After years of struggle with an off-shore ruler governing and exploiting the Irish people, it was time to break away. Home Rule had been pushed aside for decades, fading from the public’s grasp and hope. This led to the Easter Rising, a battle that sparked the movement for Ireland’s independence. Soldiers, writers, workers were all insurgents in this fight. Today, there are countless pieces of public remembrance and thought regarding this struggle. This page analyzes just a few that showcase the confusion, the conflict, and the violence that transgressed in this time.
In our examination of the struggle for Irish independence, we analyzed various primary sources in order to better understand the ways Irish history is remembered.
Topics of Research
Kilmainham Goal represents a historical narrative of everyone who took part in the Independence, for many were imprisoned and executed in this jail.
William Butler Yeats‘s poem “Easter 1916” tells a contemplative narrative of the Easter Rising, honoring the martyrs while questioning the necessity of violence.
India & Ireland, by Eamon de Valera, tells a perspective of separatists and their resentful views toward oppressive British Empire. It exposes the separatist justification for violence against the British Empire and where these emotions arose from.
All of these primary sources are now pieces of public memory. The narrative embedded within the history of these documents or places illuminate a complexity of Irish history for which the public may interpret as many different things.
Our site aims to analyze these sources and dissect the narratives within them. It also aims to connect to other narratives, adding dimension to the existing narrative of the Struggle for Irish Independence. Through deconstructing these sources and their narratives, the overarching theme of violence during the Irish revolution will be surfaced. By using these sources, we also aim to analyze how this period has defined the memory of Irish culture.
Due to the violent occurrences between the Irish and British sparked by the dramatic shift back towards Gaelic tradition, the ambitious and heroic story of Irish Independence rings as a tale bravery and persistence. As the division between the British and the Irish grew to be related to linguistic, sectarian, and cultural differences, an increase in violence came about in response to these disagreements. By exposing the themes expressed in de Valera’s India & Ireland, poems by W.B. Yeats and the echoing voices of the Kilmainham Gaol, this page will prove that violence was the primary theme of the Irish independence movement, and that this violence was instigated through Irish nationalists such as Eamon de Valera.
The decline of Irish identity, associated with Gaelic and Celtic culture, began with the twelfth century and with the Norman invasions into the Irish regions. However, what defined the Irish person in terms of identity and culture was not unanimously agreed upon during the time of revolution. The tug-o-war between the contesting separatists and unionists pointed to the identity crisis of the Irish person. The conflict sprouted from the fight for the Gaelic language against the enforced English language and the rivalry between Protestantism and Catholicism. These conflicts began decades prior to gaining independence, as seen in 1886 when the Irish first moved to pass a Home Rule bill in the British parliament. As this initial action failed to succeed, multiple efforts to pass this bill continued until 1921. Since the Irish struggled to gain independence through only diplomatic methods, Irish writers such as W.B. Yeats and Douglas Hyde turned to culture and poetry to promote the “de-Anglicization” of the Irish identity. The grapple to cleanse the Irish identity from the polluting influence of the British served as the foundation for the Gaelic revival and ultimately the the Irish revolution.
This was the beginning to an approximately eight-hundred-year rule of English control and influence over the Irish peoples. Though this advancement and containment of Ireland by the British lasted for almost a millennium, all greatness comes to an end. This demise of Britain and rise of Irish independence was signaled before the start of the First World War, as Britain required its leadership in new locations around the world and Irish representatives introduced the successful Home Rule Bill in 1912. Just as child steals a cookie when their parents aren’t looking, Irish separatists embarked on its reclamation of its land, culture, and people as their oppressors were caught distracted by alliances in need around the globe. However, the Irish separatists failed to represent the Irish population in its entirety: the reason for so much controversy was because countless Irishmen took part in the fight in France and Belgium during the First World War on Great Britain’s behalf. This better represents the state of Irish identity at the time, proving that although there were separatists, there were also unionists who fought to stay with Great Britain. As unionists resisted this movement, Ulster Volunteers represented them in their violent response the call of the Home Rule Bill. In response, violence arose from the separatists in the name of the Irish Volunteers.
Of course, as the First World War started, the British failed to offer undivided attention to the violence and resistance developing in Irish communities against British rule. Due to this negligence, the Irish continued to establish and strengthen its resistance efforts up the Anglo-Irish War. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) grew in size and power due to sponsorship from the Germans, and the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) responded more violently to these uprisings. Years later, as the Anglo-Irish War broke out, guerilla warfare within Ireland continued to escalate. By 1921, the British and Irish agreed to a truce and in 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, allowing Ireland to become a ‘dominion’ state. This treaty also allowed for the unionists in Northern Ireland stay with the United Kingdom, which answers for reason for this political border today. From this point on, the British presence slowly became obsolete, along with the decolonization of the entire British Empire. As the timing of the Irish independence movement seems awfully close to the start of British decolonization, it proves to show that the Irish sparked a chain-reaction on a global scale, leading to decolonization as a whole.
Theme of Violence
Among all of the research on this site, a common theme among these sources of public history is violence: the physical violence during the struggle; varying perspectives on violence; and the moral necessity of violence.
A recurring theme of violence is the ambiguity toward it. Many civilians were unaware of the Easter Rising’s occurrence, and believed the violence that resulted was avoidable. William Butler Yeats’s questions the necessity of violence as a vehicle toward independence. De Valera’s hostile view toward the British as compared with Ghandi’s success through nonviolence also questions the necessity of violence.
Themes of violence continued into the twentieth century. Through methods such as the State’s gruesome jailing, emotions of Irish poetry, and guerilla war efforts made by both Britain and Ireland, these tactics brought forth key questions of Irish history: how necessary was violence? What were the best methods for change?
The violence was further perpetuated by the events at Kilmainham Gaol. Prisoners, notably women, were treated viciously, and the rebellion leaders were executed on the jail’s grounds. In particular, James Connolly, who had been injured during the Rising and could not stand for his execution, was tied to a chair and shot. The executions of the Irish leaders were globally denounced, regarding the executions as an inhumane act.
The echoes of the Easter Rising remain in Kilmainham Gaol, and the themes of violence are with them. We can glean some insight to prisoners’ sentiments by closely analyzing graffiti that had endured the prison’s existence and restructuring. In this space of remembrance, people are invited to consider what happened within the prison walls, and reflect on the violent events of the past.