James Connolly, the socialist leader, claimed just three copies of the final plan for the Easter 1916 resurrection were made, and none of them survived.

The events of the week from April 23 to 29 in 1916 are still shrouded in myth, confusion and astonishment as the 100th anniversary approaches.

In contemporary revolutions, images of the dead permeate cross-media platforms.
There are few or no pictures of bodies from the 1916 Rising. However, it is believed more than 400 people were killed.

After the outbreak of first World War in August 1914, facts and witness testimony record there was passionate nationalist momentum behind plans for insurrection, conceived by the Irish Republican Brotherhood — bearing in mind the maxim that ‘England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity’.

The outcome of the Easter Rising would change Irish history forever.


Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice on board the Asgard during the 1914 Howth gun-running (pictures National Museum of Ireland/Collins Barracks). Above right, Roger Casement on foreign assignment for the British government and, below, Irish Volunteers cheer as arms from the Asgard mission land in Howth

In early 1914, the Ulster Volunteer Force, which had vowed to fight Home Rule by all means necessary, imported nearly 50,000 rifles and three million rounds of ammunition in Co Antrim and Co Down.

In response to this, on July 26, the Irish Volunteers landed 900 German Mauser rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition from the Asgard into Howth, Co Dublin — thinking the authorities would turn a blind eye.

British infantry had been sent to Howth to try to stop the landing, but they were jeered and pelted with stones by a crowd on Bachelor’s Walk as they made their way back into the city. The Brits opened fire and killed four people — the first evidence of blood-letting that would escalate dramatically between the Irish and British in the immediate future.

Inspired by the Howth gun running, and the potential to get German assistance for their cause, in May 1915, the IRB convened a Military Council to make covert plans for a revolution.

Senior activists Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and Eamonn Ceannt were appointed its leaders, liaising with long-time IRB members Tom Clarke and Seán MacDiarmada.

In January 1916 the Military Council agreed to mount a joint insurrection between the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, which was under the command of James Connolly who was then co-opted to the Military Council. A seventh member, Thomas MacDonagh, joined in early April.

Pearse and the IRB leaders exploited the popularity of the Gaelic revival to gather support for their cause and “by doing so the identified the language and games with a particular political ideology” which would be “feared by protestants and increasingly regarded as foreign and hostile”, according to historian Tom Garvin.

The British Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell and his under secretary Matthew Nathan may have been aware the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army — who had joined forces with the Volunteers — desired a revolution.
But Nathan was acutely aware of unsettling fragile political and civil relationship with Ireland.

And the British were more concerned with recruiting Irish men for the war and maintaining the support of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party.

“Action against these Volunteers would have resulted in the alienation of the great bulk of the Irish people, which was not in favour of these people,” Nathan said.

Eoin MacNeill and John Redmond poster

Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers Eoin MacNeill (left) confronted Pearse just before the Rising while Irish Party leader John Redmond had pledged support for the British war effort (pictures National Library of Ireland)

The seven members of the Military Council — Pearse, Clarke, Plunkett, Ceantt, MacDiarmada, Connolly and MacDonagh — would later constitute the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.

They agreed the content of the Proclamation and Pearse, as director of military operations, ordered all Volunteers to gather at assembly points throughout the country for three days of ‘field maneuvers’.

The Military Council kept its plans secret to the extent that neither the leaders of the IRB, Denis McCullough and Bulmer Hobson, nor Irish Volunteers leader MacNeill, knew these field maneuvers were a cover for the insurrection.

On Holy Thursday night one witness living in Dundalk, Co Louth, Sean MacEntee, recalled preparing for the Rising. “That night I went to Belfast to bid goodbye to my family and to buy surgical bandages and first-aid satchels, some Ordnance maps, a pair of binoculars, a prismatic compass and such other items of an officer’s paraphernalia as I could afford.”

Just days before the Rising, MacNeill confronted Pearse, who confirmed that a revolution was imminent and that the Volunteers were under the secret control of the IRB.

MacNeill told the Volunteers that “all orders of a special character issued by Commandant Pearse with regard to military movements of a definite kind” were “hereby recalled or cancelled”.

He felt the Volunteers were not ready for such a seismic undertaking against their imperial overlords.

MacNeill changed his mind and withdrew the countermand when he learned of Roger Casement’s imminent and bold attempt to land a cargo of arms from a German ship in Co Kerry.

A German ship, The Aud, was carrying the arms and arrived off the Kerry coast on Holy Thursday, but due to a calamitous communications failure it failed to make contact with the local Volunteers and was scuttled by its captain Karl Spindler, rather than hand its valuable cargo to the British.

MacNeill’s change of heart was further fuelled by the infamous ‘Castle Document’ shown to him by the IRB leaders. The letter said the British were going to arrest him and all the other nationalist leaders.

The legitimacy of the Castle Document, supposedly leaked from Dublin Castle and read out at a Dublin Corporation meeting, is still shrouded in controversy.

It is accepted that Joseph Plunkett, who had been ill, “sexed” it up in its final form as a ruse for war but even before his execution after the Rising, Sean Mac Diarmada believed it was an “absolutely genuine document”.

When it became known on Holy Saturday that Casement had been arrested and that the Aud’s arms were lost, MacNeill definitively countermanded Pearse’s order for the Easter rebellion. This countermand appeared in the Sunday Independent.

MacNeill ordered that “no parades, marches or other movements of the Irish Volunteers will take place”.

Meanwhile, the Southern Star newspaper reported on Casement’s arrest, quoting a House of Lords reply.

It read: “A German submarine and a German vessel, the latter with false papers, and disguised as a Dutch trading vessel, made their appearance three days ago off the west coast of Ireland. From the submarine there landed in a collapsible boat three individuals, of whom two were made prisoners, one of them being Sir Roger Casement, a gentleman whose name is familiar to my noble friend…”

Easter Sunday, April 1916