1916 Easter Rising

This is the last in a series of seven blog posts highlighting and summarizing important events in Irish history, and Burns Library resources which aid in further study of the topic.  Burns Library holds many Irish history resources and is an invaluable resource for scholars in this field.

The Easter Rising was a short lived rebellion in Dublin, Ireland during Easter week of April 1916. It was staged to gain international recognition for Ireland in order to negotiate independence from Britain. The timing of the Rising was deliberate, as Britain was already engaged in the First World War and had few resources to divert to an Irish rebellion, so there would be more pressure to negotiate with the rebels. The Easter Rising was not a popular rebellion supported by the majority of the Irish population, but was rather a radical effort led by the military council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), with cooperation from the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, and Cumann na mBan. [1]

The Easter Rising was a chaotic affair, suffering from a lack of support from the general population as well as last-minute changes.  The leaders of the Rising had organized a coordinated attack throughout all of Ireland but the actual result, due to contradictory mobilization orders,  was a Dublin-centered insurrection.

Irish Volunteers Membership Card

Membership card for the Irish Volunteers (blank), front cover. Box 2, Folder 16, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Eoin MacNeill, head of the Irish Volunteers, did not support rebellion and didn’t even know the Rising was in the works. Once he became aware, he planned to cancel the Volunteers’ usual training maneuvers scheduled for the Easter weekend, but changed his mind upon receipt of the Castle Document.  This document, stating that the British government intended to disarm the volunteers and arrest many of the leading officials in the Irish nationalist movement (Collins 2016, 16), had allegedly been smuggled out of Dublin Castle, the center of the Irish government,  to the IRB. According to Lorcan Collins, “Dublin Castle was quick to label the document as ‘bogus’, but it was certainly based on something authentic.”(Collins 2016, 16) This information—along with information that the Germans were sending arms to support the Rising—convinced MacNeill to support the Rising. He issued an order to the Volunteers to resist disarmament, but countermanded that order when the Aud, a German ship carrying the expected arms, was scuttled off the coast of Cork and Roger Casement, the man who had orchestrated the deal, was arrested.

Inside a Volunteer Membership Card

Membership card for the Irish Volunteers (blank), first 2 pages, Box 2, Folder 16, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

The organizers of the Rising met to address this issue and sent a countermand of their own for Sunday and decided to postpone the Rising until Easter Monday due to above confusion. (Collins 2016, 18) The changes in orders caused confusion in rank and file, and many members of  the Volunteers and Cumann na mBan arrived at their assigned positions on Easter Sunday, but did not receive a mobilization order because of the rescheduling. A large number of the force returned home on Sunday night, unaware the Rising was to occur the following day. This severely limited the forces available for the Rising on Monday April 24th.

The military council of the IRB printed the 1916 Proclamation of Irish Independence, which was effectively the manifesto of the Easter Rising, calling for the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in which Irish men and women had rights as citizens. It is important to emphasize that both genders would have rights under the new Republic, as women did not yet have the right to vote in British occupied Ireland.  According to Brendan O’Brien, “by the time the Proclamation was read out the seven signatories knew that defeat was inevitable.”(O’Brien 2007, 12) The fighting would continue for six days in various garrisons throughout Dublin, but the nationalist forces eventually surrendered. Many of the nationalist participants were arrested, and, after trials, 15 men were executed.. This outcome not only created martyrs for Irish independence, but also contributed to greater popular resentment of the English government, which served to retroactively legitimize the Easter Rising and increase support for the radical republican platform.

Burns Library holds the Thomas MacDonagh Papers as well as the Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials.  Thomas MacDonagh and Thomas Clarke were two of the leaders of the Easter Rising and were both executed as a result of the trials that followed. Kathleen Daly Clarke was a founding member of Cumann na mBan and continued to be an influential Irish Republican after the Rising. One interesting item in the Kathleen Daly Clarke collection is a set of “Sinn Fein Rebellion” postcards which feature images of Dublin in ruins after the Rising.   

Sinn Fein Rebellion Post Card

The “Sinn Fein Rebellion” is a misnomer, as Sinn Fein was not heavily involved in the Easter Rising. However, this party was subsequently blamed for the Rising, and used this reputation to its benefit.. Sinn Fein become more widely supported by connecting their militant nationalism to the Rising and to the martyrs executed by the British. Box 3, Folder 17, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Burns Library also holds the Alfred Noyes Papers, a series of which focuses on Noyes’ Research relating to Roger Casement, his involvement with the German arms deal for the rebel forces, and his trial once arrested.  This series contains correspondence relating to the debate over Casement’s trial, as well as Noyes’ research notes and relevant primary source material he collected, including correspondence from Casement as well as one of his diaries. There is also material on the play Noyes wrote about Casement, The Accusing Ghost, accompanied by related promotional material.

KIC Image

This 1910 broadside, created by Inghinidhe na hEireann (the Daughters of Ireland), dissuades Irish girls from interacting with Irishmen who had volunteered for service in the English army by arguing that interacting with the soldiers who were serving “Ireland’s oppressor” was disloyal to Ireland. Box 2, Folder 12, Kathleen Daly Clarke Papers and Collection of Thomas Clarke and Irish Political Materials, 1897-1972, undated (MS 2001-007), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Burns Library also holds a large amount of published material related to the Easter Rising.  An example of published primary source material is Voices from the Easter Rising, an edited collection of eye witness accounts of the events of Easter week 1916. Another is the Questionnaire on the Rising of Easter Week 1916 and Associated Events which was produced by the Irish Bureau of Military History and used to gather information from participants or eyewitnesses after the Rising.  The Irish Bureau of Military History has made witness statements from this questionnaire available online. Secondary sources relating to the Rising are also abundant at Burns Library and cover a large variety of topics such as discussion of the trials which followed the Rising, summaries of the Rising, books on the major figures, studies based on individual garrisons in Dublin, and women in the Rising.  Burns Library staff used these resources to create an exhibit in displayed in March of 2017 entitled Irish Women Rising: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Ireland, 1900-1923. (Broadside Irish Girls)


  • Sadie Sunderland, Reading Room Assistant, MA Candidate in the Department of History


[1] Established in 1913 in reaction to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers, The Irish Volunteers was a republican military force dedicated to protecting the rights of Irish citizens. Cumann na mBan was the sister organization of the Volunteers, a women’s organization separate from the Irish Volunteers, but who would work with them as allies to further the cause of an independent Irish republic.  The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) was a fraternal organization determined to establish an independent Irish republic which organized and led the Easter Rising.



Collins, Lorcan. 1916: The Rising Handbook. Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2016. John J. Burns Library.

O’Brien, Brendan. Pocket History of the IRA From 1916 Onwards. Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2007.

British Broadcasting Corporation. “The Rise of Sinn Fein.” bbc.co.uk http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/aftermath/af03.shtml (accessed May 1, 2019)

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