Around noon on Easter Monday of 1916, some 1600 Irish nationalists–members of the Irish Volunteers–launch the so-called Easter Rising in Dublin, seizing a number of official buildings and calling on all Irish patriots to resist the bonds of British control.
Since the outbreak of World War I, the leading Irish nationalist, Sir Roger Casement, had pressed the German government to see the potential benefit of an Irish rebellion against British rule. Consequently, on April 2, the German merchant ship ‘Aud’ was sent to the Atlantic coast of Ireland, loaded with some 20000 rifles and 1 million rounds of ammunition bound for the hands of the Easter rebels. Before the ‘Aud’ reached its destination, however, a British ship intercepted it, and the crew members of the ‘Aud’ scuttled the ship with all its cargo. When Casement himself traveled from Germany to Tralee Bay, also on the Atlantic coast, three weeks later, he was put ashore by the Germans on an inflatable raft. He was subsequently arrested, tried and executed for treason by the British authorities.
Meanwhile, plans for the Easter Rising had gone ahead without Casement or German help. Due to last-minute uncertainty, however, one of its leaders canceled the orders for mobilization on the Saturday before the planned uprising, because of this only 1,600 of an expected 5000 participants gathered at Liberty Hall on April 24 to march towards the center of Dublin. There, they seized the post office, several court buildings, St. Stephen’s Green and several other locations. From the steps of the post office, the rebels declared Ireland an independent republic, stating that We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible.
Despite the rebels’ hopes, the public did not rise to support them, and they were quickly crushed by the police and government forces sent against them, among them some newly recruited troops bound for service in World War I. Sixty-four rebels were killed during the struggle, along with 134 troops and policeman, and at least 200 civilians were injured in the crossfire. Fifteen of the uprising’s leaders were eventually executed; a sixteenth, Eamon de Valera, was saved from a death sentence because he was an American citizen.
Even in its failure, the Easter Rising and the continued volatility of the so-called Irish question demonstrated the thwarted desires for self-determination that still bubbled beneath the surface in Great Britain, as in many countries in Europe, even as the larger matter of international warfare superseded them for the moment.