British Crush Easter Rising

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 233rd installment in the series. 

April 24-29, 1916: British Crush Easter Rising 

While the world was distracted by the bloody drama of Verdun, in spring 1916 Ireland continued to bubble with anger at the island’s English overlords, who had put Irish Home Rule (independence) on the back burner when the war broke out and now appeared to determined to ignore the aggrieved Irish population’s demands altogether. 

The situation was made worse with the advent of conscription; although Ireland was exempt for the time being, many Irish Catholics – with plenty of reason to distrust the British government – believed it was only a matter of time before compulsory military service was introduced to Ireland.

This seething frustration finally erupted in the Easter Rising of 1916 from April 24-29, 1916, when a militant organization within the Irish independence movement, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council, led an armed rebellion against British rule in Dublin. 

The rebellion received some covert support from Germany in hopes of distracting the British from the war, but the main organizer of German support, Sir Roger Casement, changed his mind at the last minute because he believed the Germans weren’t fully committed (in any event Casement was apprehended after landing from a German submarine, U-19, on the Irish coast on April 21, 1916, and later executed).

A Long Shot 

The Easter Uprising, so named because it began on Easter Monday (April 24 in 1916) was always going to be a long shot. The total armed strength of the Irish rebels probably came to less than 5,000, many of whom never actually fought; the actual fight strength of the Irish rebels was probably around 1,100 in Dublin when the uprising began. These rebels faced the combined might of the British Empire, and although it’s true the British were mired in an unprecedented war on the continent, they were extremely unlikely to sit idly by while one of the “home islands” violently challenged British rule. 

The Irish rebels originally hoped to catch the British unawares, enabling the Germans to land several thousand troops on the west coast of Ireland, before proceeding to capture isolated British strongpoints across Ireland before they had a chance to react. However the German failure to follow through with their bold, implausible part of the plan (which didn’t take account of the Royal Navy) made an already difficult strategy almost impossible. The only hope was to trigger an uprising by the broader Irish population by winning support from ambivalent Irish moderates. 

As it happened, for the most part the rebellion remained confined to Dublin, where the Irish Volunteers, as the rebels were called, at first succeeded in gaining control of a number of key buildings across the city beginning around 10 am on April 24. The British responded cautiously, withdrawing three of the main regiments guarding Dublin to the government’s headquarters at Dublin Castle in order to protect the civilian administration (altogether British troops numbered around 2,400 at the beginning of the rising, most located west of the city). 

Around 12:45 pm on April 24 one of the leaders of the rising, Patrick Pearse, proclaimed the formation of a new Irish Republic, replacing the British monarchy as the government of Ireland (above). The proclamation read, in part:

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. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be distinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people… Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign, Independent State, and pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations. 

The rebels would soon be forced to make good on the pledge of their lives. While they succeeded in occupying most of Dublin in the first day of the rising, they had less success coordinating armed action by the rest of the Irish Volunteers scattered around the country. Meanwhile the British were able to immediately call up reinforcements from their nearby base at Curragh, about thirty miles southwest of the city, as well as from other British garrisons in Ireland and the rest of Britain. 

What followed was classic urban street warfare, as the rebels erected barricades (below) and fortified key positions including the General Post Office, City Hall, and Royal College of Surgeons, from which they rained rifle fire against small British scouting parties trying to get the lay of the land. At the same time the rebels failed to capture the British armory at Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park, ultimately opting to blow it up instead, while the British succeeded in sending about 200 reinforcements to Dublin Castle. For their part a number of civilians – far from rising up to join the rebels – began looting shops in downtown Dublin, further complicating the situation.

With the arrival of the first reinforcements from Curragh, the situation began to turn against the Irish rebels: by the end of the first day the British forces in Dublin had risen to around 4,500 men, while the rebels could muster around 1,500 fighters at most. As evening fell the British mounted a concerted attack on City Hall, where they regained the first floor after three bloody assaults, leaving the upper floors in the hands of the rebels for the evening. By the morning of April 25, the British occupied a chain of major buildings through the center of the city, straddling the River Liffey, including Trinity College, the Ship Street Barracks, the Royal Hospital, and the Royal Barracks.

On April 25 the basic British plan became clear: they would establish a cordon around the city and divide the Irish rebels, then lay siege to the isolated rebel bands in a methodical “mopping up” operation (below, a British roadblock). After eliminating the rebels from the upper stories of City Hall, the British seized the Shelbourne Hotel and turned their machine guns on a rebel command center at St. Stephen’s Green, a park in southeast Dublin. By the evening of April 25 the rebels had been forced out of most of northern Dublin, although the rebels clung to fortified positions on the north bank of the river.

With more reinforcement flooding in (now armed with grenades, machine guns and artillery, and assisted by the arrival of Royal Navy ships sailing up the River Liffey) from April 26-29 the British set about crushing the remaining rebel strongholds in central and southern Dublin. After fierce firefights and bayonet charges, on April 26 the British recaptured the Mendicity Institution, and the following day closed in on key rebel positions at Jameson’s Distillery and the South Dublin Union. 

During this period the British also began shelling Sackville Street (today O’Connell Street) as they sought to eject the rebels from the General Post Office; Irish nationalists long claimed that the British shelled these positions indiscriminately, without regard for civilian casualties. On April 27 the shelling ignited newspaper in the headquarters of the Irish Times, contributing to a general conflagration in the central city, which generally worked to the advantage of the British as they closed in on the trapped rebels.

Following the fall of the rebel position at South Dublin Union on April 27, the only remaining stronghold was the General Post Office, now in flames as the British tightened their siege. After fierce fighting throughout the night of April 28-29, including a failed breakout attempt, the Provisional Government of the short-lived Irish Republic of 1916 finally agreed to unconditional surrender around 2:30 pm on April 29. In its wake, 485 people lay dead, including rebels, soldiers and civilians. 

The Easter Rising was over, but the cause of Irish independence lived on. Indeed, although the rebels failed to stir the enthusiasm of the broader population during these days, the British government’s vindictive response – executing over a dozen leading rebels on grounds of treason – did more to stir sympathy for the martyrs, and the cause of Irish nationalism, than the rebellion itself. British rule would continue in Ireland through the end of the war, but the post-war years promised even greater turmoil. 

See the previous installment or all entries

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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