Secondary Course
Lesson One: Ireland at the start of the 20th Century

Lesson One: Ireland at the start of the 20th Century

The Act of Union – the act of union passed in 1800, united the kingdom of Ireland to Britain to form the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland. Important decisions affecting Irish people’s lives – about taxes, trade, the economy, social welfare and education – were made in London. Many of the people who made these decisions knew little about Ireland.

Government of Ireland  - The Prime Minister appointed two ministers for Ireland. The Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy who was the king or queen’s representative. Always a member of the Lords, he lived in the Viceregal Lodge in Dublin (now Áras an Uachtaráin) and carried out the ceremonial tasks of a head of state. The Chief Secretary was always an MP and Cabinet Minister. He had to go to the Commons and answer questions from MPs, about the government’s Irish policy.

Dublin Castle’s main concern was keeping order. It had two main forces. The unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) were responsible for Dublin. The armed Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) dealt with the rest of the country. Known as “Peelers”, the constables in the DMP and the RIC were ordinary Irishmen, though their officers were usually British.

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Lesson 2: Political Movements

Lesson Two:  Political Movements

Unionists - believed that the Union was good for Ireland and wanted to keep it. They argued that it put the country at the heart of the British Empire which was then the greatest empire in the world. Unionists believed that Irish people benefited by sharing in the control of the empire. It gave them far more power and prestige than Ireland would enjoy as a tiny independent country.

Nationalists – Did not think that being in the United Kingdom had been good for Ireland. They pointed out that since 1800 the country had experienced famine, emigration and economic decline. In Westminster, Irish MPs were in a minority and found it hard to make British MPs and ministers listen to their concerns.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) - was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an "independent democratic republic" during the second half of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century.

The Start of Sinn Féin in 1905 - Cultural nationalists were attracted by Arthur Griffith’ ideas. In 1905, they came together in an organisation called Sinn Féin. The use of an Irish name, Sinn Féin (which translates as We Ourselves). Other Clubs and societies joined Sinn Féin, and the IRB secretly backed it.

However the IRB grew contemptuous of Griffith’s opposition to violence. They set up their own paper, Irish Freedom, which took many of Griffith’s readers away. When the 1916 rising broke out no one knew who started it, so it was called the “Sinn Féin rebellion” even though Griffith was in no way involved. That fact was to have enormous consequences for Griffith and his party.

In the years from 1900 to 1914 two other new movements made an impact in Ireland. One was "Socialism", the other "Feminism"

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Lesson Three: Plans for the Rising

Lesson Three: Plans for the Rising

The First World War divided the Leaders of the IRB. Some saw the First World War as a golden opportunity for a rebellion against British Rule.

John Bulmer Hobson disagreed with the Rising, he pointed to the IRB constitution which said that “the IRB shall await the decision of the Irish nation as expressed by a majority of the Irish people as to the fit hour for a war against England”. Clarke and McDermott ignored Hobson’s views and they forced him out of the IRB Supreme Council and then got the Council to set up a Military Committee to plan a rebellion.

The council was made up of Joseph Plunkett, Padraig Pearse, and Éamonn Ceannt.  as well as Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas Clarke,  Thomas McDonagh, and James Connolly. 

The IRB’s Plan for a rebellion had two parts: They would get military help from Germany. Rodger Casement went to Germany to persuade the Germans to send troops and arms to Ireland to raise an “Irish Brigade” from among Irish prisoners of war.The IRB men who held key positions in Eoin MacNeills Irish Volunteers would lead them into a rebellion.

Casement’s mission was a failure. Germany would only promise a shipload of arms. Most of the Volunteers were not in the IRB. They gave their loyalty to Eoin MacNeill, and would only fight if he told them to do so. MacNeill however disapproved of the idea.

A document appeared in the newspapers  on Wednesday the 19th of April written on Dublin Castle notepaper known as the “Castle Document” which is believed to have been forged by MacDiarmada and Plunkett which listed leading Volunteers who were due to be rounded up by the authorities. MacNeill ordered the Volunteers to rise on Easter Sunday however he later discovered he had been tricked and cancelled his previous order. The arms ship the Aud was captured by the British navy. Rather than lose everything the IRB decided to rally as many men as possible and go out to fight on Monday the 24th of April.

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Lesson 4: Easter Week

Lesson Four: Easter Week

Monday 24th of April The volunteers marched to various points around the city and at noon they took over various buildings around the city. In O’Connell Street, Volunteers and the Citizen Army occupied the General Post Office (GPO), which they had chosen as their headquarters.

Pearse read the Proclamation on the steps of the GPO. It was signed by all seven members of the IRB’s Military Committee.

The original plan was for a countrywide rising, but the confusion of the previous days meant little happened outside Dublin. Cumann na mBan had been given no instructions but about ninety women offered their services.

In Stephen’s Green Countess Markievicz, was second in command to Michael Mallin and, on the first day deliberately shot a policeman. Sir John Grenfell Maxwell ordered his troops to surround the city centre. The British then concentrated most of their attack on the GPO.

A gunboat the Helga was brought into Dublin Bay and it shelled O’Connell street and the GPO.

By Friday 28 0f April the GPO was on fire and half of O’Connell Street was in ruins. Connolly was badly wounded. On Saturday 29th of April Elizabeth O’Farrell of Cumann na mBan was sent with a white flag to seek terms from the British.

By Sunday 30th of April – 450 people were dead and 2,614 were wounded. The centre of the city was a smoking ruin.

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Lesson 5: The Aftermath

Lesson Five: The Aftermath

It took a week or two for a clearer picture to emerge. In Dublin, the British army rounded up hundreds of men and women. Around the country they launched intensive arms searches and arrested thousands of “Sinn Féin sympathisers”. In all about 3,000 people were arrested.

From the prisoners, the police picked out “ring-leaders” who were to be tried by courts-martial.

Some were easy to identify, such as the seven men who signed the Proclamation. In all 186 men and one woman were tried and 88 were sentenced to death.  Tension rose as, day by day, more executions were announced. John Dillon realised what was happening. He rushed to London where he shocked the House of Commons by praising the bravery of the rebels.  He called on the government to stop the executions, warning

“You are washing out our whole life’s work in a sea of blood”.

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