A century ago, an armed insurrection took place in Ireland to end British rule and to establish an independent Irish Republic. The 1916 Rising was soon accompanied by major popular revolts against World War One across Europe and later emulated by anti-colonial movements across the Global South.
When it comes to remembering the 1916 Rising, why do conservative politicians and historians want to convince us that it would have been better for us if Pearse and Connolly had stayed at home? Why did the state parade lots of military equipment and personnel down O’Connell Street to mark the centenary? Why did so many people turn out to watch it?
This panel attempts to think through the meaning of 1916 for us today, and the politics at stake in how these events are remembered, forgotten, and mis-remembered.
We awake to news that more towns in Ireland are under water due to storm flooding. And that perhaps the sea ice at the north pole might melt due to temperatures rising above zero. The first story is given a lot more prominence in Irish media than the second but strangely at the same time another story is being celebrated. The start of yet more greenhouse gases being pumped out of their safe place far below the sea off the Irish shore to be processed and then released into the atmosphere via the Corrib refinery.
The period of Irish history from the 1880's to the 1920's defined and divided politics including socialist politics, on the island for the rest of the century. The most militant workers struggles occurred in the second half of that period, north and south, concentrated in the last five years. This was also the period of the 1916 insurrection in Dublin, the 1918-21 War of Independence, the treaty and partition of Ireland in 1921 and then in the south the bloody Civil War ending in 1923.
The year 1919 saw the greatest demonstration of the potential of Irish workers, north and south to take over the running of society but the events of the following years cemented the division that would do much to end workers militancy. In terms of working class struggle the periods of militancy of northern and southern workers coincide. Yet the working class was divided and these struggles remained almost completely isolated from each other. (Image: UVF training in 1914)
At 11.30 in the morning of April 24 1916 Bugler William Oman, a member of a syndicalist workers militia the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), sounded the 'fall-in' outside his union headquarters. This was the start of an insurrection in Dublin which was to see around 1,500 armed men and women seize key buildings throughout the city, and to hold these positions against thousands of British Army soldiers for almost a week. In the course of putting down the insurrection, 1351 people were killed or severely wounded and 179 buildings in the city centre were destroyed.(1)
Image: Liberty hall after the rising
This article is an anarchist analysis of the 1916 insurrection and the war of independence in the context of the struggle for socialism in Ireland and internationally. It concentrates on the 'unknown' but intense class struggle that ran alongside the war of independence and the role republicanism played in the suppression of that struggle. It asks 'what is freedom' and shows how anarchism originated amongst earlier European left republicans as an answer to the limitations of republicanism.
Image: O'Connell street after the insurrection
James Connolly is probably the single most important figure in the history of the Irish left. He was an organiser in the IWW in the USA but in Ireland is best known for his role in building the syndicalist phase of Irish union movement and for involving the armed defence body of that union, the Irish Citizens' Army in the 1916 nationalist insurrection. This left a legacy claimed at one time or another not only by all the Irish left parties but also by the nationalists of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. In this article I will attempt to look at the long neglected anarchistic aspects of Connolly's thought and ask the question was Connolly a libertarian?
In 1913 militant trade unionism had a tremendous task ahead of it. The poverty of manual workers was appalling. The death rate in Dublin, 27.6 per 1OOO, was as high as Calcutta's, The slums were the worst of any city in either Ireland or Britain. 20,108 families were recorded as living in a single room. An Irish Times editorial commenting on a report about Dublin housing wrote that "28,000 of our fellow citizens live in dwellings which even the Corporation admits to be unfit for human habitation. Nearly a third of our population so live that from dawn to dark and from dark to dawn it is without cleanliness, privacy or self respect. Sanitary conditions ruled out ordinary standards of savage morality''
We spent the day of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising on the streets of Dublin recording the various peoples commemorative events. This was the actual anniversary on 24th April rather than the religious nationalist and state favoured date of the Easter weekend a month back.
In a lot of ways this seperation was a very good thing as the state commemorations with its parades of soldiers and sealed off areas for dignitaries behind which hated politicians laid wreaths had little positive to be said about it.
What ideas inspired the men and women who rose up in 1916? How did those ideas fare in the Irish Free State founded in 1922?
With historic working class centenaries occurring in recent years we have heard a lot about Unfinished Business. This message was strong in 2013 in reference to the 1913 Lockout and the inequality that still prevails in Ireland. Cries of Unfinished Business are once again being proclaimed in this centenary year of the 1916 Rising and it is true, we do have unfinished business.
We still have bosses and businessmen who could give William Martin Murphy a run for his money. The Republic that the rebels envisioned and enshrined in the proclamation has not been achieved and despite the rhetoric of the YES campaign we do not “cherish the children of the nation equally”, and we have a long way to go to get there, with particular work needed on Ireland’s hatred of women.