Sunday, April 12, 2009

James Connolly (Seamas O'Conghaile) (1868 - 1916) and the 1916 Irish Easter Uprising

James Connolly was born in Scotland to Irish parents who worked as laborers and lived in the extreme poverty of the Irish slums in Scotland. Connolly left school at 10 to begin working and eventually became a trade unionist, a socialist and a revolutionary in Ireland standing for the rights of the Irish people to be free and independent from England.

On Easter Week of 1916, in Dublin, 1500 Irish citizens seized certain key points within the city and declared Ireland to be a free republic, free from further British control. The British military, one of the most powerful in the world, quickly regrouped, counter-attacked, and overtook the Irish rebels. 2000 Irish men were imprisoned, hundreds were killed during the fighting, and the leaders were publicly executed by firing squads. James Connolly had been so badly wounded during the fighting that he could not stand or walk, so the British drug him out into an alley, tied him upright into a chair, and shot him dead.

Although the 1916 uprising was not successful immediately in overthrowing the British rule, the execution of the Irish leaders made them martyrs and provided inspiration for other citizens of Ireland to organize, rise up, and throw out the British. Following the 1916 uprising, there were years of essentially guerrilla warfare-tactics by the citizens against the British and eventually, in 1922, at least the southern part of Ireland became free of British rule.

The men who rose up against the British issued a Proclamation of Independence for Ireland. The Proclamation was signed by Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Sean MacDermott, Joseph Plunkett and Earmonn Ceannt. Each of those men was executed by the British following the Easter Uprising, and each is considered a martyr for Irish freedom and independence.

James Connolly was a socialist, and understood that even if England could be militarily defeated, Ireland needed to overthrow the economic chains. The statute above has a Connolly saying inscribed on it: "The cause of labor is the cause of Ireland." He was not advocating simply a nationalistic independence, but a new form of government which would provide respect and a decent life for the working people of Ireland. That was ultimately the greater danger to England: losing the economic control of the Emerald Isle.

I had a (great) uncle, Tom, who came to the "States" right after the 1916 uprising. He told me that the English were trying to draft the Irish young men to go fight England's war with the Germans, but the Irish men had no interest in fighting England's wars. One of the photos in the video below shows a sign up that says "We serve neither Kaiser nor King." The Irish did not figure it was their war. My Uncle Tom and a group of other men raided a local British garrison and stole the weapons that the British had stockpiled there for war purposes, and turned those weapons against the English. Then they all were wanted and hunted men, and fled the country, their own country. Of course this story has been repeated millions of times by Irish people driven out of their own country by the English. Why shouldn't someone sue England, seize those bloody royal crown jewels, sell them off, and pay reparations to the Irish?

The Irish Proclamation, 1916

IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.

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 extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last three hundred years they have asserted it to arms. 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 we 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 Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God. Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.

Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government. Thomas J. Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, P. H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett.

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