Monday, 21 April 2014

1916 - Connolly, blood sacrifice and defeating British imperialism

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

Around 20% of those who fought were members of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) - who were in an alliance with the nationalist Irish Volunteers. The ICA had been set up in 1913, when employers had locked out members of the syndicalist Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) from their workplaces. The lockout lasted for 6 months before the workers were starved back to work. Near the start, a number of workers were killed or seriously wounded by police attacks on their demonstrations, pickets and homes.
In response, at a rally on November 13 1913 the revolutionary socialist James Connolly had declared "The next time we are out for a march, I want to be accompanied by four battalions of trained men. Why should we not drill and train our men in Dublin as they are doing in Ulster?" An ex-British army officer, Captain Jack White, offered to organise a defence militia of ITGWU members. The ICA kept peace at meetings, protected workers from the police and prevented evictions. (2)

Preparations for insurrection

In March 1914 the ICA was re-organised and a new constitution was ratified. The constitution was republican in character, without any explicit mention of socialism. It did however demand that "the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested of right in the people of Ireland" and for "equal rights and opportunities for the Irish people".(3) The ICA was to be open only to members of a recognised union and the Dublin Trades Council gave its official approval.

The insurrection was planned by the ICA leader James Connolly, who was now also the leader of the ITGWU, and the nationalist leadership of the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). The IRB had successfully taken many of the leadership positions in the 20,000 strong Irish Volunteers without most Volunteers realising it. Even W.J. Brennan-Whitmore, who was one of the few non IRB Volunteer officers aware that the rising was planned, only learned of the IRB's role on the morning of the rising when he saw the proclamation that mentioned their participation on the morning of the rising.

From 1915 Connolly had been pushing publicly for a rising, he had even converted part of Liberty Hall (the union building) into a munitions factory which made bayonets, crowbars and bombs. He also published a number of articles in the 'Workers Republic' studying the tactics used in previous insurrections in Europe. Commenting on Connolly's article on the 1905 Moscow insurrection, a recent biographer Donal Nevin observes "It is impossible to read without noting the remarkable similarities in the tactics to those used by the insurgents in Dublin eleven years later".

By 1915 the ICA was regularly engaging in training exercises around Dublin. For example, "one night in October , when heavy fog hung over the city, the entire army, men and women, set out at midnight and for two hours engaged in 'attack' and 'defence' exercises around the Castle". (4) The minutes of the Commission on the Rebellion in Ireland include police reports on these armed training exercises.

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