After the Rising
The suppression of the Rising was immediate as martial law was declared throughout the country.
Acting as supreme commander in Dublin, General Maxwell had full authority to punish the Rising’s participants.
He was determined to suppress this new Irish militant nationalism, arresting those who had surrendered with the leaders as well as suspected supporters in a nationwide sweep by soldiers, aided by police.
More than 3,500 people thought to be ‘Sinn Feiners’ were arrested — over twice the number who took part in the Rising.
British soldiers pose with the captured rebel flag on Sackville Street.
On May 2, the first secret military courts martial sentenced Pearse, Clarke and MacDonagh to death. They were taken to the disused Kilmainham Gaol and shot at dawn on May 3 in the Stonebreaker’s Yard.
Maxwell told British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith that those to be executed would be either signatories of the Proclamation, commanding officers, or known murderers.
Irish Party leader John Redmond warned Asquith that if “more executions take place in Ireland, the position will become impossible for any Constitutional Party or leader”.
Asquith, in turn, told General Maxwell that “anything like a large number of executions would sow the seeds of lasting trouble in Ireland”.
But Maxwell continued with the executions — over nine days — despite the protestations of his prime minister and John Redmond.
Fifteen prominent republicans were executed between May 3 and 12 while Roger Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison, London, in August 1916.
The Irish public were outraged at these killings — particularly those of William Pearse, Boer War veteran Major John MacBride, the fatally-ill Joseph Plunkett, and James Connolly who had to be propped-up as he was shot.
These shootings — as well as the previous murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and the newspaper men in Rathmines — further turned public opinion.
Even though he tried to stop the Rising Eoin MacNeill was arrested, and William Pearse was killed seemingly for being Padraig Pearse’s brother.
The death sentence for Constance Markievicz was one of just 15 out of 90 that was commuted by Maxwell.
British army veteran General Maxwell arrived in Dublin to brutally quash the Rising. Right, an Irish Volunteer after his arrest and, below, British Prime Minister Asquith (centre)who didn’t arrive in Ireland until May 12 (Images courtesy of Kilmainham Gaol and National Library of Ireland
The Unionist journalist Warren B Wells, in a letter called An Irish Apologia, tried to explain to the British people, and the world, the grave error of Maxwell’s action.
“I am not asking you to regard the executions of the rebel leaders, the sentences of penal servitude, the deportations, announced badly day after day without publication of the evidence which justified the infliction of the capital penalty, from behind the closed doors of Field Court-Martial, from the point of view of their justice, or even of their expediency. I am simply inviting you to endeavour to understand their effect on that Irish public which read of them ‘with something of the feeling of helpless rage with which one would watch a stream of blood dripping from under a closed door”.
Masses were said for the executed in lieu of funerals as their bodies had been covered in quicklime.
Aine Ceannt was permitted a visit to see her husband, Eamonn at Kilmainham before his execution.
She recalled: “Eamonn in a cell with no seating accommodation and no bedding, not even a bed of straw. The first thing I noticed was that his Sam Browne belt was gone, and that his uniform was slightly torn. A sergeant stood at the door while we spoke, and could say very little, but I gathered from Eamon that he had heard about the supposed three years’ sentence and he felt it would worry me… I said to him that the Rising was an awful fiasco, and he replied, ‘No, it was the best thing since ‘98’ (Wolfe Tone, United Irishmen).”
The executions at Kilmainham were swift and brutal. Captain E. Gerard, a member of the British army in Ireland in 1916, described being in awe of the Irish rebels and their “magnificent physique”.
He remembered them as “huge men”, in contrast to British troops stationed in Beggar’s Bush who were “untrained, undersized products of the British slums”. He was informed by the medical officer who attended the executions: “They all died like Lions.”
Capt HV Stanley told Gerard: “I was the Medical Officer who attended the executions of the first nine Sinn Féiners to be shot. After that I got so sick of the slaughter that I asked to be changed. Three refused to have their eyes bandaged. The rifles of the firing party were waving like a field of corn. All the men were cut to ribbons at a range of about 10 yards.”
Newspapers and the Catholic Church had taken a firm line against the Rising while it was happening, but like the pubic, they too turned in May, and the months that followed.
Police authorities noted that even amongst moderate nationalists a growing “wave of resentment”, prompted by the feeling that “‘unnecessary severity had been deployed”.
James Stephens, for one, laid the blame for the reasons behind the Rising squarely at the feet of Irish Party leader John Redmond, and his recruitment drive for the British in WW1.
“It happened because the leader of the Irish Party misrepresented his people in the English House of Parliament. On the day of the declaration of war between England and Germany he took the Irish case, weighty with eight centuries of history and tradition, and he threw it out of the window. He pledged Ireland to a particular course of action, and he had no authority to give this pledge and he had no guarantee that it would be met,” he wrote.
“The ramshackle intelligence of his party and his own emotional nature betrayed him and us and England. He swore Ireland to loyalty as if he had Ireland in his pocket, and could answer for her. Ireland has never been disloyal to England, not even at this epoch, because she has never been loyal to England.
“Mr Redmond told the lie and he is answerable to England for the violence she had to be guilty of, and to Ireland for the desolation to which we have to submit.”
The 16 men who were executed for their association with the rebellion
In the summer of 1916, the rebel leaders became cult heroes with commemorative photographs issued of them. Ballads were written to celebrate their deeds with funds raised for their families. Recruitment levels to the British Army subsided while the political ramifications were great too.
The plan to introduce conscription to Ireland would cement the transformation of Nationalist Ireland and illuminate the folly of British foreign policy.
Influenced by 1916, the conscription crisis and the War itself, a new generational of voters emerged empowered and enraged.
In mid-June 1916, Maxwell had predicted that the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party would be swept aside in elections.
In October, a resurgent Sinn Fein consolidated its link with the Irish Volunteers when Eamon de Valera assumed the presidency of both organisations.
The Irish Parliamentary Party continued in its efforts to secure Home Rule but in the general election of 1918 Sinn Fein secured an overwhelming victory, championing the establishment of Ireland as a sovereign, independent republic.
The Representation of the People Act 1918 expanded the electorate to include all men over the age of 21 and all women over the age of 30.
Later the same year, the Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act 1918 gave women over 30 the right to stand for election as an MP. Countess Markievicz was the first woman elected MP.
Pursuing a policy of abstention from Westminister by Sinn Fein, the election led to the formation of the Dáil which today governs Ireland as our democratic parliament.