105th Anniversary of Irish Rebellion, 1916
Glory to the Irish Patriots Who Fought
for Ireland’s Freedom
– Workers’ Weekly –
James Connolly’s Message to the Field General Court Martial,
Dublin Castle, May 9, 1916 (Excerpt)
We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire, and to establish an Irish Republic. We believed that the call we then issued to the people of Ireland, was a nobler call, in a holier cause, than any call issued to them during this war [World War I], having any connection with the war. We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavouring to win for Ireland those national rights which the British Government has been asking them to die to win for Belgium. As long as that remains the case, the cause of Irish freedom is safe.
Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irishmen, of even a respectable minority, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that Government for ever a usurpation and a crime against human progress.5>
The heroic Easter Rising, begun on April 24, 1916, and centred on Dublin, though crushed barbarically by British imperialist troops within six days, was a turning point in the history of the nation. It led directly to the stunning victory of pro-independence candidates in the General Election of 1918 and the establishment of Dáil Éireann in 1919, albeit also brutally suppressed by the British. There followed the War of Independence of 1919-21, fought against the British armed forces, including quasi-military and paramilitary forces. Following this, the partition of Ireland on May 3, 1921, took place one hundred years ago with the implementation of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 — although this Act was repealed in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, partition is still in force and being used by the British government to egg on reactionary forces and cause trouble for all the Irish people. The Irish Free State was founded in 1922; and eventually the fruits of the Rebellion led to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland on April 18, 1949. This assertion of national sovereignty, this nation-building project, whatever the tortuous and often appalling twists and turns, continues to this very day.
As Lenin later stated, the Citizens Army, one of the main components of the Rising, was the first workers’ Red Army, and the pity was that the Easter Rising occurred before the revolutionary movement in Europe had reached full maturity. Nonetheless, the Irish revolutionary forces were to be an inspiration and example for revolutionary fighters throughout the world for the remainder of the 20th century, as were to be their mirror image in Ulster the model for counter-revolution, reaction and foreign manipulation.
The Rising took place in the middle of the inter-imperialist World War I, and represented the rejection of the Irish people of this war. It upheld the slogan, “Neither King nor Kaiser!” It was a pointer towards the principle that progress in the 20th century, when the whole world had become the target of the domination of the imperialist powers, involved the self-determination of peoples and nations. Those who gave their lives in the rebellion have had their heirs in the 20th century. In particular, the brave martyrs who gave their lives in the hunger strike of 1981 who demanded to be treated as political prisoners and not criminals. They gave their lives 40 years ago. It was on May 5, 1981, that Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike, aged 27, to be followed by nine other heroic young Irish patriots.
The crushing of the rebellion by the British was carried out with the utmost brutality, destruction, and vindictiveness. The leaders of the rebellion, including James Connolly, were executed. In May, 1916, following six days of fierce fighting, military court martials were held and 93 rebels, including one woman, were sentenced to death by the British Military Court, presided over by Colonel Charles Blackader, commander of the 59th brigade of the 177th regiment which had fought against the rebels. Nearly 2,000 rebels were deported to England where they were imprisoned without trial. Fifteen rebels were executed by firing squad at Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol, including the seven leaders who signed the proclamation of the Irish Republic. One was hanged later. James Connolly, who was wounded in battle, was shot on May 12, 1916, tied to a chair with no blindfold. The British medical officer who attended the executions stated: “They all died like Lions.”
The racism of the British state towards the Irish, then and now, has demonstrated that this racism has been directed to all the peoples oppressed by the British state and its monarch. Barbarity has been a standard reaction of British imperialism to any move for colonial freedom throughout its Empire. In fact, it can be said that this very tyranny it was that made armed uprising inevitable in 1916.
With the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, the then Prime Minister John Major stated that Britain had no territorial interest or claim in what he called “the island of Ireland”. If so, why more than 20 years later, does Britain maintain its hold on part of the island? Why is there a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Why does Britain maintain a military presence in the north of Ireland, even if troops have been withdrawn from the streets for some years now — admittedly mainly so as to free them for other criminal interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. Notwithstanding the sincere efforts being made by various forces in Ireland to achieve progress through the Good Friday Accord and the Peace Agreement, why does the British state and its government continue to interfere in Irish affairs and block progress?
The anniversary of the Easter Rising is an important occasion for the British working class and people to express their condemnation of the British state and its violence which over the centuries has been meted out to the Irish people. The British state has also attempted to try out and perfect its counter-insurgency methods in Ireland. To demand that the pro-war Westminster government be held accountable for its crimes before the people is a just demand.
The full liberation of Ireland, and progress in its nation-building project, will be the act of the Irish people themselves. In this they have the support of millions throughout the world, especially in the Americas and Caribbean, and across Europe, especially in England, Scotland and Wales, not least because of the diaspora, working people proud of their Irish heritage, even centuries after emigration, showing their support directly and in their struggles for the same aims.
The present generation in Ireland is once again inspired by the vision of a risen people, a united Ireland and the Irish people deciding their own destiny as a whole, free from all the interference of the British state and its “United Kingdom”. The cause of the Irish people, a people inspired anew by the Easter Rising, will surely prevail!
Hail the Easter Rising!
Victory to the Struggles of the Irish People!
Our Demands Most Moderate Are — We Only Want the Earth!
Workers’ Weekly is the on-line newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).