Dublin and the

1916 Easter Rising

cells of Kilmainham Gaol
exterior of Kilmainham Gaol
columns of the GPO Dublin
guide at GPO Witness History
Guides in from of the 1916 tour bus
rebel cut outs at Glasnevin Cemetery
OConnell Tower at Glasnevin Cemetery

1916 is a year which features very prominently in modern Irish history and one that will crop up in guided tour after guided tour during your Ireland trip. If sightseeing and history is a big part of your holiday, it's pretty vital to have a vague knowledge of the importance of the events of this pivotal year to really get the most out of Dublin. There's nothing worse than blankly nodding along to a two hour tour where it's not only the accent that proving difficult to understand.  

​Disclaimer: we're not historians. One of us is very Irish and one of us is British. The following is a pretty accepted, albeit simplified, version of what happened.


​The background:

In the years leading up to 1916, Ireland was ruled by Britain from across the Irish Sea. An Irish parliament in Dublin was a distant memory and they relied on the British Parliament at Westminster for decision making on all Irish affairs. 


​In 1914 Britain entered World War One where they would be kept busy by the Germans for the next four years. Ireland was split over this conflict with some believing it their patriotic duty to enlist in the British Army to fight overseas and others believing this helping of the enemy to be a betrayal of Ireland. Whilst the British Army's attention was occupied by the quagmire of Northern France and Belgium the stage was set for the latter group to rise up.


​The events of 1916:

In clandestine meetings in Dublin, a number of Irish Revolutionaries set the 24th April 1916 - Easter Monday - as the date of their rising. Around 1,200 revolutionaries seized key central points, including the General Post Office (GPO), Four Courts and St Stephen's Green and called for the people of Dublin to join them. However, the popular rising they had hoped for failed to materialise and they seemingly didn't have the support of an apathetic local population who had no appetite for renewed conflict. 


​The British responded by deploying 16,000 troops supported by artillery and naval gunboats to give them an obvious advantage. Over the next six days of fighting on the streets 450 soldiers and civilians were killed and over 2,000 wounded before the surrender of the Irish rebels was announced on 29th April. 


​Key Figures:

​The Rising was mostly planned by militants from the Irish Republican Brotherhood and included Tom Clarke, Sean McDermott, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, James Connolly and Eamon Ceannt. Upon the declaration of independence Pearse was announced as President and Connolly as Commander-in-Chief. 


Countess Markievicz, a female commander from a wealthy background, future leader of the Irish Army Michael Collins, and Emmon De Valera, future president of a free Ireland would also come to prominence.  


​What happened next:

In the days after the surrender British General Maxwell misjudged the mood of the Irish people by making the strategically grave error to systematically execute the leaders of the Rising. Sixteen men were executed over the coming weeks in a very brutal and public manner which included a wounded O'Connell who, unable to stand up, was shot in a wheelchair. This did not go down well with the previously benign Dublin public and alongside a further postponement of the re-implementation of an Irish Parliament and mounting causalities from World War One they began to actively turn towards revolutionary thoughts.


​In 1919 war broke out between the Irish and the British as the Irish organised themselves into a potent guerrilla force across the country. They were able to force the British to the negotiating table. Former 1916 combatant and then Commander-in-Chief  Michael Collins was given this difficult task and came back from negotiations with independence for all but six counties in the north of Ireland. This partial success was met with such a strong split of opinion that a bloody year-long civil war ensued before independence could truly be announced. This treaty also, of course, would have repercussions throughout the 20th century as Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom.


​Exploring the Rising in Dublin:

If you've managed to read this far: congratulations! Even we fell asleep. To discover more about this event through more interesting people and attractions definitely check out a couple these Dublin museums and tours.    

GPO Witness History

To get the perfect overview of the actual events on the days of the Easter Rising, the GPO Witness History exhibition is centred around a fantastic piece of technology. A big screen map turns video explainer to guide the viewer in chronological order through the flashpoints of the battles whilst blocks of rebels and troops are moved around the map like an old-school war strategy game. It's very well done and frankly the rest of the museum is just filler.


Kilmainham Gaol

As the location where many of the leaders of the Easter Rising were incarcerated and then executed, it's no surprise that this is the most evocative of the 1916 attractions. From the chapel where Joseph Plunkett was married prior to his death, to the cells where they spent their last nights and the execution yards, the story is told thoughtfully by a live guide. 1916 or not, this grand Victorian prison is one of Dublin's best attractions. 


Glasnevin Cemetery

This pretty cemetery in north Dublin puts the 1916 rising into historical context. The tours begin with a hair-raising oration by an actor playing Padraig Pearse before moving through more than one hundred years of Irish resistance through the headstones of a number of the major figures, like Daniel O'Connell, Charles Parnell and Countess Markievicz. The leaders of the Easter Rising, of course, play a big part.   


1916 bus and walking tours

Historian and author Lorcan Collins is widely seen as the local authority on the subject so joining a two hour Rebellion walking tour is the way to get a well-researched on-the-ground perspective of events. This once daily tour is interesting and entertaining and is highly recommended. 


A more theatrical tour is the 1916 Rebellion Bus tour. Two actors in period costume guide you around the principal sites, like the GPO and Dublin Castle, on a customised double decker bus. 


So there you have it: the whys, whats and importance of the 1916 in Irish and Dublin history, and how to make the best of what's on offer. Like with the Troubles sites and tours up in Northern Ireland, we'd recommend keeping to a maximum of two of the above to avoid 1916 over-saturation. 

the cells in the main hall of Kilmainham Gaol


Unique bow shaped design of Titanic Belfast


Dinosaur skeleton at the National Museum of Natural History in Dublin


© 2018 by Macanta Ireland. 

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