troops, police and others; and C) Those whose offence was murder.

But, for example, there was little evidence against Padraig Pearse’s brother William other than, according to Maxwell that he was “associated with Sinn Fein”.

“I say deliberately that in the whole of modern history, taking all the circumstances into account there has been no rebellion or insurrection put down with so much blood and so much savagery as the recent insurrection in Ireland,” Dillon told Asquith.

In 1917, jubilant scenes awaited the released prisoners after public outrage at executions of non-leaders such as William Pearse, pictured right with his brother Padraig (images Kilmainham Gaol/National Library of Ireland)

Women such as Kathleen Lynn and Helena Molony were deported to British jails. Countess Markievicz was the only woman court-martialled and while Maxwell wanted her shot, her sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life.

Maxwell had drafted a justification of his actions: “We hope to deter by these examples and make the intriguers realise that we will not tolerate murder of loyal subjects, or any acts against the safety of the Realm.”

Asquith finally arrived in Dublin on May 12, almost three weeks after the outbreak, and stopped any further executions.

On that day Seán Mac Diarmada and James Connolly were executed, in spite of a telegram from Asquith to Maxwell demanding no further executions except under exceptional circumstances.

By May 5, Birrell and Nathan had resigned, along with Wimbourne, and a political vacuum that summer left Maxwell as de facto leader in Ireland.

He said: “On the whole, except the Skeffington case, there have been far few bad blunders than one might have expected with the soldiery for a whole week in exclusive charge.”

A total of 16 people were executed following the Rising. They included the seven signatories of the Proclamation, seven others thought to be leaders, Thomas Kent who was shot in Cork, and Roger Casement who was hanged in London.

The 16 (in the order in which they were executed) were: Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, Edward Daly, William Pearse, Michael O’Hanrahan, John MacBride, Éamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Con Colbert, Seán Heuston, Thomas Kent, Seán MacDiarmada, James Connolly, and Roger Casement.

Ninety-seven others of those tried by court-martial were sentenced to death. Some 2,000 Irish men and women had been deported to Britain were held in prisons and internment camps but had their sentences commuted to various terms of imprisonment. All of them were released within a relatively short period, the last in June 1917.

Of those arrested in Dublin, Padraig Pearse and Sean Heuston were held at Arbor Hill Detention Barracks, James Connolly was held in the Red Cross hospital in Dublin Castle, and all the others were held at Richmond Barracks.

Apart from that of James Connolly, whose court-martial was in Dublin Castle, the courts-martial were held at Richmond Barracks. The executions all took place at Kilmainham Jail. Thomas Kent was held, court-martialled and executed at Cork Detention Barracks.

Of the sixteen executed, Casement was the only one to be given a public trial. He was tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty of treason and hanged at Pentonville Prison.

All the men were attended by priests in their final days. In Dublin, the service was provided by the Capuchins, those involved being Fr Albert, Fr Aloysius, Fr Augustine and Fr Sebastian.

Ghastly episodes such as the murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, the civilian massacre around North King Street, and the hanging of Roger Casement helped turn the tide of public opinion towards the rebels’ dream of an Irish republic as the media began to freely report on the events.

The calibre of their character, bravery in the face of insurmountable odds and self-sacrifice for a nation would make heroes of the men who died.

The Irish Volunteers, now resurgent as the Irish Republican Army, and Sinn Féin would drive a new movement for independence, which resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.

The fatalities of the Rising amounted to 64 insurgents (apart from those executed), 132 soldiers and police, and about 230 civilians. In addition, there were well over 1,000 wounded.