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The 1916 Irish Uprising against British Imperialism

With the Easter Rising of 1916, the world was introduced to the eulogy of Pax Britannica. Much like the coercion used by the Roman Empire, the British Crown were masters at colonial repression and exploitation of royal holdings. The long strained history between the Emerald Isle and the City of London dates back many centuries. From the punitive exploits of Oliver Cromwell to the use of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC), the shrift shed blood on both sides. Independence comes at a high price when the imperium masters dig in to keep their rule in place.

Easter Rising 1916 is a short but excellent overview of the circumstances and developments of that fateful revolt. The context is well stated in this quote.

“Ireland is too great to be unconnected with us, and too near us to be dependant on a foreign state, and too little to be independent.”  C.T. Grenville to the Duke of Rutland, December 3, 1784 (H.M.C. 14 report app. 1, p. 155) This statement sums up the attitude of Great Britain toward Ireland from the twelfth century to the twentieth.”

For an even more descriptive revelation of the era, review the 50 facts about the Easter Rising (in PHOTOS). This history is not often taught in our educational institutions and certainly not featured in the mass media multiculturalism programming that stresses amnesia from the reality of a mere century ago.

So what was this uprising all about? Shaun Harkin offers this established view of Ireland’s Easter Rising against colonial rule. However, he provides a much different evaluation, a century later in the conclusion of his essay.

“HISTORIAN PIERS Brendon, author of The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, described the immense impact of the Irish Rising as “blasting the widest breach in the ramparts of the British Empire since Yorktown,” referring to the decisive victory over the British Army during the American Revolutionary War.

In the early 1900s, Britain held 50 colonies and 345 million people under its rule. By 1914, the economic competition between Britain and the other imperial powers spilled over into an all-out industrial war for geopolitical dominance across the globe.

The rising was designed to inflict the maximum damage to the prestige of the British Empire while it was consumed with war on the continent. Ireland, Britain’s oldest and closest colony, defied imperial rule, and others under the boot of the Union Jack would follow.”

Substitute the Irish liberation struggle for the name of countless other ethnic societies and subjugated colonies from their oppressor empires, and the pattern is similar. Yet the Irish revolt has its own unique significance.

In a well thought out account, David Reynolds writes in As the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising approaches, the history wars in Ireland still rage.

“Thinking of Ireland comparatively, the country was distinctive among national revolutions of the era in at least three important respects. First, a serious national rising took place during the war – in fact, right in the middle – rather than at the end, amid the turmoil of 1918. The latter was the pattern across central and eastern Europe, resulting in new states such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Second, Ireland’s war of independence was waged successfully against a victor power, not – as in the Balkans or the Baltic states – against one of the defeated empires. This was part of the global appeal of the Irish struggle, not least in the United States, where it could easily be enfolded into the American saga of 1776 and all that. And yet, third, the victor imperial power hung on in the north-east of the country – not just for a few years but right up to the present day. Hence, for hardline republican nationalists, then and now, the continuing affront of an unfinished revolution.”

The British Empire would hang on until World War II, but the “troubles” in Ireland brought the culmination of century’s old tension to an open conflict.

An international perspective is given by Liam Ó Ruairc in The global-historical significance of the 1916 Rising.

“The Easter Rising also had a significant impact on imperial rule. Leading establishment figures saw Ireland as a vital link in the chain that bound the British Empire together, so to lose Ireland would mean to lose the Empire. “If we lose Ireland we have lost the Empire,” declared Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson on 30 March 1921.  After the 1916 Rising, Unionist leader Edward Carson warned the British government of the consequences of defeat in Ireland for the Empire: “If you tell your Empire in India, in Egypt, and all over the world that you do not got the men, the money, the pluck, the inclination and the backing to restore order in a country within twenty miles of your own shore, you may as well begin to abandon the attempt to make British rule prevail throughout the Empire at all.” In response to the Irish demand for independence, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George observed: “Suppose we gave it to them? It will lower the prestige and the dignity of this country and reduce British authority to a low point in Ireland itself. It will give the impression that we have lost grip, that the Empire has no further force and will have an effect on India and throughout Europe.”

The British state’s reaction to the Easter Rising is thus not to be understood purely in an Irish context; but in the overall context of its empire. On 29 May 1916, one month after the Easter Rising, British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote to Unionist leader Edward Carson: “We must make it clear. . . that Ulster does not, whether she wills it or not, merge in the rest of Ireland.”

Often lost in the political reactions and responses of an immediate crisis of will, is the wisdom from previous generations that brings their own intuitive insights to future event. One such sage of Irish culture and politics is Edmund Burke and his interaction in the English Parliament.

While Edmund Burke and the Politics of Empire is a reflection of 18th century thought, the application to the continued struggle of the 1916 Easter Rising in important to understand the nature of religious differences, attitudes of loyalty to England and the prospects of representation versus egalitarian democracy. Burke’s perspective on the Easter Rising would certainly manifest the following sentiments, while maintaining a sense of order and respect for tradition. Yet, in all revolutions, rational balance seldom is the operating principle.

“While Burke supported extension of the franchise in Ireland, his support for voting rights, and for the need for Catholics to sit in the Irish Parliament, was not based on a Jacobite faith in the merits of equal representation. It was, rather, drawn from his moral-imaginative perspective on how society, and how moral and political behavior, are shaped. As Kirk puts it, Burke’s concern was that the continued exclusion of Catholics from Parliament amounted to the denial of “aristocratic leadership” to the Catholic community. Burke was not an elitist in the usual sense; he had denounced as oligarchical earlier efforts to provide a more limited Catholic franchise based on stringent property qualifications. He believed, however, in the need for a well-bred, educated, stable leadership class among the Irish Catholics. The political power exercised by members of the Irish Parliament was, in practice, greatly constrained, but they were public figures and in that respect could play an important role in shaping Irish politics and society.”

If Burke’s concerns about the excessive abuses from a Jacobite mindset applied to the most radical elements among IRA zealots, the fundamental expression of revolution with crossing O’Connell Bridge was a journey well worth mailing a letter of liberty at the Post Office.

Shaun Harkin concludes with his final assessment: “The 100th anniversary should be celebrated as a stand against imperialism and for Irish self-determination. However, the goals of the Irish revolution are still unmet. Ireland needs another rising involving millions opposed to austerity, imperial war and social injustice.”

Well, any ongoing clash of civilizations reverts to ugly consequences when a dominating empire seeks to control a resisting satellite protectorate. “Black and Tans” enforcers will either become executioners or carcasses from a death blow by a freedom fighter. The British Empire was able to extend their rule over much of the world by exploiting the divide and conquer strategy.

While the colonial era established advancement and enlightenment on many levels, the acculturation factor was acutely missing. Cultures are different for real reasons. The Irish are just as much different from the Kings English as the Scots are from their Brit neighbors. Imperialism does not recognize political self-determination. The lesson of the Easter Rising is that the desire for freedom from foreign oppression is universal.

For all their wealth of wisdom and heritage of Magna Carta, the English lose sight of their greatness when the British Crown wants to rule the world.

SARTRE – April 26, 2016