Easter Sunday was designated as the day for the Rising, working under a plan devised by Plunkett, whose family estate in Kimmage, Dublin, was used as a Volunteer training camp.
But after news of Eoin MacNeill’s countermand, the situation was in disarray.
Early on Sunday, the Military Council convened in Liberty Hall to consider the implications of the countermand as Michael ‘The’ O’Rahilly drove south to take Eoin MacNeill’s orders to the Munster units of the Volunteers, trying to enforce the order.
Helena Moloney was at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Citizen Army, on Easter Sunday morning.
“I saw Eoin MacNeill’s countermanding order in the paper and heard the discussion in Liberty Hall. Connolly was there. They were all heartbroken, and when they were not crying, they were cursing. I kept thinking, ‘Does this mean that we are not going out?’ There were thousands like us. Many of us thought we would go out single-handed, if necessary.”
The Volunteer leaders decided to postpone the Rising until the next day, Easter Monday, to ensure they could get word to confused Volunteers that the rebellion was still ‘on’.
Pearse rallied the Volunteers with speeches rich in the ‘blood sacrifice’ rhetoric of martyrdom.
And Connolly, after studying ‘insurrectionary warfare’ in the late 1800s from cities such as Paris and Moscow declared: “Every difficulty that exists for the operation of regular troops in mountains is multiplied a hundredfold in a city.”
That evening, Robert Holland, who was in the Fourth Battalion of the Dublin brigade of the Volunteers, was just one waiting for news.
At 6am on Sunday Con Colbert called to Robert Holland’s house. Colbert told Holland “the mobilisation was off pro-tem but I was to mobilise all the men, telling them to stay in their own homes”.
Holland spent the night relaying this message.
“I knew by Sunday morning’s paper that the general mobilisation was cancelled but a number of us were in doubt about it being permanent as we expected that a leakage of our intentions would get out and the press would be against us,” he recalled.
Many of the women of the Rising — outside of the inner circle — still believed what they were preparing for was far more than a Volunteer exercise.
Aine Heron, a Cumann na mBan member, was ready for action, despite the countermand.
When told by her husband of the notice in the Sunday Independent, she responded: “Who would mind the Independent.”
Maureen Wall, a lecturer in UCD, had argued the countermand may have made little difference nationally, given the secrecy in the upper echelons of the IRB and Rising leadership.
She highlighted flaws in the fundamental planning for the rebellion which took the emphasis off MacNeill’s actions, outside of the capital at least.
“Absolute secrecy maintained by a tiny group of men, who were relying on the unquestioning obedience of the members of a nationwide revolutionary organisation, was bound to defeat their object of bringing about a revolution, except in Dublin where these men were, in fact, in a position to control events,” she said.
There were also reports that British intelligence officers intercepted a telegram to Berlin giving the date and location of the rebellion — but they were still caught off guard.
Nathan had written to Birrell on Saturday informing him that the Irish Volunteers are to have a “mobilisation” — part of the supposed field exercises — but said he saw no indictions of an actual “rising”.
Around the country, many volunteers did head out on manoeuvres — unaware of either MacNeill or Pearse’s orders.
In Dunboyne, Co Meath, the experience of senior IRB man and Irish Volunteer Sean Boylan summed up the confused state of proceedings.
“On Good Friday evening I got written instructions from Pearse to the effect that the Rising would start at 6pm on Easter Sunday. I do not remember who brought me this dispatch. Two men came with it and I remember I had to acknowledge it. At about 4pm on Easter Sunday evening a man called Benson arrived with a verbal message to say that the Rising was off. He stated that Sean Tobin of IRB Headquarters had sent him,” he said.
When Boylan learned the Rising was on for Monday and fighting had broken out, he found it hard to raise his men again.
On the streets and in the suburbs of Dublin on Sunday, weary and disillusioned Volunteers discussed what was to happen, before a sleepless night, ahead of unimaginable bloodshed on the streets.