The Easter Rising of 1916 sparked the critical moment in the push for Irish independence. With the United Kingdom bogged down in World War I, Irish revolutionaries pressed forward with their plan for independence. The Easter Rising rebellion was quickly put down by the British authorities but the embers of revolution remained. By 1919 a full scale war erupted in Ireland with the Irish War of Independence. After two long and bloody years of conflict the Irish Free State was granted its independence and British rule came to an end after nearly 800 years of dominance over the island. While most of the island was formed into the Irish Free State, Northern Ireland remained under British authority, a status it maintains currently.
The historical relationship between Ireland and Britain dates back thousands of years. While the Roman Empire successfully conquered and occupied Britain, it never gained a foothold in Ireland, although there are historical sources that cite trading between Irish kingdoms and the Roman authorities. In the 5th century A.D. a young Romano-British aristocrat was kidnapped by Irish slavers on the western coasts of Britain and brought back to Ireland to live his life out as a slave. This young slave would eventually escape but would return to Ireland carrying the bible and preaching the word of God. The Catholic Church would later bestow a sainthood on him, Saint Patrick, and he would become the patron saint of Ireland.
Following William the Conqueror’s seizure of England in 1066 the Normans looked west. In 1169 the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland was launched. This sparked the beginning of English, and later British rule over the island that would last until 1921 with Irish victory in the war for independence. The colonial rule over Ireland was brutal. Following England’s break from the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England, Irish Catholics were discriminated against and considered second class citizens. Young Irishmen were conscripted into British service and fought in many of the great wars that the United Kingdom took part in. It is estimated nearly 16% of the enlisted soldiers fighting in the regular British army during the American Revolution were Irish. Irish soldiers were also pivotal in the Napoleonic Wars, with the 88th and 27th Regiments of Foot consisting nearly entirely of Irish soldiers.
With the deployment of British troops in World War I, the Irish were asked once again to fill Britain’s ranks. During the conflict nearly 200,000 Irish soldiers fought for the British army, taking part in operations on the Western Front, Gallipoli, and Africa. The experience these soldiers gained from their military service would later come to benefit the Irish revolution, as many revolutionaries had lacked military training and experience. These veterans of World War I would fill the ranks of the Irish Republican Army and would help lead their small island nation to freedom, ending the iron grip that Britain had held for so long over the Irish people.
Look for more information regarding the history of Easter Rising rebellion in the current issue of Strategy & Tactics #293 with the article “The Battle of Mount Street Bridge: Dublin in the 1916 Irish Rebellion” and join the conversation on Facebook!